Fri, Feb

GM Wary on Hybrids

Why has General Motors been slow to respond in developing gas/electric cars?

Jan. 23—Why has General Motors been slow to respond in developing gas/electric cars?

"It was going to take a technological effort, a huge investment, huge complexity," said Bob Lutz, vice chairman of GM. "But what we forgot was the emotion involved and that a certain number of people make a performance statement by buying a Corvette or an off-road statement by buying a Hummer. There are those who want to make an environmental statement with a hybrid."

And, he added, "We can't be continually reminded that Toyota has hybrids and we didn't."

So GM will offer a gas/electric Saturn Vue sport-utility vehicle for 2006, a hybrid Chevrolet Malibu sedan for 2007 and hybrid Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs for '08.

Lutz still cautions that hybrids represent a small fraction of annual vehicle sales.

"It's a market that sells under 200,000 units 1/880,000 in the U.S. in 20043/8 a year in an industry that sells 17 million units a year."

Still, Lutz said it was good that hybrids are doing well.

"It's good because now that we've made an investment in hybrids, it would be a shame for that market to go away. We love hybrids," Lutz explained, "but are still being reactive to them because they don't make a good business case. When you have two drive sources, gas or diesel and electric, you have added cost."

While hybrids help conserve fuel, GM as well as most automakers, insist the power source of the future has to be hydrogen, which is converted to electricity to power the vehicle.

GM says it has a hydrogen fuel cell that will propel a midsize SUV for 300 miles before the need to refuel, which means it will compete with gas-powered vehicles in terms of driving range.

But it costs roughly 10 times what it does to put a V-6 gas engine and automatic transmission in a car, Lutz said.

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