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Photos: OnStar EV Lab connects to Chevy Volt

<p> General Motors opens its OnStar EV Lab to provide online services and battery management tools to electric Chevy Volt drivers.</p>

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Martin LaMonica
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1 of 6 Martin LaMonica/CNET

Chevy Volt plugs into OnStar

GM on opened the OnStar EV Lab, a center dedicated to developing online services for GM's electric vehicles. Here is an "integration vehicle," or prototype of one of the early Chevy Volts. This one, which has only eight miles on it, only has the body of the Volt but not the details of the final car, which is due in late 2010. GM has manufactured several of these early version Volts for testing, which is why they aren't painted. Some of the cars will be destroyed in crash tests.

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Volt development dashboard

In addition to developing services for consumers, the OnStar EV Lab is gathering data on 19 Chevy Volts that are now being tested by GM. Here, Dana Fecher, group manager for OnStar EV Lab, shows the amount of data that GM is getting on car performance and diagnostics. OnStar, which uses the digital cellular network for car-to-GM communications, can check the latest software versions and track the performance of the battery subsystem.

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Electric versus gas mode

OnStar, which is a subsidiary of GM, has 5.6 million subscribers who give GM access to data driving trends. By mining the data on when people drive and how long their trips are, GM created a profile of how much they expect drivers would operate in electric only mode if they had a Volt. The Volt drives 40 miles on batteries and then an internal combustion engine burns fuel to sustain the batteries.

The light green portion shows how often drivers polled would only be running on electric mode. The blue is the amount of time the gasoline engine would kick in and the dark green is the amount of time that a daily charge would extend electric driving time. Analyzing this data shows that 90 percent of drivers can do 90 percent of trips on electric mode, said Nick Pudar, the vice president for planning and business development for OnStar. However, GM polled a set of customers with a profile executives think are good candidates for the Volt, Pudar said.

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Tony Posawatz at OnStar EV Lab

Vehicle line director Tony Posawatz for the Chevy Volt speaks in front of a prototype Volt while OnStar President Walt Dorfstatter looks on. Posawatz said that the OnStar communications platform will allow consumers to manage when they charge cars. For example, a person can choose to charge the vehicle in the middle of the night to take advantage of lower rates.

"The car will have to talk to the grid and be able to pull very sensitive (utility) data," Posawatz said. "Electric vehicle customers want to manage their energy--they're very into data. OnStar is an enabling tool for us."

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OnStar control center

A view inside the control center for OnStar which is in GM's downtown Detroit headquarters. These operators aren't actually handling calls but are instead overseeing the IT systems and calls centers that are needed to operate the system. GM intends to offer services through its OnStar communications platform to Chevy Volt drivers, such as energy management and regular diagnostics reports.

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Volt styling

Here's what the styling on the final Chevy Volt is expected to look like. The Volt is on display at the Business of Plugging In conference in Detroit.

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