• Aug 13th 2009 at 2:02PM
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Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid prototype - click above for high-res image gallery

We had a chance for a quick drive of a development prototype for Buick's upcoming plug-in hybrid crossover this week at the GM proving ground. The prototype was still wearing its Saturn grille and badging as that was the original intent of the program. When Rick Wagoner announced in late 2006 that the company would develop a plug-in hybrid, it was intended to the be the Vue. Of course, at that time, Saturn still had a future as part of GM but we all know how that turned out.

The Vue was Saturn's best-selling vehicle in 2008 with nearly 82,000 units sold. For the new version, the silly fake fender vents are being dispensed with and a water-fall grille is being applied to make it a Buick (so much Fritz Henderson's hatred of re-badging). The two-mode hybrid system that was scheduled to go into production late last year lives on but is now paired with an 8 kWh lithium ion battery pack supplied by LG Chem. According to Larry Nitz, director of hybrid powertrain development, this is half of a Volt pack repackaged to fit under the rear cargo floor. Learn more after the jump.

[Source: General Motors]
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

Earlier in the day, we had seen the Buick version in the design studio at the Warren technical center. On the outside, little has changed. However, under the skin, the delays to the program have given GM the opportunity to make a number of updates. The same 3.6-liter direct injected V6 that was to go into the Vue is retained but it will now have flex-fuel capability. This wlll be the first direct injected V6 so equipped. According to Nitz, the decision was made to stick with the larger V6 instead of one of the new smaller engines GM has launched this year in order to retain the towing and acceleration capability for a premium vehicle. Future PHEVs from GM will likely go to smaller displacement engines.

The new PHEV also benefits from the Volt program with a new power inverter. The Volt inverter is smaller, lighter and more efficient than the unit originally developed for the two-mode Vue. The battery management system is also common to the ER-EV and will include conditioning of the battery to the optimum temperature range when it is plugged in. Nitz confirms that the PHEV could be driven around at low speeds (below about 30 miles) for over ten miles on battery power alone. However, it is not really designed for that.

As a blended system (like other parallel hybrids) the PHEV, is optimized to discharge the battery when it is most efficient to do so while using the engine when it makes more sense. It will be able to cruise along at about 40 mph with the engine switched off, just like an Escape, but the acceleration and towing capabilities are significantly better. In what is expected to be typical use, the pack should be fully discharged within about 20 miles of driving.

The powertrain engineers have made significant progress on learning to control the hybrid interactions of the front drive two-mode system since I last sampled it. (disclosure: in my previous life, I worked on the brake control system for the two-mode Vue among many other projects) The transitions between engine on and off are now as seamless as the latest Ford hybrids which are among the best on the road. Driving around the city course I had to glance down at the power flow display to see if the engine was running. Acceleration response was always good and the vehicle never left me waiting.

The Buick will have charge ports under the front fender badges that will replace the fake fender vents used on the Vue. The conventionally-powered Buick will launch later in 2010 with the 2.4-liter four and 3.0-liter V6 direct injected engines. The plug-in hybrid will launch in 2011, about a year before Ford launches its own PHEV and Toyota is expected to start retail sales of the PHEV Prius.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      Do we know what happens after the 20 miles of charge has been depleted? Will the motor be able to recharge the battery pack or does it have to be plugged in to recharge
        • 8 Months Ago
        Correct, It behaves just like a standard non-plug hybrid after depleting the battery. Trying to recharge the battery from the engine would consume more gas than you would otherwise save.
        • 8 Months Ago
        The battery isn't actually "fully discharged" as that would reduce battery life.

        During the first 20 miles or so after recharge, it uses the extra electrical energy to improve fuel economy, in a "charge depletion mode".

        After the charge drops down to 35% "state of charge" it enters a "charge sustaining mode" where most of the energy comes from the engine, and it behaves like a non-plugin hybrid. It will use some power from the battery for quick bursts of acceleration, and partially recharge the battery from regenerative braking and any excess power from the engine.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Thanks for clearing that up guys.
        • 8 Months Ago
        My guess is it charges while driving and off regen braking like the Prius and Escape. On top of that you can plug it in like a glade air freshener.
      • 8 Months Ago
      u know I dont have a prob with rebadging as long as the SAME vehicle isn't being sold by 2 diff brands at the same time

      Kudos to GM for keeping the Vue alive
      • 8 Months Ago
      Was it rebadging when Ferrari closed the Dino marque and sold the Dino (which led to the current F430) as a Ferrari?

      Rebadging more refers to when you offer the same vehicle under two marques in the same market. Like a Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. This vehicle is merely going to be sold under a different marque than GM first planned. Like when the Honda NSX came to the US as an Acura NSX.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I agree, it would be rebadging if the Vue Hybrid was also going to be sold under the Saturn name, but this is just making sure they don't waste the research put into the project. They know the idea is a winner, so they want to use it. Not the same as "rebadging" in my book, especially if they step up the finishes to Buick standards.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Unless they offer an AWD option, this will be an instant failure. People buy SUVs and CUVs specifically for AWD, necessary or not. Ford offers it on the Escape Hybrid and likely will when the Escape Plug-In Hybrid goes on sale.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I hope you are kidding.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I agree completely with your statement for AWD. If you live in MI that is what you want to drive
        • 8 Months Ago
        I don't have AWD on my Ford Escape Hybrid, and also I have never needed it. Even though I live on a hill and we had some serious snow and ice on the road last winter. Chains on the drive wheels did the job just fine. I would happlily trade in my FEH for something that has 100% EV mode, AWD notwithstanding.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Is the new 2011 Buick SUV going to be a 5 or 7 passenger. I would really like to see Buick bring back a 5 passenger SUV, and still have the width/inside room as the 7 passenger SUV. Buick made a BIG mistake when they stopped making the Rendezvous. Was my favorite size SUV. Had comfort and perfect size for small families that didn't want or need the extra length. Let you sit up high which was great. I am looking at the new terrain that is coming out but it does not have the width inside that I am looking for. So very interested in knowing what dimensions the new Buick SUV will be both inside/outside and length.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Could GM offer AFM with this new 3.6DI PHEV? Shutting down the center pistons, making a V-4, when the load is light.
        • 8 Months Ago
        They use deceleration fuel shut-off which provides a similar boost
        • 8 Months Ago
        Sam is right. Shutting down all fuel use when not needed saves more fuel than "active fuel management" ever could.
      • 8 Months Ago
      The good news about the delay in production is some nice technical updates.
      The bad news about replaing the Saturn Badge with Buick and the use of words like "premium" sounds like a mega MSRP:(
        • 8 Months Ago
        I wouldn't worry too much about them lux-ing this thing up. As the consistently popular GM brand, Buick was headed for some smaller cars anyway. Folding the good Pontiac and Saturn product into the other brands just encourages the move more.
      • 8 Months Ago
      PHEV's should sell well in Europe with its higher gas prices and shorter commutes. The battery pack paired with a smaller engine in an estate body would work pretty well IMO.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Do GM going to follow different plug standards for different plug-ins ? .

      The plug in the picture is not same as volt one. Means this doest not have to voltec chagrining circuit.

      Second question is do on high way cruise and other optimal conditions the engine charge the battery - this is done in prius etc and in volt GM always emphasizes that the generator doest not charge battery at any condition.

      Third question is do this hybrid is going to be only fwd or a 4x4 kind also will be available (like slip detection etc for snow ,wet and off road conditions )
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