General Motorssaid Tuesday it will hire 1,000 additional engineers and researchers in the Detroit area as it moves toward the next generation of electric vehicle technology.
The hiring was announced by CEO Dan Akerson during a ceremony as the company prepares to deliver the first Chevrolet Volt rechargeable electric cars to customers. Akerson also disclosed that GM is selling the $41,000 Volt at "close to cost," but said its vehicles of the future will benefit from Volt technology.
Akerson, who drove the first production Volt onto a stage at a Detroit-area factory, said electric vehicles are critical to the global auto industry and ending dependence on oil. The new Volt, he said, is the "first step in a long journey to develop the technology in this country, in this company."
The new engineers and researchers will work on battery technology, electric motors and power controls for electric cars, gas-electric hybrids and even hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, GM said. The technology jobs are the first major additions to GM's U.S. salaried ranks since the company emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said.
Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that GM rival Chrysler will hire 1,000 engineers in the next four months. The newspaper cited a company executive.
GM has retained or added around 8,100 manufacturing jobs in that time. Just last week, the automaker said it would rehire 184 workers at three Midwest plants to make engines for the Volt and Chevrolet Cruze small car. Last month, GM announced it would add 600 jobs to a Lansing, Mich., plant to make a new small Cadillac.
GM has been making Volts at its Detroit-Hamtramck factory for several weeks but has yet to ship them as it does final quality checks, the company said. The Volt will go about 35 miles on electric power, then a small gasoline engine kicks in to generate power for the car. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will get the equivalent of 93 miles per gallon on electric power in combined city-highway driving and 37 mpg when running on just the gas generator.
GM would not answer further questions about Akerson's comments about selling the Volt at close to cost.
In his book "Overhaul," about last year's U.S. government efforts to save GM and Chrysler from ruin, former Obama administration auto czar Steven Rattner said early versions of the Volt would cost about $40,000 to manufacture, not including development costs. The car, he wrote, would not have a positive impact on GM's finances anytime soon.
But Akerson and other GM executives said the big benefits from the Volt are learning about electric technology and convincing people on both coasts that GM is a green company. He also equated the Volt's development to the first digital camera, which brought expertise and economy of scale to companies who now sell far more sophisticated cameras for a low cost.
GM has plans to use the Volt powertrain in more of its vehicles, including an Opel version to be called the Ampera in Europe.
"You're going to see the electrification of the car in every size, every model over the next 10, 15, 20 years, or the migration of other Volt technologies" he said after speaking to about 1,500 workers at the Volt factory.
North American President Mark Reuss wouldn't say how many orders it has for the Volt, but the company has disclosed that it plans to build 10,000 of them in the first year of production and up to 45,000 more in 2012.
GM has had 240,000 inquiries about buying the Volt on its websites, Reuss said. The company is preparing to add production should demand be higher than anticipated, he said. The company will export Volts from the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, but it will not limit sales in North America at the expense of exports, Reuss said.
Although the Volt has a $41,000 base price, the company is offering a $349 per month, 36-month lease deal that could boost sales. The car costs $8,000 more than the base price of its closest competitor, Nissan'sLeaf electric hatchback. But Nissan also is offering a similar lease deal. Both cars are eligible for a $7,500 tax credit. (See our slideshow of the upcoming electric cars.)
GM, Akerson said, is working on the next generation of Volt batteries and other components now, and Akerson said the cost will likely come down.
GM is trying to keep content and quality of the Volt high while trimming costs, he said. "That will come with volume," he said.