In an effort to spread hybrid technology to a wider range of high-production vehicles, General Motors plans to improve its current mild hybrid system. GM unveiled the technology yesterday at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show. The automaker says the new version will utilize lithium ion batteries, which will produce three times the power as the current nickel metal hydride battery pack. The revamped powertrain is also expected to deliver a 15 to 20 percent increase in fuel economy compared to a similar gas-powered vehicle. “This new system is another important step in our broad-based strategy to reduce vehicle fuel consumption and emissions,” said Rick Wagoner, GM’s chairman. The new system is expected to be ready for production in North America by 2010, and for global markets shortly after.

Demonstrated for the first time in the Saab 9-X BioPower hybrid concept in Geneva, the new system will be based upon the same belt alternator starter hybrid technology that is currently available in the Saturn Vue Green LIne, the Saturn Aura Green Line and the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. The revised technology is designed to be applicable to a broader range of GM’s model lines, both in the U.S. and abroad. Compatibility could extend to diesel and biofuel engines as well as newly-developed turbo-charged powerplants.

To date, hybrids from General Motors have accounted for less than one percent of the total hybrid market. “In order to have a real impact in reducing oil consumption, oil imports, and CO2 emissions, advanced technologies must be affordable enough to drive high-volume applications,” Wagoner emphasized. Once rolled out, GM anticipates volumes will ramp up to around 100,000 units per year. The company did not announce which vehicles will receive the new system.

In addition to using more powerful motors and more robust batteries, GM’s new and improved hybrid system will allow brief electric-only propulsion, extend fuel cutoff during deceleration, and expand regenerative braking to recapture more energy.

The company’s belt alternator starter hybrid system is a distinct and separate technology from GM’s more expensive two-mode hybrid system —currently being utilized in a number of the company’s largest SUVs—and the plug-in hybrid system planned for the Saturn Vue and Chevrolet Volt.