TOKYO -- The Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in hybrid could hit Japan's shores as early as next year and go head-to-head with the country's hybrid and electric vehicles.
Sumito Ishii, managing director of GM Asia Pacific Japan, told reporters that General Motors Co. is studying a Japan launch for the Volt in 2011 or 2012.
The car, which is powered by an electric motor and has a small gasoline engine to recharge the battery, goes on sale in the United States late this year. Ishii said last month that Japan was not part of the Volt's initial global rollout plan, but he now wants to bring it here as soon as feasible.
"One of the things the Japanese market wants is electric vehicles," Ishii said.
Tempting Japan's notoriously finicky customers with a mass-market foreign car is difficult in the best of times. But bringing in an advanced, fuel-efficient car such as the Volt could help counter GM's image in Japan as a maker of lumbering iron dinosaurs.
Sales of GM vehicles slid 14 percent to 2,686 units in Japan last year, outperforming overall import sales, which dropped 19 percent. The company wants to hold sales steady this year and is bringing in four new offerings to generate buzz and traffic.
Key to GM's strategy in Japan is pursuing an upscale niche market that focuses on luxury brands such as Cadillac and performance cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro.
But GM also is exploring expanding the lineup to include more affordable mass-market models. The Chevrolet Cruze and Aveo could arrive as early as next year.