Maybe you can beat 'em and join 'em at the same time?

That may be what General Motors is hoping with its announcement this morning that it would develop electric cars with its longtime Chinese partner SAIC.

In Shanghai this morning, GM CEO Dan Akerson and SAIC Motor Corp. chairman Hu Maoyuan signed an agreement covering the joint development of a "new electric vehicle architecture in China."

Vehicles emerging from the partnership will be sold under both GM and SAIC brands, and may be built outside China as well.

Details and timing for these products? Those will be "announced later."

China has recently tightened its gas-mileage requirements for new cars, and while it may be pulling back slightly from aggressive plans for electrification, the country's industrial policy is still geared toward China taking a large portion of the design and production of the world's future electric cars.

Chevrolet Volt arrives in China for use at World Expo 2010 Shanghai

Chevrolet Volt arrives in China for use at World Expo 2010 Shanghai

The two companies' existing joint engineering and design center, known as Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center or PATAC, will house joint teams to develop the car and key components.

In a statement, GM said SAIC will contribute "market knowledge and local expertise" and GM will provide "expertise in electric vehicle development," meaning that the partnership's electric cars will take into account the needs and desires of Chinese buyers.

Last year, the two companies confirmed joint development of a Chevrolet Sail EV and then showed a prototype in December. The car is an electric adaptation of the Sail minicar sold largely in China.

GM has said it will not take advantage of financial incentives offered by the Chinese government for sale of its 2012 Chevrolet Volt in that country, since doing so would require that it transfer core technology to a Chinese company for electric-car batteries, motors, or power electronics.

Whether this new partnership includes Voltec extended-range electric vehicle technology remains to be seen. Given the shorter travel distances and dense traffic in Chinese cities, it's possible that the venture would concentrate solely on battery electric vehicles without range-extending combustion engines.

Chevrolet Beat EV electric vehicle with GM executives, India, June 2011

Chevrolet Beat EV electric vehicle with GM executives, India, June 2011

GM has now prototyped no fewer than four pure electric vehicles, of which the Sail EV in China is one. One month after the Sail EV, it unveiled a test fleet of all-electric Chevrolet Cruze sedans in South Korea.

That same month, a fleet of Opel Meriva minivans converted to electric drive was announced in Germany. Then in June, GM India announced a prototype Chevrolet Beat EV, an adaptation of the Chevy Spark minicar that will go on sale in the U.S. next year.

SAIC and GM have worked together for almost 15 years to build cars for sale in China, and have 10 different joint ventures together. Global automakers generally have to take on a Chinese company in a 50-50 partnership to build and sell vehicles in volume in the world's largest new-car market.


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