General Motors will follow its 2011 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car with a production version of the Cadillac Converj concept car revealed at this year's Detroit Auto Show.

It's been an open question for a while now: What will be the next vehicle to use GM's Voltec series hybrid electric-car platform? The Opel/Vauxhall Ampera doesn't really count, since it's just a version of the Volt with a restyled front end to be sold by GM's European brands.

But this week, GM directors reportedly approved a future model lineup for Cadillac that includes the sleek coupe.

2009 cadillac converj concept 003

2009 cadillac converj concept 003

2009 cadillac converj hybrid concept live 09

2009 cadillac converj hybrid concept live 09

2009 cadillac converj hybrid concept live 06 0112 950x673

2009 cadillac converj hybrid concept live 06 0112 950x673

2009 Cadillac Converj Concept

2009 Cadillac Converj Concept

Hot-rod electric car?

The Converj received rave reviews for its sleek styling when it was unveiled in Detroit in January. And GM's former product czar Bob Lutz has dropped several hints that a performance-oriented vehicle using Voltec hardware was a distinct possibility in the future.

While enthusiasts and Chevrolet fans have speculated about a hypothetical "Volt SS" performance model,  the Cadillac brand makes more sense as a home for a high-performance electric car.

Given Cadillac's high-profile "V" line of high-performance versions of each of its models, the Converj would be good proof that extended-range electric cars can be not only energy efficient but also fun to drive. Adding a little Tesla Roadster to the mix, if you will.

Solar cells on the roof

The Converj concept shown in Detroit included photovoltaic solar panels on its glass roof. To reduce exterior drag, rear-view mirrors were replaced by screens displaying images from video cameras.

The concept car used an identical drivetrain to the 2011 Volt. Its electric motor generates peak power of 120 kilowatts, driven by the same 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, but with tweaks to the software that improve its performance compared to the Volt. The Converj was said to do 0 to 60 mph in about 8 seconds, using slightly more power from its battery to do so.

Like the Volt, the Converj can travel about 40 miles on pure electric power, with a range-extending 1.4-liter engine kicking in after that to generate power that drives the car for another 200-plus miles. Fuel efficiency in this "charge-sustaining" mode is likely to be 35 miles per gallon or more.

Cadillac prices = lower losses

During negotiations this summer over the government rescue of General Motors, Cadillac said the Converj was not slated for production. Now, a newly confident GM is moving fast to hang onto its Opel arm, cue up new products, and kill substandard ones before they're even born.

The higher price that can be charged for a premium sports luxury coupe will help GM contain its losses on the first generation of the Volt program. The Voltec battery pack will cost several thousand dollars at first, with costs expected to fall as technology improves and production of lithium cells rises.

Volt remains on schedule

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt remains on target for a low-volume launch in a few dealerships late next year, in regions where electric utilities and municipalities are moving to set up public charging infrastructure.

Meanwhile, GM continues its three-year publicity blitz for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, most recently showing fleets of pre-production Volts being tested on public roads. Recently, the Volt development team wrote about climbing the notorious Pike's Peak with the car.

Industry analysts say the earliest the Cadillac Converj could enter production would be roughly two years after the Volt, or late in 2013, presumably as a 2014 model.

[Detroit News]