For U.S. car buyers, GM is convinced that a range-extended electric vehicle--its 2011 Chevrolet Volt, to be specific--is the best solution to meeting the needs of drivers who may need to go further than the 40 miles a Volt will do on battery power.

But elsewhere in the world, GM is quietly pursuing all-electric vehicles of various types. The latest one, announced today, is a prototype all-electric Chevrolet Cruze, with a 31-kilowatt-hour battery pack (almost exactly twice the size of the Volt's 16-kWh pack), which will offer a projected range of up to 100 miles.

Chevrolet Cruze EV, test fleet in South Korea, October 2010

Chevrolet Cruze EV, test fleet in South Korea, October 2010

Cells from LG Chem ... again

The electric Cruze is a joint effort among GM's South Korean subsidiary, GM Daewoo, along with lithium-ion cell maker LG Chem and LG Electronics, a sister company, which is providing the electric drive motor and inverter. (Some of the cars will also be labeled Daewoo Lacetti, the previous name of the same model sold only in Korea.)

In addition to the range of 100 miles--which GM qualifies as data that was achieved "on specific test schedules"--the electric Cruze is said to do 0 to 62 mph in 8.2 seconds, and achieve a maximum speed of just over 100 mph.

Recharging time on a 220-Volt outlet is 8 to 10 hours, and GM plans to test a high-voltage quick-charging application as well.

Real-world EV usage data

The project's goal is to "explore market needs and customer acceptance of battery electric vehicles in South Korea," though the size of the fleet to operate in the capital city of Seoul hasn't been announced. Like many other test fleets, the maker will acquire real-world data on driving patterns and recharging behavior.

The project begins next month, indicating that the electric Cruze has been in development for some time now. LG Chem also manufactures the cells used in the Volt's battery pack, so it's reasonable to assume the two vehicles share some battery-pack technology.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

No loss of trunk space

Moreover, "While battery packs often occupy trunk space, the Cruze EV’s battery pack is mounted on the underbody," notes GM's announcement. "This gives the Cruze EV the same trunk space as conventional vehicles with gasoline engines."

In other words, it's just possible that the 100-mile 31-kilowatt-hour battery pack occupies no more volume than the Volt's smaller capacity T-shape pack, which sits in the tunnel and under the rear seat.

Why? Because both the gasoline 2011 Cruze and the electric 2011 Volt are built on the same basic understructure, heavily adapted for the change from gasoline to electric drive. A Cruze body on a Volt platform, minus the gasoline range extender, would be a logical adaptation.

Precursor to all-electric Volt?

So is this electric Chevrolet Cruze a precursor to an all-electric Chevy Volt with a 100-mile range? Or perhaps a Chevrolet Cruze Electric that would face off head-to-head with the 2012 Ford Focus Electric that Ford has already announced will be built alongside the gasoline Focus in its Wayne plant?

If so, GM may be able to compete directly with the all-electric Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus, plus offer an electric-drive vehicle with a range extender that eliminates any worries about range anxiety (the Volt). Which would be a very neat comeback for the company vilified for terminating its EV1 program in a noted documentary.

Testing EVs in China and, now, Korea

This isn't the only all-electric GM vehicle being tested, by the way. Just a few weeks ago, GM China confirmed development of an electric Chevrolet Sail. So China and Korea are the first two regions in which GM's plans to build a small number of all-electric cars will play out. No doubt the company will announce the third one in due course.

The company has also shown more futuristic electric personal transportation units, most recently in China this March, where it showed an autonomous, electric, electric two-wheeler city car.

Those cars are far less likely to hit the U.S. market though. A nice all-electric, 100-mile Chevrolet Cruze in, say, 2013 or 2014? We think that might hit the spot quite nicely.