General Motors has managed to keep under wraps core details of what may be a new benchmark for luxury plug-in hybrid sedans.
What we do know is GM says the CT6 plug-in hybrid will be something special, and able to hold its head up proudly even in the company of the best sedans the Germans have yet offered, and we will get to find out next week.
Any guesses on how special it might be?
The all-wheel-drive internal combustion version offered with three powertrain options was revealed this month in New York. It’s expected the Shanghai Motor Show beginning next week will be where GM shows the PHEV and even educated conjecture has ranged widely.
It Will Make GM ‘Very Proud’
In an interview with Pam Fletcher, GM’s executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles in New York, hints were dropped for the CT6 PHEV.
We mentioned to her that the Germans have discovered plug-in hybrids in a big way, and asked if GM will follow their formula of pairing a relatively powerful gas engine with a battery just a little bigger than the 7.6-kwh unit in the Ford Fusion Energi.
For example, Mercedes-Benz’ new S 500 PHEV has a 3.0-liter V6 that itself produces 333 horsepower, 350 pounds-feet of torque, and supplemented by an 85-kilowatt electric motor and 8.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. In all, it delivers 442 horses, 480 pounds-feet.
This is its flagship PHEV; it may be the nicest luxury plug-in hybrid sedan on the planet, and we asked Fletcher of the German automakers:
“Are you following their model? I mean what do they do? They put a 9-kilowatt-hour battery in a 5,000 pound car and it goes, 15-20 miles range?”
“Oh I so want to talk to you about that but I can’t,” said Fletcher. “It’s soon though, I mean that’s, we’re on the cusp [of the reveal].”
We continued to press:
“Which is really not meeting what the Volt does,” we said, noting that a PHEV with range that could be less than one-third the Volt’s is less effective at letting most drivers actually stay off gas for average daily trips. We asked:
“The CT6, is it just going to be another alternative to the Germans’ approach?”
“I think the CT6 is going to be terrific,” Fletcher said.
“The plug-in hybrid?”
“Yeah. Well I think both,” Fletcher said. “I think the conventional car is terrific too, but I think the plug-in hybrid is going to be terrific. It’s a good story, we will be very proud of that.”
Fletcher’s tone and expressions left the impression that GM is brimming with excitement over what’s next.
What Could Make GM Proud?
Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen has said the CT6 will be a no-excuses car next to the best the competition has to offer.
While others have conjectured a less-potent powertrain may be in store, Cadillac officials suggested to The Detroit Bureau the plug-in will match the power of the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 conventional CT6 shown in New York.
Note Mercedes-Benz has a 3.0-liter V6 paired with electric motor. It starts at just over $90,000. Could something like this be the formula for Cadillac, but an opportunity also for one-upmanship? Or will it use a turbocharged four?
As for transmission, the CT6 PHEV could be engineered any way GM wants, including Cadillac’s new 8-speed auto, or it could be the first rear-wheel drive application of GM’s two-motor planetary gearset drive unit as used in the 2016 Volt and 2016 Malibu Hybrid.
A simple route would be to keep things largely as they are and sandwich an electric motor between the engine and 8-speed transmssion. All-wheel drive could be retained therefore via an old-fashioned transfer case.
Or if GM really wanted to go all out, it could introduce a front electric motor to make all-wheel-drive. This would be the reverse configuration Toyota and Lexus now use for the Highlander and RX 450h which use a rear motor with no driveshaft connected to the hybrid system driving their front wheels.
As for that all-important EV range, GM may reach 25 miles more or less on the EPA cycle – not well below 20, realistically 12-15.
Soon enough the Germans may as well. Fletcher said the Germans are building cars for China, and so is Cadillac. Rules for PHEVs call for a minimum of 31 miles (50 km).
The Detroit Bureau reported Cadillac officials hinted the battery pack chemistry could differ from the Volt’s and instead be lithium-ferrous-oxide. It could also be a bit larger than its Volt’s 18.4 kwh, perhaps as large as 20-kwh for the heavier, larger car.
This is more than double what Mercedes for now puts in its S-Class PHEV, and also the 9.4-kwh pack Porsche puts in its Panamera S E-Hybrid, as two examples.
At the same time, “several sources” have said in hybrid mode the big Caddy could get as high as 45 mpg. This sounds steep and if it does it will beat the Volt’s estimated 41, and come close to the new Malibu Hybrid’s estimated 47.
Not likely, but not impossible. Did they mean on the easier Chinese cycle? Add it to the list of questions needing answers.
We’ll Know Soon Enough
Press days in Shanghai could see an announcement by Tuesday April, 21 of what Cadillac has up its sleeve.
Presently there are scant few elite plug-in hybrids, although more such as Volvo’s $68,100, 17-mile range XC90 T8 SUV and others are coming.
Fans of Tesla will be quick to point out PHEVs can seem compromised next to a Model S which can go up to 270 rated miles and not use any gas.
But the major automakers so far have not taken Tesla’s bait overly much, though a few have started developing high-end EVs, such as Audi, which are expected to be limited production and not the paradigm changers that Tesla aspires its cars to be.
And as Fletcher points out, different customers have different wants. Some don’t want a pure battery electric vehicle.
In China, reports are of buyers getting PHEVs just to bypass strict rules and qualify for subsidies and perks in polluted cities which also hold lotteries for license plates for which PHEV buyers may also be exempt.
Tales of them driving on straight gas and not plugging in have gone out, blamed in part for scant infrastructure yet in place.
But fraught with compromises or not, PHEVs are being developed for that market, and the U.S. is benefitting too.
de Nysschen said the CT6 PHEV would come to the U.S. if for nothing else to help economies of scale. If it has done as excellent a job as is hinted though, could it surprise us and sell far better than the ELR?