General Motors’ on again off again Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid is back on the drawing board with a possible release date as early as 2010. "We are doing the production engineering on the Chevrolet Volt," said GM R&D vice president Larry Burns in an interview with Automotive News. Some of the steps already taken include allocating funds for the project, initial engineering work, selection of GM’s next-gen Delta platform and the decision to develop two versions, one running a small gasoline engine and another with a hydrogen powered fuel-cell.

Burns wasn’t willing to give an estimate for development costs for the Volt but GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz predicts that design, engineering and tooling for this year alone would top $500 million. Once the design is complete, the first production units could be rolling off the factory floor in around 36 months giving it a 2010 release date at the earliest. According to sources, GM’s Lordstown plant in Ohio would be the Volt's most likely production site but no confirmation has been made yet.

The biggest factor holding back the Volt is the question of whether suppliers can produce reliable lithium ion batteries economically. If produced, the Volt would be initially sold in niche levels as a starting point in building GM’s green image. The benefits of the Volt over cars like Toyota’s Prius is that the GM design can potentially run on electric power alone, with no need for fuel.

Any production version of the Volt would be a ‘series hybrid.’ This means that drive comes from an electric motor alone, while the internal combustion engine or fuel cell is simply used to recharge the batteries. However, users can charge the batteries on a daily basis using an ordinary household electrical outlet, which is enough juice to drive roughly 40 miles on a single charge.

GM will also market the Volt as a global car. "We want to sell this around the world," Burns says. "We don't want this to be tailored uniquely to the United States or uniquely to Europe. We want to give all our markets a chance." In Europe, the Volt could feature an economical diesel engine, while South American versions could run on pure ethanol.