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Published: Thursday, 8/6/2009

GM plans a plug-in midsize Buick SUV

ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. General Motors will introduce a Buick crossover sport utility vehicle powered by a plug-in rechargeable system in 2011, a top GM production executive said Thursday.

Tom Stephens, vice chairman of global product development, said the new midsize vehicle will be about the size of a Chevrolet Equinox SUV and get double the city gas mileage of a similar-sized conventional SUV. It will run on a combination of batteries and regular fuel.

The plug-in will put the Buick brand "front and center" in advanced technology, Stephens said.

The Buick will have a new plug-in rechargeable version of GM's two-mode hybrid powertrain now used in larger SUVs and pickup trucks. The current version cannot be recharged by plugging it in.

Stephens, speaking at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich., said the plug-in SUV originally was destined for the Saturn brand. But GM has a tentative deal to sell the brand to the Penske Automotive Group.

The new Buick will have a 3.6-liter V-6 engine and two electric motors powered by a lithium-ion battery made by LG Chem of South Korea.

GM's dual-mode hybrid system uses two electric motors and a V-8 engine to get up to 23 miles per gallon in a pickup truck or large sport utility vehicle. The planned midsize Buick SUV plug-in will get much better mileage than that. The current Equinox with a four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive gets 22 miles per gallon in the city.

Under the GM dual-mode hybrid system, a computer determines what combination of the three motors is most efficient for the road conditions, temperature and load.

Stephens said the new Buick will not operate on electricity alone. Instead, the electric motors will help the internal combustion engine get better gas mileage, he said.

The new Buick, which has not yet been named, will initially be powered by a four-cylinder engine. It will get the plug-in powertrain in 2011 for Department of Energy fleet use, followed shortly thereafter by sales to the public.

Stephens would not say how much the Buick would cost or where it would be built, although he said it would be produced in an existing factory.

It will be on the same underpinnings as the new Equinox and GMC Terrain, which are built at a factory in Ingersoll, Ontario. The Saturn Vue, on which the Buick also is based, is built in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

Stephens also said GM will begin selling the Chevrolet Spark minicar and Chevrolet Orlando seven-passenger small crossover in 2011.



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