GM’s Latest Plans for Plug-in Hybrid SUV, Now As Buick

A mash-up of the Chevy Volt, GM’s full-size SUV “two-mode” hybrids, and the Buick brand.

General Motors announced last week that it plans to produce the world’s first plug-in hybrid SUV, in the form of a new yet-to-be-named Buick crossover. The new model will first be released in 2010 as a gas-powered vehicle available with two sizes of direct injection engines—a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a 3.0-liter V-6.

The plug-in version, planned for 2011, will curiously use a larger 3.6-liter engine.

The company said the new vehicle would appeal to customers who like the Buick Enclave, but want a smaller more fuel-efficient version. GM claims the plug-in version will get double the fuel efficiency of the gas-only version—but specific targets were not provided. Charging the plug-in Buick’s 8-kilowatt hour battery pack—packaged under the cargo floor—is expected to take four to five hours at 110V.

Excitement, But Potential Customer Confusion

The Buick plug-in will use some of the same technology GM is developing for the Chevrolet Volt. For example, it will be powered by a lithium ion battery pack provided by South Korea’s LG Chem. But there will be key differences. Unlike the Volt, a plug-in series hybrid capable of 40 miles of all-electric driving regardless of traveling speed—and exclusively using electricity to power the wheels—the Buick plug-in crossover will take a blended approach in which gasoline and battery power are combined, especially at high speeds. At lower speeds, the Buick plug-in will be capable of all-electric driving for as much as 10 miles, according to GM.

Tom Stephens, GM vice chairman of product development, said that the Buick would be “the company’s first plug-in hybrid.” That claim may confuse some customers, who consider the Volt—due in late 2010—to be a plug-in hybrid because it uses an electric motor and a gasoline engine. GM uses the term “extended-range electric vehicle” for the Volt’s technology, and “plug-in hybrid” for the approach used in the Buick.

To make matters more confusing, the plug-in Buick will also borrow from GM’s “two-mode hybrid technology,” a form of hybrid designed for larger SUVs requiring heavier loads and towing capacity. GM had planned to introduce its plug-in hybrid SUV as a version of the Saturn Vue, which was selling as a “mild hybrid”—yet another flavor of GM hybrid—and which was planned for production also as a “two-mode” hybrid. The hybrid Vue—at one point branded as “Green Line” and then simply as “hybrid”—would have therefore eventually been available with three different forms of gas-electric technology. But all of those plans were jettisoned when GM discontinued its mild hybrid vehicles, and then sold off the Saturn brand.

Top Priority, Again

When General Motors unveiled the plug-in Saturn Vue concept in late 2006, former CEO Rick Wagoner proclaimed, “This is a top priority program for GM.” In July 2009—three years and a bankruptcy later—Stephens sought to reassure green car fans that the program would not die. He said, “I can tell you that I won’t lose one day in terms of customers being able to walk into dealerships and actually purchase a plug-in.” He promised high production numbers and a speedy time to market, now set at 2011.

Stephens made the announcement last week at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich. He said, “Buick has always been at the forefront of new technology, so it is only fitting that the brand should debut our new plug-in hybrid technology in a beautiful new crossover.”

GM had been using Saturn as the primary brand for its hybrid technology. The switch to Buick is an apparent attempt to find a home for the plug-in SUV, and to redefine Buick for younger customers. “One of the things we wanted to do is bring the age of the Buick customer down, and we thought one of the things associated we could do to do that would be to add this advanced-propulsion technology onto the Buick brand,” said Stephens. According to data from J.D. Power, the average age of Buick buyers last year in the United States was 63, which is 16 years older than the average car buyer.


  • Dj

    Well, well the same old GM…..this is no different from the company
    that it was before.The Volt is a good step forward but these
    hybrid SUV are not unless you can make the hybrid SUV do the
    same thing that the Chevy Volt can do….go 40 miles at any speed
    all electric.Now if they can make an SUV like that!

  • Skeptic

    GM is so full of promises – they are sounding a bit like the sham electric car company ZAP!

    The difference is ZAP! has taken advantage of unfortunate individual investors. GM takes advantage of every single US taxpayer.

  • PW

    Remember the old saying that actions speak louder than words. Since GM’s actions have never produced anything but gas guzzling cars & trucks. It’s hard to believe that they will produce the world’s first plug-in hybrid SUV. I still don’t believe that they are even going to produce the Volt. I wonder what kind of excuse they will come up with when the Volt doesn’t come out in late 2010. Once again actions speak louder than words and GM’s actions will probably let us down like they always have in the past.

  • Skeptic

    “Unlike the Volt, a plug-in series hybrid capable of 40 miles of all-electric driving regardless of traveling speed—and exclusively using electricity to power the wheels …”

    Umm, “capable of”? How about “claimed to be capable of”?

    You know, since the Volt doesn’t actually exist and all.

  • GOK

    Will Penske be allowed to rebrand it as a Saturn?

  • TD

    Why is GM offering the hybrid version with the largest engine it is offering on the vehicle? Isn’t the point of the electric engine in a hybrid to allow the car to use a smaller gasoline engine? Towing capacity? Yeah, there are a lot of crossovers and SUVs hauling big loads out there.

    This sounds a lot like the “hybrid” pickups GM was offering. It seems pretty obvious that GM is setting up it’s own hybrid efforts for failure. I guess they still think hybrids are a fad and Americans will go back to their gas guzzlers as soon as gas prices drops down to a $1.50 a gallon. Like that is going to happen anytime soon!

  • Shines

    Interesting in one of the Prius articles in Japan (Yes I understand their culture is different than ours) over 70% of prius buyers are men and over 50% of them over 50.
    Here is a Buick – semi luxury brand known for its older clientele with a 2 mode (expensive) hybrid with a lithium-ion (expensive) battery system. I will be surprised if the price is less than $50K. How is this going to attract younger buyers???

  • Samie

    I believe Shines is right if you look at say the 2010 Buick Enclave w/c gets 17 / 24 mpg & 35k-44k. plus GM’s 10-15k markup on “Green Hybrid technology”

    GM to this date does not get it. Why can’t they understand simplify their product line. I don’t get it as we still see Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, & GMC still too many brands! Also too many competing hybrid technologies w/c reduces needed R&D into improvements including quality & design over older models. We can clearly see lack of funding in their luxury brand over the last 20-30 yrs. How will this not be repeated in any real attempt to produce a good hybrid or EV? It looks like this company wants to throw half attempts at hybrids by staying unfocused as E85 is strong, hydrogen, next gen of Two-mode, a weird blend of technologies as stated in this article & a serial hybrid along w/ the silly thousand versions of all their vehicles including SS, SL, ST, CX ect……. To anyone who would disagree w/ this assessment what is GM’s market share of sold hybrids? How come most consumers skip on GM’s hybrids as so far costs don’t justify the low improvements in mpgs or added quality?

    They have a gem of an idea in the serial hybrid. This could be the short term solution in moving towards EV’s until battery range improves. What is so hard w/ focusing on just this technology & using turbo/ stop & start technology in other models? Why can’t they start w/ a compact & a sedan like the Volt & build customer support/ loyalty in their hybrid system like Toyota has done w/ the Prius over a long period & maybe later as their serial hybrid technology improves include a cross-over SUV?

  • More GM Green Washing

    Wow, you’d think GM should have learned it’s lesson after going bankrupt. But I guess it’s SUV roots are deep and will always take priority in the company’s developments.

  • Max Reid

    Buick sells only in China. Here in USA, Chevy is the mass seller. They can very well sell Vue under Chevy make.

    Yes, they should sell Plugin Hybrid model in V4 engine version instead of V6. Anyway by that time, Ford will be selling a plugin version of Escape Hybrid which is already #1 among Hybrid CUV’s.

  • GR

    Something to remember: a larger engine doesn’t necessarily mean a less efficient one.

    The 2010 Prius has a larger engine than the ’09 model, yet it is more efficient. Barring a dramatic increase in gas prices, not everyone is going to automatically switch to a sedan when they’ve been used to driving a SUV. It’s a process.

    As long as manufacturers and consumers gradually (at least) switch to hybrids/PHEV’s/more fuel-efficient cars, that’s all you can really ask for.

  • bill cosworth

    This site is funded by Toyota lets be frank.

    Second GM sells more pickup trucks than Toyota sells prius cars.

    For one reason AMERICANS NEED TO WORK. Wake up people the reason this country is AMERICA is because we work for a living.
    Not driving around in foreign cars saying how much better we are than the Jones.

    All I can say is the 2010 Toyota prissy will be short lived.

    Nissan has leaf
    GM has volt
    Ford has Focus EV
    Chrysler has EV
    Honda’s next version of insite

    The Toyota prissy will be forgotten and all the prissy fans will fall apart the main problem is 50 MPG

    All the new EV will be well over 200 MPG and with rang extenders whats the point of a prissy.

    Hybrids are just what they are hybrids. Pure electric is the future.

    Sorry to be evil about this site but hybrid TV sets when away too in 1970

    They were hybrid transistor and tube technology.

    Its just a way to move forward until you perfected the transistor.

    Greg

  • Anonymous

    To Bill Cosworth (or Greg, whatever your name is), you don’t have to keep supporting this site by visiting it if you don’t like it.

    To suggest people buying anything other than trucks do not work is a laugh. Nothing else can be taken seriously after that statement. LOL

  • Samie

    bill cosworth says: For one reason AMERICANS NEED TO WORK.

    Not sure everyone that has a full sized truck actually needs it. I don’t understand why everyone needs a V8 including on a Tundra or Tacoma model. Half of what you say is just pure egos at work nothing more w/c all the major auto manufactures play into. Example is why can’t at least one company produce a small sized diesel engine for a full sized truck? Or why is there rumors of Ford boasting Truck production to capitalize on the Cash for Clunkers Program? Old habits are hard to break & you are right about SUV & Truck sales but spikes in oil prices create problems for folks like GM who are not diverse enough in their product line. But being diverse in their product line also means they would have to focus on simplified branding for marketing & better r&d/ production.

    Can someone tell me a clear difference in Buick & Cadillac or Chevy trucks/GMAC trucks if you can why would we not talk about a Buick Volt or say pricing of Toyota’s luxury brand Lexis starts around 30k while many Buick’s are in the same price level but Cadillac is suppose to be GM’s luxury brand. Also a history lesson was when GM tried to hip up Cadillac to a younger crowd a few years ago only to almost destroy the brand but they are trying the same strategy w/ Buick. Old management locked into a inter circle of folks who are telling them bad advise in some weird Detroit bubble time for the board to walk up & start demanding a new strategy b/c I doubt GM will hold onto 1/5 of the US market for much longer. Sad if you really think about it where innovation became complacency including lobbying attempts to reverse/ create more loopholes in the new CAFE regulations.

  • Bryce

    Just to clarify a few questions I saw in the comments. The Bui-Vue here is significantly smaller than the Enclave and would likely get better than the Enclaves 17/24 mpg especially considering it has a 3.6L V6 and the Bui-Vue stated here would come with a 3.0L V6 and be coupled with a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Previously the 2 mode hybrid vue was slated to get the 3.6L and get 28/31. Given that it will now recieve a smaller displacement engine, I would expect it to eek out a few more mpg’s.

    I don’t expect Penske to get a hold of any of this considering that their agreement is for all the stuff currently in production for two years. After that Penske will have to source vehicles from other auto manufacturers. (rumor has it that Renault-Samsung’s compact car is in the running…google it!)

  • Phil U.

    Please excuse my first post being a bit of a complaint, but why are so many commenters here against the idea of a hybrid truck? I mean when you consider that three of the top five selling vehicles in this current economic climate are small SUVs and pickups (http://money.cnn.com/2009/08/07/autos/cash_for_clunkers_sales/index.htm), doesn’t it makes sense to target those for increased fuel economy? Also, consider this (and this is math I’ve seen referred to on this site as bunk, but please hear me out):

    If I drive 12,000 miles a year driving an average sub/compact 4 cyl. that gets 30 mpg combined, I am consuming 400 gals. of gasoline a year. If I replace this vehicle with one that get 50 mpg, that goes down to 240 gals. A savings of 160 gals./year. Very respectable.

    Now, lets say I drive a large V8 sport ute that gets 12 mpg. And I buy a hybrid SUV that gets 20 mpg. Now I’m going from 1000 gals./year to 600 gals./year. A savings of 400 gals./year. Again, respectable in my opinion.

    Now overall, the 8 mpg increase that the SUV gets is actually saving more gasoline and reducing more emissions than the 20 mpg increase on the smaller car. Now clearly, convincing the SUV driver that they don’t need such a beast and getting them to buy the smaller car would be even better, but I’m of the opinion that such an effort is nigh impossible. I mean look around. People are still buying SUVs. Forget why – they are. I say good for GM. Let’s just hope they can bring it to market at a price that doesn’t shock people into skipping it entirely and just going with the plain ol’ gas guzzlin’ SUV they’re going to buy otherwise.

  • autobob

    GM wants to hold on to hybrids that people can not afford or want. Hybrids that run $30,000 plus. All their hybrids are tied to v8,or v6. They had the Malibu and Aura mild hybrid which are discontinued for good reason,they didn’t get good mpg. They need to build mid size and small car hybrid that get good mpg. These cars can sell at a higher volume at a price that people can afford.GM would make a profit and give people what they want. What a concept.GM doesn’t know what there doing or think that we are dummies and will be waiting for a second bail out,because their not builing cars that people want. Sounds like we have been down this road before. de juve.

  • Anonymous

    To Phil U

    I think your logic is sound. It’s just that hybrid and SUV is an oxymoron, hehe…

    But seriously, GM is choosing to play second fiddle here by not aggressively developing top notch, efficient, and affordable model to challenging Toyota Prius (Volt is priced out of the park for average people). Instead of concentrate/redoubling their efforts, they have chosen to take the leftover market and develop more suv hybrids. This is not a sign of a company striving for #1. This is a sign of a company happy in its complacency and surviving another day!

  • Phil U.

    Anonymous:

    No doubt that Toyota has a leg up on everyone else with the Prius. Goes to show what being early to market can do. And there’s also no question that the American makes took far too long to see the importance of having the technology to produce fuel efficient vehicles.

    But I think the Volt is a very realistic competitor to the Prius. Given a choice between the two, I would pick the Volt for both aesthetics and efficiency. Of course price needs to be a consideration and that isn’t known as far as I know.

    And autobob brought up a good point about making hybrids that are too expensive. My opinion is that while GM started out with an expensive hybrid drive train on their SUVs which proved to be an exceptionally ill-timed investment, it will eventually pan out into something that will right-size over time. Chrysler’s version of the two-mode hybrid cost $8,000 less and still didn’t sell in an otherwise comparable vehicle. So what is the right price? I still see new gasoline only-powered Escalades rolling off the lot that cost far more then either the Tahoe/Yukon hybrids or the Durango/Aspen hybrids that use the GM/BMW/Chrysler system. There’s something more than just price going on there.

    What I think all manufacturers should do is implement hybrids as an option on all of their passenger vehicles. I’m being Captain Obvious here, but what isn’t obvious is why they aren’t. I mean, here’s a fairly proven new technology that can offer significant reductions in oil consumption and output of carbon emissions. You’ve got a couple of American car companies here that are pretty much going back to the drawing board on their entire line-ups. Isn’t now the time to make the switch?

  • Phil U.

    So I just looked on wikipedia and it looks like the Volt will be about $10,000 premium over the base Prius once the federal tax credit is considered. This is a pretty big jump. Economically speaking, a 12,000 mile annual driver will never see a break-even over any realistic life of the car assuming the miles are driven evenly throughout the week (meaning gas will not be used) and assuming a $1.25 per day cost to charge (from gm-volt.com) and a $2.50/gal. pump price. Even if gas doubles in price to $5/gal., break even is more than a decade away. So it does indeed appear that the GM Volt will not be a really viable option economically speaking. That’s too bad.

  • Anonymous

    It does make me wonder why Ford and Honda can come up with prius competition while GM continues to turn out market blunders.

  • Phillip U.

    I was discussing some of GM’s hybrid merits on an earlier post. Of course discussion about the Prius and Volt ensued. I had stated that I thought the Volt would be a worthy competitor to the Prius. I quickly learned that from a cost perspective, the Volt as it is currently estimated to be priced would never achieve a cost savings vs. a base Prius. And now I’ve looked on wikipedia (trust as you will) to see that the PHEV version of the Prius is expected for consumer sales in 2012 at an estimated price of $48,000. Well above the price of the Volt. So I have to now consider that we are at a point where cost of these PHEV really can’t be taken in an apples-to-apples comparison just yet since so much R&D and manufacturing costs are being rolled in to the early models. The Prius has been on the market for over ten years. So, assuming the Volt is actually put into production and it can hit the market soon, I think GM will be in a decent position. I really wouldn’t consider an all-electric vehicle at this point because I have concerns about cold-weather operation (I commute and park outdoors), availability of charging while away form home (will I be able to plug-in on a road trip?) and the time it takes to charge (if I forget to plug it in overnight, I might have to wait a long time before going somewhere). So a hybrid of any kind including ones with the option to plug-in are my preference. I think every car should have this option.

  • Phillip U.

    Oops. Meant to post that comment on yesterday’s Volt article.