More stories related to Chicago Auto ShowCHICAGO – Criticized for its lack of hybrid cars and trucks, General Motors Corp. is attempting to offer more fuel-sipping vehicles sooner than planned, a company executive says.

“We’re looking at it,” GM North America President Gary Cowger says here at the Chicago Auto Show. “We’re trying. I want them sooner than later.”

GM currently offers a flywheel alternator starter system – the V-8 engine powers the battery to run the wheels in low-demand situations, improving fuel economy 10% – on fullsize pickups, which are available in limited quantities to retail customers in California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada and Florida.

GM also sells hybrid propulsion systems for commuter buses to numerous U.S. cities. But neither effort has won over environmentalists to the same degree as have the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrid, which are available in higher volumes to retail consumers throughout the U.S.

Gary Cowger

Next year, a belt alternator starter system, which shuts off the engine at idle mode and cuts off fuel to the engine during decelerations, is scheduled to debut on the Saturn Vue cross/utility vehicle, followed by the Chevy Malibu midsize sedan in 2007.

The same year, GM will introduce its complex Advanced Hybrid System 2 full hybrid system in its fullsize SUVs.

Cowger says the timeline for GM’s hybrids will be moved forward, but only if performance and quality are not sacrificed.

“The most important thing is: I want them right,” Cowger says. “That means bulletproof from a quality standpoint. That means bulletproof from a durability, reliability validation standpoint. That’s No.1. Period. If we could pull things ahead and have that, that would be great.”

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com