Production of the world's first range-extended electric car is now a reality.

Today, the first shipment of 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric cars left the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. The cars are bound for dealers and buyers in the initial launch markets: California, Texas, New York, and Washington, D.C.

Today's shipment comes exactly four years after Chevrolet began briefing the press, under embargo, about the Chevrolet Volt concept car it would unveil at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show. That concept became the 2011 Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle.

Chevrolet publicity included the usual carefully-crafted corporate statement, couched in a language very much like English. “Today is a historic milestone for Chevrolet,” said Tony DiSalle, the latest marketing director for the 2011 Volt.

“We have redefined automotive transportation with the Volt," he continued, "and soon the first customers will be able to experience gas-free commuting with the freedom to take an extended trip whenever or wherever they want.”

Chevrolet said it expects to ship 160 vehicles this week, in contrast to the very small handful of the first 2011 Nissan Leaf electric cars to be delivered to buyers in a few cities before the end of the year. The very first 2011 Leaf was delivered to a retail buyer in San Francisco on Saturday.

Fifteen pre-production Volts were delivered earlier this year to electric-vehicle advocates, technology enthusiasts, and other influential early adopters who formed the Volt Customer Advisory Board. They are taking part in a 90-day evaluation of the vehicle and its associated 240-Volt charging station.

The 2011 Chevy Volt is the only mass-produced electric car being manufactured in the U.S. Its 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack provides roughly 40 miles of all-electric driving, after which a 1.4-liter gasoline engine switches on to generate power that operates the electric drive motor.

Total range from both modes is up to 379 miles, Chevrolet says.