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Wagoner: GM Wants to Be First on PHEVs; Analyst Says "Others Will Have to Follow"

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  • Felix Kramer
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2006
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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 Edmunds.com.
      "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, 2006
      http://www.marketwatch.com/news/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 TODAY
      http://www.usatoday.com/money/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 Edmunds.com.

      "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.


      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      http://www.calcars.org
      http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html
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