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General Motors

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executives, both present and former, have evidently decided that the way to get America to really notice the Chevrolet Volt is to talk about it frankly.

At least that's what they did Tuesday, at the latest celebratory Volt event held at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, where production began this month. The event followed a national tour, during which 6,348 people

test drove the Volt.

"The Volt is not a silver bullet that will solve the world's energy problems," acknowledged GM vice chairman Tom Stephens. He said GM will have to constantly improve the Volt to keep up with technology. CEO Dan Akerson said that with a $41,000 price tag, the Volt is being sold at close to cost. And outspoken former executive Bob Lutz said that in the once-ossified GM culture, it was a battle to get approval for the project, which began in 2007.

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Lutz said he is writing a book, "Car Guys Versus Bean Counters," with a Volt chapter titled "I'll Let You Explain It to the Board." He said that at one meeting, former CEO Rick Wagoner told him, "So Bob, we lost $1 billion on the first electric vehicle -- how much do you propose we lose on this one?"

Despite the many questions surrounding the Volt, however, GM has embraced the car as a symbol of its revival. "It shows the world that this company, this state and this country can set standards for automotive technology, rather than just lag it," said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America. "We have created the new soul of this company and of Chevrolet as a brand," he said.

What distinguishes the Volt

from other electric vehicles is that besides being able to run on a battery, it has a back-up gasoline engine that can power the battery when the charge, good for 40 miles, runs out. GM knows that 80% of Americans drive 40 miles or less each day. But the backup engine "eliminates range anxiety," Stephens said.

GM has said it will sell about 10,000 Volts in 2011 and 45,000 in 2012. A hopeful Akerson said the number could increase, depending on demand. He said GM has "studies underway to see what we could do if we had to double production

or triple production.

"I have a sense this is going to be a game changer," he said. "We have to be prepared to meet that."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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Ted Reed