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GM to focus on plug-ins over regular hybrids

Leader: GM says it has no intention of giving up the global market leadership in plug-in hybrid vehicles it has established with Volt.

Mild hybrids still vital but GM narrows development focus to plug-in hybrids, EVs

General Motors logo15 Nov 2012

GENERAL Motors has given priority to plug-in technology over conventional hybrids and announced a target of 500,000 electrified vehicles to be on the road by 2017.

Speaking at a ‘GM Electrification Experience’ event in San Francisco overnight, the US auto giant’s senior vice-president of global product development, Mary Barra, said the company remained committed to its non-plug-in ‘eAssist’ mild-hybrid technology, which is being applied to an increasing number of vehicles and will play a large part in reaching the ambitious half-a-million target.

However, Ms Barra emphasised that plug-in hybrid technology pioneered with the Chevrolet/Holden Volt had moved from being a “proof point” to a “real-world starting point” that would play an increasingly important role throughout its portfolio of global products.

Her comments came a day after GM announced it would present a full-electric version of its Chevrolet Spark light car at the Los Angeles motor show later this month – with a similar version, dubbed the Springo, due at this month’s Guangzhou motor show – ahead of a 2013 launch in key markets overseas.

While the US-built Volt officially hits the Australian market this month, there is no schedule for the Korean-built Spark EV to be launched here, due largely to the fledgling nature of the electric car industry in this country.

 center imageLeft: GM's Mary Barra Chevrolet Spark EV and Malibu Eco eAssist Buick LaCrosse and Regal eAssist.

Nonetheless, GM clearly believes all-electric models will join plug-in hybrids as having an important role to play in global terms, despite modest sales this year of the rival Mitsubishi i-MiEV (and Peugeot/Citroen derivatives) and Nissan Leaf in significant markets such as North America and Europe.

It has also vowed to offer the Spark EV as a vehicle available for private sale, backed by an eight-year/100,000-mile (160,930km) warranty on its battery system, rather than simply as a lease-only proposition.

In her speech, Ms Barra said “plug-based solutions will play a significant role in our technology portfolio going forward” and that the company was now working to leverage the expertise and investment it had piled into the Volt program.

She said the latter included establishing the largest OEM battery lab in the US, hiring 1000 new engineers and researchers, and investing more than $US800 million in electrification facilities.

“The plug-in offers a unique opportunity to change the way people commute,” Ms Barra said.

“That’s why I am proud to say that plug-based solutions will play a significant role in our technology portfolio going forward.

“We have every intention of maintaining our leadership position in plugged-in vehicles. Traditional hybrid technology is important, of course, but we think plug-in technology will play an increasingly important role in the years to come, and that’s where a significant part of our focus will be.

“In fact, our plan calls for producing up to 500,000 vehicles annually with some form of electrification globally by 2017.”

Ms Barra said that “what started out as a technology proof point (with the Volt) has turned into a real-world starting point to push EV technology further and faster than we thought possible five years ago”.

“Today, the unique propulsion technology pioneered in the Volt – the same technology that will be featured in the Cadillac ELR – will be a core piece of our electrification strategy going forward,” she said.

“Our engineers are now working on future generations of the Volt’s EREV (extended-range electric vehicle) technology to improve the system’s value and efficiency in the not-too-distant future.

“In fact, we’re looking at new ways we can use the EREV technology to provide more innovative options for our customers.”

Ms Barra said that, until recently, GM’s strategy for developing cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles was “essentially to cover the waterfront – to pursue as many promising technologies as possible”.

“Well, that’s not how GM is doing business today,” she said.

“While we are generating record profits, we need to refine and focus our work. We need to be disciplined and responsible to our shareholders, and we need to make educated bets on which technologies hold the most potential for creating value for our customers and our company.

“That’s why, over the past few months, I’ve been working with GM’s global product team and our vice-president of product programs, Doug Parks, to better define our advanced technology strategy, including electrification.

“We’ve narrowed our focus to a core set of technologies that will help us best meet long-term customer demand, with the best, most fun-to-drive, most cost-effective solutions for reducing fuel consumption.”

GM says it is on track to sell more than 50,000 vehicles with some form of electrification this year. It has sold almost 20,000 Volts to the end of October, and 26,000 vehicles equipped with eAssist, which is currently available on the Buick LaCrosse and Regal and Chevrolet Malibu, with the Chevy Impala picking it up next year.

The technology combines a conventional internal combustion engine with a compact and lightweight lithium-ion battery and electric motor-generator pack. It also typically includes features such as regenerative braking, automatic idle-stop, hill-start assist and a fuel cut-off device during deceleration, along with aerodynamic features across the body.

“Our commitment to eAssist is unwavering,” Ms Barra said. “In fact, our future portfolio calls for eAssist to be on hundreds of thousands of GM vehicles annually by 2017.

“And as you’d expect, we’re now working to make the next generation of eAssist even better than today’s.”

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