The Chevrolet Volt, GM’s upcoming “extended-range electric vehicle,” has generated advance interest like few other cars this decade. First shown at the Detroit auto show in January 2007 as a radically styled concept car, it has evolved into a production vehicle—slated to be in showrooms in November 2010—at the same time its lithium-ion battery pack is being tested, and verified.

Intense interest has focused on what the Volt will really look like. Back in June, we pointed out that the production car wasn’t likely to resemble the “electric Camaro” concept. Over the past year, GM has teased the public with successive glimpses of more and more of the real thing. Now, the first set of photos of the whole car—shown behind the development team executives—have been “leaked” on several enthusiast websites.

And, indeed, the Volt turns out to be a stubby, slab-sided, high-tailed car with five doors, a high cowl, and a steeply raked windshield. Does that remind you of any particular top-selling, five-door, hybrid with unusual styling? Maybe, oh, a Toyota Prius?

If it does, there’s a very good reason. And it’s exactly the same reason that Honda’s new Insight “affordable hybrid” shares the same basic shape. Aerodynamics and the laws of physics are unforgiving, and managing airflow over the body of a hybrid is crucial to making the best use of every kilowatt-hour in that expensive battery pack. This past spring, during a press event to update reporters on the progress of the Volt and its technology, GM showed data bolstering the view that cutting drag did more for the Volt’s electric range than did reducing its weight.

There will be many more iterations to the Volt story between now and late 2010, when the first cars are scheduled to hit showrooms for actual sale to real live customers. (Pre-production test vehicles and fleet demonstrators will likely be on the roads long before that.)

During that time, you can expect more of these kinds of semi-official “leaks.” Why “leaks” in quotation marks? GM claims that a vendor made a mistake and released the photos, but even Lyle Dennis, founder of the popular GM-Volt site, expressed polite skepticism that they were a genuine leak. Still, you’ve got to give GM credit: They’ve proven themselves masters at stoking the fires of Volt fascination.