GM Saturn’s Two Plug-in Hybrids: One Production, One Concept

14 January 2008
 General Motors Group Vice President Tom Stephens with the Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid show vehicle prior to its debut at the Detroit show. Click to enlarge.

GM used the North American International Auto Show to highlight a number of coming hybrids in the Saturn line-up: the 2009 Saturn Vue Green Line 2 Mode hybrid, which begins production this fall; a plug-in version of the Green Line 2 Mode, which GM has committed to put in production, perhaps as soon as 2010; and the Saturn Flexstreme Plug-in Concept, a diesel-engined implementation of the E-Flex system (the Saturn Flexstreme is essentially the same car as the Opel Flexstreme shown in Frankfurt in 2007, earlier post).

2009 Saturn Vue Green Line 2 Mode and Plug-in 2 Mode. The Vue Greenline 2 Mode will be the first application of the two-mode transmission in a front-wheel drive vehicle. Accordingly, GM repackaged and redesigned elements of the two-motor transmission.

The motors, for example, have slightly lower output than their cousins in the two-mode transmissions in the Tahoe and Escalade (55 kW vs. 60 kW). The motors themselves have a different form factor in the FWD version (larger in diameter, but thinner) compared to the motors in the full size SUVs.

GM also made slight modifications to the fixed gear ratios in the transmission, and the final drive ratio in the Green Line 2 Mode is 3.02, compared to 3.08 in the larger vehicles.

The plug-in version is largely based on the 09 Vue 2 Mode, the major changes being the use of the larger Li-ion battery pack (the non plug-in version uses a 300V 1.8 kWh NiMH pack) and unique hybrid operating controls. GM is still being fairly close-mouthed about other technical details on the plug-in.

Tom Stephens, GM Group Vice President Global Powertrain and Global Quality, said that the Vue Green Line 2 Mode will deliver about a 50% increase in combined fuel economy compared to the non-hybrid Vue XR. The 2 Mode Plug-in will have a battery-powered driving range at low speed of about 10 miles, and could double fuel economy compared to the conventional vehicle on short trips. The conventional 2008 Vue XR (3.6L VVT, six-speed automatic) has a combined city/highway EPA rating of 19 mpg US.

 The Saturn Flexstreme. Click to enlarge.

Saturn Flexstreme. Unlike the parallel architecture of the Vue 2 Mode Plug-in, the Saturn Flexstreme uses the series hybrid (extended range electric vehicle) E-Flex system. The Flexstreme implementation of E-Flex is a collaborative effort between Saturn and GM’s European Opel brand. The car uses an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery to propel it for up to 34 miles of electric-drive-only range. The battery can be recharged at a household outlet in just three hours.

On the road, a 1.3L turbo-diesel onboard engine generates additional electricity to replenish the battery and extend the vehicle’s driving range to a total of 444 miles (715 km).

"The 2 Mode Plug-in will have a battery-powered driving range at low speed of about 10 miles..."

How is "low speed" defined? 25mph, like most NEV's?

It will be interesting to see the price of the plug in versus the AFS VUE design. If GM wants a $4k premium for the 2 mode hybrid over their 4 cyclinder VUE, how much more for the plug in? If it is$6k for the plug in over the regular VUE, is 10 miles enough range and how about battery life? The importance decision criteria is in the details.

It would be nice if GM could see their way to leapfrogging the parallel hybrid completely and going to Li-ion/series hybrid exclusively. Sometimes being bold pays off (look at Toyota's mindshare they gained from the early introduction of the Prius), and being cautious harms you.

Stephen

Great. Yet another entry in the serial hybrid format. I have always thought the Saturn brand best for low cost passenger hybrids. Clearly there is a lot of confidence that the GM battery development effort is on track.

The Flexstreme with 34M AER vs. Volt with 40M AER puts both in essentially the same category. The Flexstreme 1.3L turbodiesel genset is another step forward. I wonder if these engines will burn 98% biodiesel?

The Flexstreme looks really nice. From a marketing standpoint, I wonder how many people would really buy a series hybrid? I know a lot of people responded favorably to the Volt when it was announce a year ago, but how many would actually buy one?

If 700,000 people responded favorably to the Volt and said that they would be interested in buying one, would they sell 70,000 per year, 7,000 per year? Saying you are "interested" in buying one and actually buying one are two different things.

If well equipped and under 30K. I would by one today.

I have driven a friend's regular V-6 AWD vue (and been a passenger several times in the front seats and back). It could be \$20,000 for a 2-mode hybrid and I probably would not buy it...I just did not like the feel of the vehicle, the steering, the handling, the back seats were cramped (good luck fitting 5 people in one). I can't complain if I am a passenger in the front seat...but not my cup of tea.

gr: I've yet to hear of a diesel engine that couldn't run on biodiesel at any blend from B-nothing to B100. I just wish that the hybrid electric-diesel vehicle was not a concept car (yawn!) and had a production date set.

Kaz: I think by low-speed they mean something like 40mph or less, typically on city streets, not +65mph on the highway. Most newer NEVs *can* comfortably do up to 35mph, they are just regulated and limited to 25mph, but there is regulatory talk of changing that.

Curiously quiet here...

@Floatplane:

Diesel manufacturers have notoriously refused to warrant their engines for use with blends above B20. There have been myriad concerns about older diesels burning blends and only recently have Cat, Cummins, Detroit, etc. begun to recommend B30 or lower.

http://www.enviroharvest.ca/downside_biodiesel.htm

sjc, Why would anyone favor a Parallel HEV to a Serial HEV? And as the battery size increases, and plug-in capability develops, the serial's advantage increases. Finally with in-hub motors, the serial is far superior to a parallel.

All car manufacturers are well advised to skip Parallel and go straight to Serial, of course if the unions, the power train group, and the bean counters sitting on legacy assets allow.

The battery technology is already here.

In an industry that needs 100,000 units per year sold to do well, it is important to know that your market is there before making the investment. That is my only point.

sjc, I think it all depends on the price of gas when the Volt actually appears, as well as what's competing with it. I suspect oil prices will continue to rise meaning that all these PHEVs should sell well, as long as people can still afford the initial outlay.

I would agree. I think GM saying that they need 40 miles range is a bit of a stretch. One GM exec said that it is easier to go down in range than go up. I take that to mean that if they get 20 mile range in a battery pack at a good price, they may go for it.

Which brings up the battery cost issue. GM does not make batteries like the Chinese. Vertical integration is not on their side at GM. When batteries can cost as much as an engine and you make engines but not batteries, you may have a problem.

It tkes 12 years to turn over the US auto fleet. By year six, half or more of the auto fleet turns over. There are already substantial (over one million hybrids) on US roads, and ther ewill be many more post 2010, when the flood really begins.

Along about 2015 or so the cumulative effect will generate a price collapse in petroleum.

The problem that will then occur is that the remaining conventional ICE-engined vehicles will then gain an enormous marketplace attractiveness. They will be cheaper to buy, but stil somewhat more expensive to operate, than all the hybrid alternatives, and their fuel will be much cheaper than now.

It is easy to see the consequences. There will be a resurgence in ocnventional ICE-engined vehicle sales. This will continue to be so, until the overcapcity stabiizes, and gasoline prices find marketplace bottoms.

Parallel mode is more efficient that series mode at higher speeds. Apart from Toyota, TM4 of Canada have developed an EV/Series/Parallel system used in the Cleanova to take best advantage of the IC in each speed regime. Andy Frank is no fool either - his designs are exclusively parallel.

Of course, these are all predicated on retaining reciprocating piston engines when we should be using some type of turbine technology or other much more efficient heat engine - that would make series mode preferable to paarallel mode. Like a diesel electric train.

If it takes 12 years to turn over the U.S. fleet of cars and only 1 in 10 cars sold is hybrid every year, then it would take 120 years to get all hybrids on the road. I do not know if we have that long.

sjc:

When a huge industry is forced to adopt a completely new manufacturing model - they will have to rely on outside OEMs. That's just fine. This way, big auto can determine the best fit for component quality, cost, reliability, safety, etc. The advantage to GM at this stage is they are the buyer in a huge new buyer market. Korea, Japan, China, India, are all sellers vying for a piece of that market. The smart manufacturer will second and third source suppliers while looking for best fit acquisitions.

Estimated Crustal Abundance: 2.0×10^1 milligrams per kilogram
Estimated Oceanic Abundance: 1.8×10^-1 milligrams per liter

So plenty of lithium from the crust and plenty from the ocean if needed. But long before lithium wars (sorry warriors) are ultracaps, and silicon nanowires, and !!real fusion energy and quantum electron accumulators, cosmic flux capacitors...

The Vue is a waste of time, but the Flexstreme looks very promising, better than the Volt!

Those two rear seats are bucket seats, though? Not a bench? I would like to be able to fold them down or remove them, making a two-seater with more cargo space.

Oh, and THANK YOU for not putting a stupid macho grille on the front of it.

"GM is still being very closed-mouthed about the other technical details of the plug-in"

...that's because it's hard to come up with details for ephemeral dreams. The Volt: give me a break. I love how evryone gets whipped into a frenzy over this fluff. Hey look I've got this car and it makes acres of cole slaw too, just keep buying my other worthless crap and I'll sell it to you in 2010...no wait 2011...2012? Sucker...

The reason for buckets in the back may be that they seem to have put batteries between the seats.

http://jalopnik.com/photogallery/saturnflextremepics/1000473960

I would put a hatchback where the gull wings are and do away with the Segway stuff. Other than that, I like the idea.

More Flextreme pictures:
Jalopnik

(Note the spelling is not Flexstreme)
http://jalopnik.com/photogallery/saturnflextremepics/

Emphrio - you have ignored the efficiency gains due to a larger battery, constant speed diesel engine and generator, lack of drivetrain losses (at least 10% in the auto transmission and differential), and lower maintenance cost and lower weight, and smaller volume.

If you take a total systems approach, you will see Serial is superior to Parallel, even at high speeds.

Good points gr. If you notice it is the same "peak oil" post-colonial people who are crying "peak lithium". Lithum is the 31st most abundant element on earth, and only small amounts are needed for a 50kWh battery pack.

And then as you say, there is more technology to come.

I wish the "peak whatever" people realize the main source of these shortages, if real and there are some real ones, is the explosion in population numbers.

The best way to conserve and preserve our environment is to limit children growth to 1.5 a couple, with a market to trade the surplus quota.

I wish this website would fix the problem with broken paranthesis, so it would be possible to cut and paste the URLs.

It has been like this since I joined 12 mos ago.

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