Buick to get plug-in crossover

August 7, 2009

 

Buick to get plug-in crossover

 

Gasoline version due out first, in 2010

 

BY BRENT SNAVELY

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

General Motors Co. picked Buick for a new midsize crossover and plug-in crossover as part of its effort to attract younger buyers to the brand.

GM said Thursday it plans to introduce a Buick crossover in 2010 and plans a plug-in version for commercial customers in 2011 and for consumers shortly after that.

"One of the things we wanted to do is bring the age of the Buick customer down, and we thought one of the things associated we could do to do that would be to add this advanced-propulsion technology onto the Buick brand," Tom Stephens, GM’s vice chairman of global product development, said following a speech at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.

The average age of Buick buyers last year in the United States was 63, according to data from J.D. Power and Associates’ Power Information Network. That compares with 47 for all new car and truck buyers.

The gasoline version will be powered by a 2.4-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine and is expected to deliver 30 m.p.g. or more on the highway.

The front-wheel drive plug-in version will use a modified version of GM’s two-mode hybrid system, combined with lithium-ion battery cells and charging technology developed for the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car. It is to double the 26 combined city/highway m.p.g. of the Chevrolet Equinox.

"Buick will get our first plug-in hybrid, which will put the brand front and center in the advanced technology game," Stephens said.

The technology was originally intended for the Saturn Vue, but GM is spinning off its Saturn brand to focus on four core brands — Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac.

Stephens said the Buick plug-in is just one part of GM’s overall hybrid and alternative-propulsion strategy. The Volt, scheduled to debut next year, is designed to run on electric power alone for as far as 40 miles.

Stephens declined to say where GM plans to assemble the vehicle but said it must be built in the United States because some of the technology is part of a loan application GM has submitted to the Department of Energy for a $25-billion program designed to support the development of fuel-efficient vehicles.

GM also said Thursday that it selected LG Chem to supply battery cells for the Buick and subsidiary Compact Power to supply the battery pack.

The Buick plug-in announcement came the day after board Chairman Ed Whitacre said GM is speeding up its schedule for the introduction of cars and trucks under development.

Stephens said the decision to accelerate product development is possible now because of the amount of debt GM eliminated through the bankruptcy process. "If you look at where we were a few short months ago, it is like night and day," Stephens said.

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