GM to Focus on Plug-In Hybrid Technologies

According to the company’s product chief Mary Barra, General Motors Company will focus on producing plug-in electric, rather than conventional hybrid powertrains in the future.

Speaking via satellite with reporters at the Los Angeles auto show on Wednesday Barra said, “A major focus for GM’s electrification strategy will center on the plug.” She went on to say plug in hybrids offer the company “a unique opportunity to change the way people commute.” She also said that owners of the Volt plug-in electric hybrid “love the ability to refuel at home.”

The decision to focus on plug-in technologies was also influenced by the high cost and inefficiency of developing multiple powertrains. Barra said GM needs to “make educated bets on which technologies hold the most potential for creating values for our customers and our company.”

Although she acknowledged the importance of traditional hybrid technology, Barra said “we think plug-in technology will play an increasingly important role over the years to come.”

In addition to plug-in hybrid vehicles, GM also has a stake in pure EVs as well as its eAssist mild-hybrid technology which employs a relatively small battery and electric motor to assist the gasoline engine under certain driving conditions.

While traditional hybrid powertrains are capable of powering vehicles without the assistance of the gasoline engine, mild hybrids must rely on their engines for a portion of their power. Barra said mild hybrid powertrains deliver significant fuel savings, and pointed to the eAssist powered Buick LaCrosse as an example. She said the eAssist equipped LaCrosse gets about 25 percent better fuel economy than comparable vehicles equipped with conventional gasoline powertrains.

Since launching the eAssist system in the LaCrosse last year, GM has made it available on the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick Regal, and plans to offer it as an option on the redesigned Chevrolet Impala in 2013.

Barra said GM sold upwards of 26,000 eAssist equipped vehicles during the first ten months of this year. The company hopes to sell about 500,000 electrified vehicles annually by 2017.

Despite lackluster sales of some EVs, including the Mitsubishi i and Nissan Leaf, the Chevrolet Volt has sold relatively well. During the first three quarters, GM sold 19,309 Volts. By comparison, less than 7,000 Leafs were sold during the same period.

One key to the success of the Volt is its extended range technology which allows it to run for approximately 38 miles on pure electric power before activating a small gasoline generator.  The Volt has a total range of approximately 380 miles.

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