Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Buick will be the first to offer a commercially available factory equipped plug-in hybrid cross/utility vehicle, one with the potential to double the mileage of a comparably sized CUV.

General Motors Co. Vice Chairman of Product Development Tom Stephens says the new 2-mode PHEV compact CUV will be introduced in 2011 and aims to attract younger buyers to the Buick brand. It initially will undergo Department of Energy fleet testing, with retail sales to follow shortly thereafter, he says.

GM is introducing the Chevrolet Volt plug-in extended-range electric vehicle next year, but it will utilize different technology.

GM developed the front-wheel-drive 2-mode hybrid for the Saturn Vue, which never launched, and has modified that version for Buick now that Saturn is being spun off.

The new version will use lithium-ion batteries in place of the Vue HEV’s nickel-metal hydride power packs, which will work in concert with a 3.6L direct-injection high-feature V-6.

Buick will introduce the still-unnamed CUV in 2010 with a 4-cyl., 182-hp, 2.4L DI Ecotec engine. It will add the 3.6L plug-in version in 2011.

The PHEV will be produced in the same plant as the Chevrolet Equinox CUV, which is all new for ’10, Stephens says. The Equinox is built in Ingersoll, ON, Canada, and also is powered by the 2.4L Ecotec. It achieves 22/32 mpg (10.6-7.3 L/100 km) city/highway fuel economy.

Compact Power Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Chem, will supply the battery packs for the new Buick, as well as the Volt. The batteries will be produced in Korea and assembled into packs at Compact Power in Troy, MI.

GM also will open what it claims will be the first battery-pack manufacturing facility by a major auto maker next year in Michigan. The auto maker already has battery-research labs in Warren and Ann Arbor, MI, in collaboration with the University of Michigan.

Following his MBS address, Stephens says the Buick hybrid’s exact mileage can’t be officially designated at this point, because it still must undergo Environmental Protection Agency scrutiny.

However, the numbers look promising based on 10 million miles (16 million km) of dynamometer testing and results of 15 prototypes in operation.

A GM spokesman says plug-in battery technology will allow drivers to travel farther and at higher speeds under electric power, alone.

“Depending on how you drive, the Buick plug-in is capable of electric-only propulsion for more than 10 miles (16 km) at speeds of up to 40 mph (64 km/h),” the spokesman says.

With GM’s bailout and bankruptcy behind it, Stephens says “a big weight has been lifted from our shoulders” and that the auto maker now has the wherewithal to mount a strong product-development push.

Among new vehicles coming soon are the compact Chevrolet Cruze to be built in Lordstown, OH, starting next year and the Chevy Spark minicar scheduled for production at the Orion Township, MI, plant in 2011.

In a separate interview, Stephens says shedding four brands – Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer – may be painful, but GM will have a better shot long term by focusing all of its resources on the surviving brands: Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC.

“We’re going to make electric motors, power electronics and batteries core technologies at GM,” he says. “Then we can mix and match and do all kinds of vehicles.”