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GM Chevy Volt on sale now for $41,000

GM starts taking orders for the electric Chevy Volt and is touting the longer, 340-mile range over its electric-vehicle rivals.

Three and a half years after introducing the concept Chevy Volt electric car, General Motors is finally answering the question of its price: $41,000 before a federal tax credit.

GM disclosed the pricing and touted the 340-mile range of the Chevy Volt on Tuesday at a conference on plug-in vehicles in San Jose, Calif.

The cost of a lease is $350 a month for 36 months with a $2,500 down payment. The Volt, which has an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty, qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, which brings the net purchase price to $33,500 after receiving the credit.

The Chevy Volt. GM

People on Tuesday will be able to order a Volt from and be able to track the status of their order as GM starts delivery of the car later this year.

Initially, GM will offer the Volt in seven regions: California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Michigan, and Texas.

The company anticipates that it will sell 10,000 cars in the first year and then make the Volt available nationally and sell 30,000 units in 2012, GM executives said on a conference call on Tuesday. The company hopes that higher volumes will bring down the price in the future, but some of that is already figured in, said Joel Ewanick, GM vice president of U.S. marketing.

"We're pricing very aggressively taking into account some of those factors already," he said. "We think it's a great opening salvo and we'll see what happens over time."

The base model will include a number of high-tech features, such as Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation screen, and five years of GM's OnStar service. There will also be four options, such as a rear camera, a more expensive paint package, and different wheels. If all options are chosen, the cost is $44,600 before the $7,500 tax credit.

When GM first launched the Chevy Volt concept in 2007, there wasn't a lot of competition among major automakers in the electric-vehicle category. But now the battery-electric $33,000 Nissan Leaf is expected for release in coming months as well a host of other electric vehicles and hybrids.

Although this is the first time GM has disclosed the suggested retail price, outsiders for some time have anticipated cost of the Volt would be about $40,000.

Electrification ahead?
To stand out from the competition, GM is emphasizing the relative long range of the Volt's design over battery-electric cars, such as the Leaf, said Ewanick.

"Our strategy is (to say) that it's more car than electric," said Ewanick. "This car gives you a 340-mile range, it gives you real peace of mind, which is a big piece of differentiation between us and the competition. This is a car you can drive cross-country and our competition can't do that."

GM also plans to provide coaching to Volt buyers on how to install a higher-voltage charging station in their homes, although the Volt can charge overnight using a standard outlet.

Unlike a traditional hybrid, the Volt is driven entirely by an electric motor, which gives it a peppy, smooth acceleration. The batteries store enough charge to drive the car about 40 miles and then a gasoline engine runs a generator to maintain charge for the batteries. By contrast, battery-electric vehicles planned from major automakers, such as the Nissan Leaf, can go about 100 miles.

But GM is still not able to say what sort of mileage the Volt will get because the Environmental Protection Agency is still working on a methodology to communicate the fuel economy of electrically driven cars.

GM and other automakers tend to list pricing of their electric vehicles net of the $7,500 federal tax credit. But those tax credits are limited to 200,000 cars per manufacturer, said Ewanick. That's enough for GM to launch back into electrification, he said. In the coming years, the company plans to use the Volt's powertrain, known as Voltec, in other models.

"Two hundred thousand vehicles gets us many years down the road and it gets the electric-vehicle market established," Ewanick said. "It's a good time frame to build awareness."

Sticker shock?
CNET readers' reactions to the announced Volt pricing reflect the mixed feelings consumers seem to have toward electric vehicles. On the one hand, it's appealing to use no or less gasoline. But what price are you willing to pay for more efficiency and the lower cost per mile?

"What really doesn't add up is that GM has saved on the price of batteries and that savings should be enough to pay for the generator, and so should be priced at par with Nissan Leaf. If the Volt is priced $2,000 more than the Nissan Leaf, then I'd be buying (the Volt)," wrote commenter with the user name Joe Real. He said the Volt is for early adopters who are willing to pay more for new technology.

Some people suggested waiting for the battery-electric Model S from Tesla, which is scheduled to be available in 2012 and cost $57,400 before rebates. Others said that buying a traditional hybrid, such as a Ford Fusion or Toyota Prius, makes more sense for people who want to get good fuel economy and be able to drive hundreds of miles.

GM executives have said that they chose a 40-mile electric range for the Volt because it meets the daily driving needs for most U.S. drivers. Because of the limitations on range for most electric cars, people need to consider and better understand their requirements.

There was also a lot of discussion on the technology behind the Volt, which reflects how the many types of electric vehicles can be confusing to consumers. Finally, readers asked where the energy for charging electric vehicles will come from and whether there will be cost-advantage over time.

"Many people could drive pretty much on electricity from external charging alone and use the charging motor in the Volt when necessary. Yes, currently most electric power is generated from fossil fuels but that is changing and a fully electric car, unlike a hybrid, which just uses an electric motor to be efficient in city driving, can take advantage of renewable sources as they increasingly are being used to generate electric power," said a reader with the user name djsxxx.

Updated at 1 p.m. PDT with comments from CNET readers.