6 February 2004

General Motors is investing heavily in frugal petrol-electric technology, cranking up capacity to one million hybrid vehicles in the US by 2005-06 – and some could be sold in the UK.

GM is introducing hybrid versions of its thirstiest vehicles first: the 2006 Saturn Vue SUV will have a combined alternator/starter hybrid system, yielding 12 to 15 per cent fuel savings. That car’s Theta platform will be used in the next Vauxhall Frontera.

In 2007, GM will introduce full-size SUVs and pick-ups that will also feature Displacement on Demand cylinder deactivation technology. It claims these twin innovations cut fuel consumption by 30 per cent. GM is also working on a hybrid Chevrolet Malibu to be launched in the US within two years. The Malibu is based on the Epsilon platform which means that Vauxhall Vectra and Saab 9-3 hybrids are theoretically feasible. Mark Hogan, group vice president for advanced vehicle design, said: ‘Making a hybrid is very straightforward, because it’s a powertrain module.’

Hogan believes fiscal inducements are needed to encourage mass take-up of hybrids, because the payback period on the premium charged for them is too long. US hybrid sales are modest, though growing: 33,000 were bought in 2002 and 50,000 last year, in a 17-million-vehicle market.

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