DETROIT -- Nearly two years ago, General Motors paraded Denise Gray and her colleagues before the media to show that getting the Chevrolet Volt launched by this fall was GM's top priority.
Gray won't be around for that debut. Saying "the heavy lifting" on the batteries has been done, she's leaving to take a job at California startup.
Gray, 46, global director of rechargeable energy storage systems, will step down Friday, March 5, after more than three years in the post.
This was "an opportunity that I could just not resist," Gray said in a phone interview last week. "The good thing is I will be in the energy, advanced-battery area that I really, truly believe has a promising future."
Gray said that she is "a strong supporter of the Volt and what GM is doing" but that she will be cheering from "a different seat."
Ronn Jamieson, director of global battery systems engineering, temporarily will assume reporting responsibilities for Gray's staff. Bill Wallace, manager of the Volt Battery System Engineering Group, will take on technical and program management responsibilities.
The Volt, GM's flagship for a fuel-saving future, is designed to travel 40 miles on its battery before the gasoline engine starts. The vehicle will roll out slowly, starting in California. Production is targeted at 8,000 to 10,000 in the first full year. GM plans to ramp up to 50,000 to 60,000 annually.
Gray said "there is never an ideal time to leave." She noted that GM built the Volt's first production battery pack in January.
"The heavy lifting when it comes to the battery design is complete," she said. All that remains "is fine tuning to make sure our manufacturing processes and all of our testing is in place."
She will be the third key executive to leave the Volt team in the past six months.
In September, Bob Kruse, executive director of vehicle engineering for hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries, left to start a consulting firm. A month later, Frank Weber, the German-born engineer in charge of the Volt program, announced his return to Germany. He was named Opel's vice president of global product planning in late November.
Gray worked for GM as a high school senior in 1980. She has directed a variety of engine and transmission activities in more than 25 years at the automaker.