According to this interesting look at the background of how the Volt came to be, it was not, as many have come to believe, an Obama-ordered GM bailout project, but something GM started before everything fell apart.
Early in 2006, then Vice Chairman Bob Lutz had an idea after seeing what Tesla was up to with its lithium battery electric vehicle. He invited Lauckner, who at the time was Vice President of Global Program Management, to his office to discuss his vision of a new EV concept car. The purpose of the EV was to achieve petroleum independence — this was a goal that everyone could embrace, from energy hawks like Lutz to dyed-in-the-wool treehuggers to those of us in-between.
Even more interesting is how they made the decision not to go battery-only, or imitate other hybrids. The author made this chart to illustrate why the Volt came to be considered the best option: