GM cranks it up a notch with hybrid powertrains

It looks as though while Ford is bringing its leftovers to the hybrid party, but GM is firing on all cylinders with its new 2008 Saturn. Saturn's new Vue is a ground up redesign based on the European market Opel Antera. The new compact SUV will be available in variety of trim/powertrain combinations including a new 2-mode hybrid system.

Whereas the Escape tops out with a 200HP 3.0 liter V6, the Vue brings in GM's new corporate 3.6 liter V6 with 250HP (lesser 3.5 liter V6 and 2.4 liter I-4 models are also available).The other niceties expected in the compact SUV class such as a 6-speed automatic transmission (V6 models), standard traction control and StabiliTrack (V6 models), front/side/head curtain airbags and a rollover sensing system are also included in the package.

In late 2007, GM will transfer its existing belt-driven hybrid powertrain found in the current generation Saturn Vue Green Line to the all-new Vue platform. The vehicle will be powered by a 4-cylinder engine and will boost fuel economy by 20%.

But the big news is what GM has in store for the Vue Green Line's powertrain in 2008. The Vue Green Line will get GM’s powerful 3.6 liter V6 and new 2-mode hybrid system which will debut next year on the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size SUVs.

In the first mode, the system will work in a manner similar to that of Toyota and Ford’s hybrid systems – the electric motors can power the vehicle at slow to moderate speeds with the gasoline engine kicking in at higher speeds or when more passing power is required. In the second mode, which is triggered during highway cruising, cylinder deactiviation and other tweaks are used to improve fuel economy even further.

In 2009, however, GM plans to introduce plug-in capabilities to the 2-mode Vue Green Line. The vehicle would have the option of charging from a common household exterior 110-volt outlet. With the lithium-ion batteries fully topped off, the driver would be able to travel more than 10 miles on only electric power. Although some adventurous Prius owners have voided their warranties to create their own plug-in system for their vehicles, this would be the first OEM offering available to the public.

For those that work close to home, it could be quite possible to leave your driveway in the morning with a fully topped off battery and travel all the way to work on electric power alone. With a traditional hybrid system, your results may vary as it is unlikely that your batteries would be fully charged when you first turn the key in the morning.

“The technological hurdles are real, but we believe they are also surmountable. I can’t give you a production date for our plug-in hybrid today. But I can tell you that this is a top priority program for GM, given the huge potential it offers for fuel-economy improvement," said Rick Wagoner, GM Chairman and CEO.

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