UPDATE 1-GM to make plug-in hybrids a priority


(Adds details, quotes, background; previous DETROIT)

LOS ANGELES, Nov 29 (Reuters) - General Motors Corp. said on Wednesday it plans to make a plug-in electric hybrid version of the Saturn Vue Green Line, which will have double the fuel efficiency of any current sport utility vehicle.

At the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner called the plug-in hybrid technology a "top priority" for the automaker.

"The technological hurdles are real, but we believe they are also surmountable," he told reporters. "I can tell you this is a top priority for GM."

The Saturn Vue Green Line is GM's first hybrid vehicle in the U.S. market, running on gasoline and a battery which is charged while the car is moving. A plug-in hybrid would run longer on a battery that can be recharged from an external electrical outlet.

The world's largest automaker also plans to expand the hybrid system to the Saturn Aura Green Line and Chevrolet Malibu sedans in 2007.

Stung by criticism to that it conspired to kill the electric car, the effort is part of GM's bid to demonstrate how it is investing some of the $9 billion saved through a wrenching program of job cuts and plant closures in hybrid technology, an area where it has lagged Toyota Motor Corp. .

GM recognizes that to change consumer attitudes about the reality of its brands it has to address the criticism that it has not done enough to drive advances in fuel economy -- an especially key concern in California, a GM executive who asked not to be named told Reuters ahead of the announcement.

California, the most populous and richest U.S. state, has become increasingly hostile ground for the Detroit automakers, who have watched Toyota ride its reputation for quality and fuel-efficiency to a dominating No. 1 position in the local market.

In 2007, GM plans to debut a two-mode hybrid system in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size SUVs and plans to launch it in the Cadillac Escalade full-size SUV and the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks in 2008.

A two-mode system uses two sets of gears and two electric motors and maintains two driving modes -- one for city driving, the other for highways.

Wagoner said he is uncertain about when a plug-in hybrid will be commercially available.



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