Saturn to Produce Plug-in Hybrids

Get ready for a new version of the Saturn VUE which will feature a hybrid system that is plugged-in to be charged, and which will be able to get upwards of 100 miles per gallon. From the San Jose Mercury:

LOS ANGELES – General Motors became the first automaker to commit to producing plug-in hybrids Wednesday, as Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner pledged his company would make the high-mileage gas-electric vehicles.

But he didn’t commit GM to a specific timetable. `It’s pretty clear it will take several years,” he said in a speech that opened the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis for researcher J.D. Power and Associates, called GM’s action “laudable,” but he noted that Wagoner had “not made that many commitments.”

What GM did say is that its first plug-in hybrid will be based on the 2008 Saturn Vue, a redesigned crossover-utility vehicle that goes on sale next year. Eventually, the Vue will be sold in three hybrid versions: as the Green Line that used a mild hybrid system, as a vehicle that uses GM’s more efficient two-mode hybrid system, and as the plug-in hybrid.

A hybrid, such as the popular Toyota Prius, uses electric motors and batteries as well as a gasoline engine to achieve fuel-economy gains. A plug-in version would need larger, more sophisticated batteries. It could be charged at home, and would result in “significant” fuel-economy gains, Wagoner said.

Activists, including Felix Kramer in the Bay Area, have been pushing automakers to make plug-in hybrids and have been driving converted Prius models that get the equivalent of 100 mpg or more, they say. [full text]