DETROIT--General Motors CEO Dan Akerson is accelerating his company's push into electrified vehicles with plans to expand the Chevrolet Volt technology into a minivan within a few years and with another hike in his plan for Volt output.
Akerson told the Automotive News World Congress that he expects GM to roll out "several different variants" of the Volt, including an MPV. A plug-in hybrid version of the Cadillac SRX luxury crossover also is likely by 2012 or 2013, he said.
In several public appearances in conjunction with the Detroit auto show, Akerson espoused his view that the Volt plug-in hybrid, launched last month, is a technological breakthrough with the potential to elevate GM's reputation for innovation.
"Will we let ourselves become causalities of change, or will we lead it?" Akerson told the World Congress. "That's why the Chevy Volt is so important. It's not another me-too vehicle."
Akerson said he expects Volt production to exceed 25,000 units this year. That's up from an original estimate of 10,000 and a 20,000-unit forecast Akerson had given in recent weeks.
"We have been pleased and a bit surprised" by the Volt demand, Akerson said. "We don't want to miss the opportunity."
Akerson also said GM is "12 to 15 months" behind where it would like to be on product development in North America, a hangover from the 2009 bankruptcy. He said GM is accelerating some programs but wouldn't say which ones.
Separately, GM North America President Mark Reuss said the company is fast-tracking the development of some truck programs, but he wouldn't specify which ones or say how much the pace has changed.
GM delayed the next generation of its full-size Chevrolet and GMC trucks because of the bankruptcy. The redesigned trucks are expected in 2013.
Akerson also said he wants to enhance the automaker's sometimes frayed relationship with its suppliers and dealers.
"The key focus for GM, and one of my personal priorities, is to improve relationships with our suppliers and our dealers," Akerson said. "The hard truth is GM didn't always do a great job of listening to you in the past."
Since becoming CEO last summer, Akerson, 62, frequently has vowed that GM won't slip back into its old bad habits. Those include flooding dealers with too many cars and using bare-knuckle tactics with suppliers.
He said GM is keeping costs down and debt low so it can maintain its development schedules in good times and bad. GM will increase its product development budget this year to around $7 billion, from an annual rate of about $5 billion in bankruptcy.
Said Akerson: "We have to be able to invest in up cycles and down cycles."