By Fang Yan and Jason Subler
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - General Motors unveiled a new electric concept car in China on Wednesday , aiming to burnish its image as a supplier of non-polluting cars tailored to the crowded mega-cities of the future.
GM showcased the EN-V, or "Electric Networked-Vehicle," at a pavilion that it will share with its China joint venture partner, SAIC Motor Corp, during the World Expo to be held in Shanghai from May through October.
The two-seater EN-V, which would communicate with other cars to help avoid accidents and ease traffic in congested major cities like Shanghai, is only at the conceptual stage -- it would not hit showrooms for another 10 to 20 years, and would require regulatory changes for it to be allowed on roads.
But the Detroit automaker is looking to the helmet-shaped EN-V to help establish itself as a significant player in cutting-edge, fuel-efficient vehicles while it seeks to reinvent itself after emerging from bankruptcy last July.
"In the EN-V we are really showing a new concept, for not just electrified vehicles but a reinvented vehicle experience for mega cities," Alan Taub, GM's vice president for global research and development, told reporters in Shanghai.
The three versions of the EN-V, powered by electric motors, can go about 40 km (25 miles) on a single charge.
Other major automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor, have similar zero-emission mobility concepts as they look to meet higher fuel economy standards and increased consumer demand for greener models.
The focus on a compact, low-emission vehicle contrasts with GM's struggle to find a buyer for its iconic but tarnished Hummer brand, which had become synonymous with gas-guzzling excess.
GM had agreed to sell Hummer to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co, a little-known company based in southwestern China's Sichuan province, but the deal failed to win Chinese government approval.
The EN-V is, however, not GM's first effort to reposition itself with more environmentally friendly models.
Its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, slated to reach showrooms in late 2010, is key to GM's effort in the field.
SPOTLIGHT ON CHINA
GM's choice of China to unveil the new concept model underscores the importance of China, the world's biggest auto market, where car sales hit record highs in 2009 despite the global industry suffering a steep downturn.
China is GM's second-largest market after the United States and a strategic battleground for all foreign automakers, with the likes of Volkswagen AG and Toyota fighting fiercely for bigger market share.
"China is crucial to GM for now and for the future. Without the China market, GM might not come out of bankruptcy so quickly," said Zhang Xin, an analyst with Guotai Junan Securities in Beijing.
In 2009, GM sold 1.83 million vehicles in the country, up 67 percent, and broke sales records every single month of the year.
It will sell more than 2 million vehicles this year, Kevin Wale, president and managing director for its China operations, told Reuters in January.
(Editing by Edmund Klamann and Lincoln Feast)