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GM's hybrid play

GM's hybrid play

Now that the success of Toyota's Prius has proven that hybrids are more than a fad, GM has announced an extensive plan to launch its own hybrids through the rest of the decade. To be fair, GM already has a hybrid power train in city buses and a light hybrid in its Chevy Silverado. But next year will see the Saturn Vue Green Line, an SUV hybrid that will be launched at the Detroit Auto Show. A hybrid Chevy Malibu will follow in 2007. The hybrid system will get the Vue somewhere between 10 to 25 percent better mileage than its conventional counterpart; GM isn't releasing the actual number yet. The system relies on a motor/generator mounted on the side of the engine, a nickel metal hydride battery behind the rear seat, as well as a few other components. It's not incredibly sophisticated, but GM claims the hybrid versions of the Vue and Malibu won't cost much more than the conventional versions, making it a very affordable hybrid that pays for itself with reduced gas consumption.

On the technology front, the more interesting news is GM's two-mode hybrid system, which will be rolled out in the 2007 Tahoe and Yukon, then into the 2008 Silverado and Sierra. Whereas the hybrid system for the Vue and the Malibu is front-wheel drive only, the two-mode system can be rear-, front-, or all-wheel drive. It uses two 60-kilowatt motors integrated with an electrically variable transmission, delivering a 25 percent increase in mileage. It's called two mode because it has separate running modes for low and high speeds to maximize efficiency. The two-mode hybrid is definitely something to pay attention to, because GM is partnering with DaimlerChrysler and BMW in its development, meaning that the system heralds the launch of hybrid Chryslers, Mercedes-Benzes, and BMWs.