Detroit Auto Show: GM To Go Hybrid Power in Cars, Pickups and SUVs Over Next Four Years

DETROIT January 6, 2002; John Porretto writing for the AP reports that one of the clearest signs yet that hybrid cars may be going mainstream, General Motors Corp. plans to offer a variety of the gas-and-electric powered vehicles over the next four years.

The plan by the world's biggest automaker, to be announced Monday, includes hybrid models for cars, pickups and sports utility vehicles.

GM's new strategy sends a clear signal that auto executives are starting to consider energy-efficient hybrids as potentially viable offerings to the mainstream motoring public.

Hybrids draw power from two different energy sources, typically a gas or diesel engine combined with an electric motor. While environmentally friendly and fuel efficient, their high cost has prevented them from finding more than a niche market.

For now, the only versions available in the United States are small cars made by Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.

GM will offer hybrid options on several vehicles, starting later this year with the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups for use in commercial fleets. The hybrid versions of the trucks will increase fuel economy by 10 to 12 percent, the company says.

Those same trucks will be available to retail consumers in 2004. If demand is high for all hybrid models, GM says it could produce a million or more a year by 2007. GM sold nearly 4.8 million vehicles in 2002.

"We're taking a very pragmatic approach, targeting a wide array of popular models with varying degrees of complexity to give consumers a variety of choice," said GM president and chief executive Rick Wagoner.

In 2005, GM will begin producing a hybrid Saturn VUE sport utility. It will also include a hybrid option on its forthcoming Chevy Equinox SUV in 2006 and its Chevy Malibu sedan in 2007.

Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group are also planning hybrid models.

Recently, officials have tried to offset the high cost of hybrids by allowing buyers in some areas to qualify for a federal tax deduction and local tax breaks.

Mike Wall, an analyst with the automotive forecasting firm IRN Inc., said the cost benefit -- extra mileage per gallon -- typically isn't enough to sway most people.

"If the tax breaks are sweetened, and if you push the envelope for better gas milage, I think you'll see more penetration," Wall said.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a fuel economy advocacy group, said in a report last week that while a hybrid could cost $4,000 more than a conventional vehicle, drivers could save nearly $5,500 in gasoline expenses over the vehicle's driving life.

North American International Auto Show, http://www.naias.com

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