Jan. 6, 2008
Get ready for a wave of hybrid press releases coming from Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, running from January 13-27 January. The first two announcements to hit the wire are about “two-mode” hybrid SUVs from General Motors and BMW. GM will unveil the 2009 Saturn Vue Green Line and BMW will show the X6 ActiveHybrid Concept. Both vehicles will be available in the United States in late 2008.
If these vehicles seem familiar, it’s because the underlying technology has been in development for years—and has been trotted out at previous auto shows. The so-called “two-mode” hybrid system was developed in a three-way collaboration between General Motors, DaimlerChryser, and BMW, dating back to 2005. The system is designed to blend gas and electric power in large vehicles with towing capabilities—and to help the three automakers catch up to Toyota in the hybrid race.
The 2009 Saturn Vue Green Line is a reincarnation of the previous Vue Green Line, which debuted in 2006 using a less robust of hybrid technology. That version—the one currently on sale—employs a belt alternator starter system to produce a 10–15 percent increase in fuel economy compared with the conventional Vue. In March 2007, GM halted production of the Vue Green Line just six months after it was introduced—and then brought it back on line when the Vue was redesigned for 2008.
In fact, General Motors’ intention to release a hybrid version of the Saturn Vue dates back to the Detroit Auto Show in 2003. At that time, Tom Stephens, GM’s vice-president of powertrain, said, “GM will introduce a Saturn Vue with an advanced hybrid system in the latter half of the 2005 calendar year.” Stephens indicated that “drivers can expect fuel economy gains of up to 50 percent” with the hybrid Vue. That’s the same fuel efficiency goal for the 2009 Vue Green Line.
BMW will use the Detroit show to introduce the Concept X6 ActiveHybrid to American audiences. The hybrid crossover SUV was first unveiled at the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show in September. The two-mode full hybrid—which appears in American form as the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and the hemi-powered Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango— has been BMW-ized in the X6 hybrid. The motors, batteries, gear sets and sophisticated software should add up to a 20 percent fuel efficiency improvement over the conventional X6. Exact numbers have not been announced.