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Wagoner: GM Wants to Be First on PHEVs; Analyst Says "Others Will Have to Follow"
Dec 4, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
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The Marketwatch story is similar to other reports from last week, with an important addition: "In an interview on the sidelines of the show, Wagoner said he'd like GM to be the first to offer a plug-in hybrid, but it's more important to be first with a version that can be built on a high-volume platform."

The USA Today story cites "cautious optimism" by Chelsea Sexton from Plug In America, and this from Alex Rosten, sales analyst for auto research website "It's a big step forward for the industry," Rosten said. "When GM makes a statement like that, others have to follow suit."

GM developing plug-in hybrid for Saturn Marketwatch: Last Update: 10:33 PM ET Nov 29, 2006­news/­story/­gm-developing-plug-hybrid-saturn/­story.aspx?guid=%7B72401F0E-6CDC-40F2-9904-FF7458D70FA1%7D (Adds comments from GM North America president on mileage range for plug-in hybrid in seventh paragraph and adds comment from Wagoner in ninth paragraph.)

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- General Motors Corp. (GM) Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said Wednesday that the U.S. needs to reduce dependence on foreign energy and insisted the No. 1 auto maker is accelerating its efforts to meet the challenge by being the first to offer a plug-in hybrid and by expanding its production of biofuel vehicles.

Wagoner said GM is using the Saturn Vue hybrid sport utility vehicle to develop a plug-in hybrid, which can be recharged from a standard electrical outlet, and will offer biofuel-capable Hummer SUVs. He said "energy and environmental leadership" is a key part of GM's turnaround plan.

The Saturn Vue also will have a front-wheel drive version that will increase fuel efficiency.

If GM is first to market with a plug-in hybrid, it could help sway consumer perception that GM and U.S. auto makers aren't as committed to fuel efficiency as foreign-based auto makers.

Wagoner, in prepared remarks for his keynote speech to open the Los Angeles Auto Show, said he thinks increasing demands from developing countries means oil can't be the sole means of powering vehicles.

He said GM is developing a "plug-in" version of its Saturn Vue hybrid sport utility vehicle. A plug-in hybrid would store more energy, allowing the car to run on its emissions-free electric motor longer, and can be re-charged by plugging it into a standard electrical outlet.

In an interview on the sidelines of the show, GM North America President Troy Clarke said the plug-in hybrid could get around 70 miles per gallon on the highway. He wouldn't give a specific number, but when asked if it could get 70 miles per gallon, he said, "in that range."

Wagoner didn't give a time frame for the plug-in, but said it will take "several years" to bring one to market. Wagoner said GM's prior work on its now-defunct EV1 electric car gives it a good base for the battery technology needed.

"GM is committed to the development of electrically driven vehicles that will help improve energy diversity, and minimize the automobile's impact on the environment,"

Wagoner said. "And we'll follow today's announcements with additional announcements during the auto show season, including Detroit, in about six weeks."

In an interview on the sidelines of the show, Wagoner said he'd like GM to be the first to offer a plug-in hybrid, but it's more important to be first with a version that can be built on a high-volume platform.

Shorter-term, Wagoner said the new Vue will be the "launch platform for the first front-wheel-drive version of our advanced 'two-mode' hybrid system in 2008...and this will deliver even more fuel economy for our customers."

Wagoner said the current Vue Green Line hybrid delivers a 20% improvement in fuel economy over the base model. The front-wheel drive, two-mode hybrid Vue should improve overall fuel economy by 45%, Wagoner said.

GM also is increasing its use of engines that can run on biofuel. Wagoner said Wednesday that the Hummer brand will offer biofuel engines across its entire lineup within three years.

Wagoner reiterated GM's commitment to producing more cars that can run on biofuels such as ethanol-based E-85. GM has two million E-85 capable vehicles on the road. He said GM, along with Ford Motor Co. (F) and DaimlerChrysler AG (DCX), will double production of biofuel-capable vehicles by 2010.

But he noted that the availability of E-85 is the main challenge. Wagoner noted only about 1,000 gasoline stations out of 170,000 in the U.S. have E-85 pumps.

U.S. auto makers, in a meeting earlier this month with President George W. Bush, said they would make half of their annual vehicle production biofuel capable by 2012, "provided there is ample availability and distribution of E-85, as part of an overall national energy strategy."

Saturn hybrid gets plugged in
Updated 11/30/2006 4:43 AM
By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY­money/­autos/­2006-11-29-electric-saturn_x.htm?csp=34

LOS ANGELES - General Motors (GM) is building a plug-in hybrid version of its small Saturn Vue SUV, marking a return to electric vehicles for the automaker, CEO Rick Wagoner said Wednesday.

GM has begun work on making Vue available in a version that consumers can plug into a garage wall socket overnight, then run on electricity during the day. When the juice runs out, a gasoline engine would take over, extending the range and recharging the battery.

Such a vehicle would deliver at least double the fuel efficiency of any current SUV, according to GM.

At the press opening of the Los Angeles Auto Show, Wagoner said no sale date has been set. The effort will take "several years," he said.

But he called it a "top-priority program for GM," its development largely guided by advancements in lithium-ion battery technology.

GM has to take action on alternative fuels because of a growing need for oil in the world, he said.

Many countries, not just the USA, face growing concerns about imported oil dependency. In addition, weaning vehicles off petroleum holds the side benefit of dramatically lower emissions.

"We will be in this game for the long term," he said.

Toyota (TM), maker of the Prius and other hybrids, has also said it's working on a plug-in hybrid. President Bush called for development of plug-in hybrids in his State of the Union address early this year.

GM once produced the EV-1 electric car, which was available for lease in California in the early 1990s. That car could only go as far as the battery charge lasted. GM ended the program after deeming it a failure with consumers, drawing the ire of environmentalists. Wagoner said the criticism - including being singled out in the summer film Who Killed the Electric Car?- didn't factor in the plug-in decision.

A pair of well-dressed environmentalists leaped to the stage after Wagoner's address and tried to get him to sign a banner pledging to develop more fuel-efficient vehicles. Wagoner declined, saying his speech spoke for itself and adding, "Sorry, you have to leave now."

Environmentalists applauded GM's action.

"They have come full circle and are trying to do better," said Chelsea Sexton, a former EV-1 program manager and now executive director of Plug In America, which advocates development of plug-in hybrids. "They are starting to see how much enthusiasm there is for that technology."

She added that actions will matter the most. "We have to be cautiously optimistic and evaluate them not on what they say, but what they do."

GM's move will pressure other automakers to start their own plug-in projects, said Alex Rosten, sales analyst for auto research website

"It's a big step forward for the industry," Rosten said. "When GM makes a statement like that, others have to follow suit."

It make take awhile. Chrysler Group sales chief Joe Eberhardt, talking to a clutch of reporters later, said his company has no plans for a plug-in at this time. Ford Group marketing manager Cisco Codina said the answer for now is full hybrids, like the latest version of its Ford Escape hybrid SUV unveiled at the show.

Wagoner said there is no turning back on alternative fuels, whether it is plug-in hybrids, E85 ethanol or the full hybrids that GM is also developing. "At the end of the day, the transition will be as the conversion from horses to horsepower" a century ago, Wagoner said.

Indeed, environmentalism is one of the themes that resounds through the show here, which opens to the public for 10 days starting Friday.

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