General Motors will market a plug-in hybrid versin of the Saturn Vue “very quickly” – “2009-ish,” according to Saturn’s general manager, Jill Lajdziak. She spoke Wednesday at the Frankfort Auto Show.
The Vue plug-in hybrid will be able to travel up to 10 miles on electric power only, switching to the gasoline engine “very quickly,” according to Lajdziak. The plug-in Vue, which will join the gasoline and so-called “mild hybrid” versions already on the market, will use lithium ion batteries and the GM “two-mode” hybrid system which is able to be recharged on household current. The two mode system is to debut in 2008 on the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe.
The system installed in those SUVs, however, will not employ lithium ion batteries. The “two mode” reference is to a power transmission system developed by GM in conjunction with BMW and Daimler that is capable of operating in either of two modes and seamlessly switching between them. In the first mode, designed for slow moving traffic situations, the vehicle can operate on electric power only, gasoline only, or a combination of the two. In the second mode, the engine employs active cam timing, late valve closure, and fuel management to increase engine efficiency, whether operating alone or in conjunction with the electric system. The electric motors are housed in the transmission.
The plug-in system which will be introduced on the Vue is not the plug-in system being developed for the Chevrolet Volt, which is expected about 2010. The system being developed for the Volt is the “E-Flex” system. The major difference is how the vehicle is driven. In the Vue plug-in, there remains a direct mechanical link between the internal combustion engine and the drive wheels. With the “E-Flex” system, there is no direct mechanical connection between the engine, whether conventional or diesel, and the wheels. The E-Flex system is also designed to be used with a hydrogen fuel cell as a replacement for the conventional 1 liter turbocharged gasoline engine or diesel engine.
The announcement that Saturn will have a lithium ion battery powered plug in hybrid on the market in 2009 amounts to a poke in Toyota’s eye with a sharp stick. Toyota has publicly acknowledged serious problems with its lithium ion battery development program and has lately been soft-pedaling the whole idea. Even though it had planned to introduce lithium ion batteries on the next generation Prius, Toyota executives have lately questioned whether there is a market sufficiently large to justify production of a lithium ion battery hybrid. It seems that at Toyota their market research isn’t much better than their battery research.