Brainstorm Green

GM's Akerson: Next Chevy Volt should be profitable

April 30, 2013: 3:52 PM ET

GM CEO Dan Akerson is bullish on the Chevy Volt, shale, and America.

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GM CEO Dan Akerson

FORTUNE -- Dan Akerson is an American dude. For one, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1970. As GM CEO, he wants more Americans to buy American cars, which is why GM (GM) has decided to engineer, "from the ground up," an array of efficient vehicles -- everything from a new, lighter Cadillac to a version of the Chevy Cruze that can go 46 miles per gallon on diesel fuel.

"We decided we were going to fight against foreign imports, for all of you Californians who are driving ugly German cars," he teased the audience at Fortune's Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

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Currently, GM is also a very American company in that U.S. taxpayers own a percentage of the company, though the government plans to shed its GM shares entirely by 2014.

As the company continues to bounce back from bankruptcy and a bailout, it is now looking to turn a profit off of some of its innovations, such as its plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevy Volt.

"This car, on a technology scale, is off the charts vs. what you [have] seen," said Akerson, who owns one personally. "We've sold about 26,500 of them," he added, saying that the car is safe, and customers love them. There's a catch, though: "We're losing money on every one."

That will soon change, Akerson said. The company is planning improvements for the second generation such as lightening the vehicle. The battery alone on the first generation Volt weights 400 pounds. "This next generation, we think we can decrease the price on the order of $7,000 to $10,000."

Akerson and GM remain faithful to the car, and are even expanding the Volt's technology to other brands: "We took a gamble, and we put the same technology in the Cadillac," he said. As of earlier this year, GM released a hybrid version of its luxury car.

MORE: A different kind of environmental radical

As for the future of American cars, Akerson said not to rule out natural gas-powered automobiles. "We've been given a gift called shale," he said. To adequately use it, the entire national energy infrastructure would have to change -- a massive undertaking -- but Akerson believes that the U.S. will ultimately need to become shale-centric.

"It's clear to me -- I'm not sure the oil industry would appreciate my point of view -- but it has to be done."

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Shelley DuBois
Shelley DuBois
Writer - Reporter, Fortune

Shelley DuBois writes on management issues for Fortune.com. Before joining Fortune, she was a producer for National Public Radio's Science Friday and worked for Wired. Shelley has a graduate degree in science, health and environmental reporting from New York University. She lives in Brooklyn.

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