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General Motors Announces Intention to Produce Plug-in Hybrid SUV Saturn Vue Green

General Motors Corp. intends to produce a Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid that has the potential to achieve double the fuel efficiency of any current SUV, the automaker announced at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. General Motors CEO, Rick Wagoner, just wrapped up his keynote address to the salivating throngs of journos within the LA convention center and the crux of his comments centered on the flexibility of GM’s future vehicle’s fuel systems.The major announcement was the development of a plug-in hybrid setup on the Saturn Vue Green.

This hybrid SUV will use a modified version of GM’s 2-mode hybrid system and plug-in technology, a Lithium Ion battery pack when ready, highly efficient electronics and powerful electric motors to achieve significant increases in fuel economy.

The Saturn VUE is a mid-size crossover SUV from General Motors’ Saturn marque. It was the first vehicle to use the GM Theta platform.

The VUE was introduced for the 2002 model year and was designed by Saturn. It is manufactured at the Spring Hill Saturn plant. Its unibody platform is shared with the Chevrolet Equinox, Pontiac Torrent and the European Opel Antara.

Four-cylinder VUEs use the Ecotec I4. The L81 V6 from the L-Series and 5-speed Aisin AF33 automatic transmission were initially offered, but starting in 2004, all 6-cylinder VUEs were equipped with the 250 hp (186 kW) Honda-manufactured L66 engine and a Honda transmission. The four-cylinder VUE was available with the VTi continuously-variable transmission (CVT) until GM canceled it for 2005.

The VUE received a facelift for the 2006 model year. Upgrades included a redesigned interior with higher-quality materials, a new bumper and grille, and some minor cosmetic pieces to the exterior. OnStar is now standard as well as cruise control and automatic headlights.

“GM has begun work on a Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid production vehicle,” said Rick Wagoner, GM Chairman and CEO. “The technological hurdles are real, but we believe they are also surmountable. I can’t give you a production date for our plug-in hybrid today. But I can tell you that this is a top priority program for GM, given the huge potential it offers for fuel-economy improvement.”

A plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle differs from non-plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles by offering extended electric-only propulsion, additional battery capacity and the ability to be recharged from an external electrical outlet.

Saturn introduced a special high-performance line of vehicles in 2004 under the name, “Red Line”. The VUE Red Line includes the 250 hp (186 kW) L66 V6 and sportier suspension tuning for performance. 18 in alloy wheels, ground-effect front bumpers, chrome exhaust tips, special black leather and suede seats, footwell lighting, and a special gauge cluster complete the visual updates. It also includes some special interior features as well, like a built in pencil sharpener and a better audio system.

The Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid is expected to offer electric-only propulsion for more than 10 miles. At higher speeds or when conditions demand it, such as brisk acceleration, a combination of engine and electric power or engine power only will propel the vehicle.

In addition to plug-in capabilities and the modified 2-mode hybrid system, the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid SUV’s powertrain will feature Lithium Ion battery technology, two interior permanent magnet motors and GM’s 3.6L V-6 gasoline engine with direct injection.

When ready for production, the Lithium Ion energy storage system will be replenished when the battery charge is depleted to a specified level by utilizing the 2-mode hybrid system’s electric motors and regenerative braking systems. When the vehicle is parked, the battery can be recharged using a common household exterior 110-volt plug-in outlet.

The high-performance VUE Red Line was joined for 2007 by an environmentally-oriented Green Line model. The VUE is a mild hybrid, or assist hybrid, using what GM calls a “belt alternator starter” (BAS) system. A large electric motor is connected to the crankshaft via a special accessory drive belt, with a modified automatic transmission fitted.

It automatically stops the engine when the vehicle comes to a halt and instantly restarts it when the vehicle must move again. Not to be confused as just a “start-stop” system, the electric motor also assists somewhat in acceleration, though not to the extent that Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system does. A Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery located under the load floor powers the electric motor, as well as collects and stores regenerative braking energy. The NiMH also provides some electric assist to the engine during steady driving, further improving fuel economy. The regenerative charging and electric motor assist functions are shown to the driver via an analog gauge on the dash board, and real-time fuel-economy feedback is accomplished via an “eco” light that glows when the instantaneous fuel economy is beating the window sticker fuel economy values.

The fuel savings are 20%, up from the base vehicle’s 22/27 mpg city/highway sticker to 27/32 mpg, the highest highway fuel economy of any SUV. The Green Line has a 170 hp 2.4 L Ecotec dual cam-phaser engine which replaces the standard 144 hp 2.2 L engine, resulting in the improvement of 0-60 mph acceleration time by 1.0 seconds.

The Green Line version costs about US$2,000 more than a similarly-equipped VUE, and debuted in production form on January 8, 2006 at the North American International Auto Show. The Green Line went on sale in fall 2006.

The 2-mode hybrid system will be altered for use with plug-in technology. It maintains two driving modes – one for city driving, the other for highway driving – and four fixed mechanical gears to maximize efficiency while maintaining performance. In addition, special controls will be utilized to enable higher speeds during electric-only propulsion and maintain electric-only propulsion for longer periods of time.

The Saturn Vue Green Line SUV, featuring the modified 2-mode hybrid system with plug-in capabilities, is part of GM’s ambitious effort to offer consumers a broad choice of hybrid systems at various levels of affordability:

* This year, the GM Hybrid system, an affordable belt-alternator starter hybrid technology, debuted in the Vue Green Line front-wheel-drive SUV.

* In 2007, the GM Hybrid system will expand to the Saturn Aura Green Line and Chevrolet Malibu front-wheel-drive midsize sedans.

* In 2007, the 2-mode hybrid system will debut in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size SUVs. Rear-wheel and four-wheel drive will be offered.

* In 2008, the 2-mode hybrid system will expand to the Cadillac Escalade full-size SUV and the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra crew cab full-size pickups. The Escalade will offer all-wheel drive, while the Silverado and Sierra will offer rear-wheel and four-wheel drive.

* In 2008, the first front-wheel-drive application of the 2-mode hybrid system, will debut – without plug-in technology – in the Vue Green Line. The Vue Green Line will offer customers a choice of the GM Hybrid system or the 2-mode hybrid system.

* In 2009, an electric all-wheel-drive, 2-mode hybrid system will be introduced in the Vue Green Line.

“GM plans to introduce a new hybrid system annually for the next several years, each offering different levels of affordability, fuel savings and performance,” said Tom Stephens, GM group vice president, GM Powertrain. “This strategy will allow more consumers to benefit from our hybrid technologies, while providing the opportunity to reduce our country’s petroleum consumption.”

GM is committed to a comprehensive and cost-effective, three-tiered advanced propulsion technology strategy focused on producing commercially viable and sustainable products. These include alternative fuel vehicles, ongoing improvements to conventional internal combustion engines and transmissions, the electrification of the automobile through a broad portfolio of hybrid models on high-volume car and truck platforms, and commercially viable hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world’s largest automaker, has been the global industry sales leader for 75 years. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 318,000 people around the world. With global headquarters in Detroit , GM manufactures its cars and trucks in 33 countries. In 2005, 9.17 million GM cars and trucks were sold globally under the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, HUMMER, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Vauxhall.

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