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GM Plans Plug-In Hybrid System in Midsize SUV

General Motors' product development chief said Thursday the company will introduce a plug-in rechargeable midsize crossover sport utility vehicle in its Buick lineup in 2011.

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General Motors logo

Tom Stephens, vice chairman of global product development, said the new vehicle will be about the size of a Chevrolet Equinox SUV and get double the city gas mileage of a similar-sized conventional SUV.

The current Equinox with a four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive gets 22 miles per gallon in the city.

The Buick will have a new plug-in rechargeable version of GM's two-mode hybrid powertrain now used in larger SUVs and pickup trucks. The current version cannot be recharged by plugging it in.

Stephens, speaking at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich., said the plug-in SUV originally was destined for the Saturn brand. But GM has a tentative deal to sell the brand to the Penske Automotive Group.

The new Buick will have a 3.6-liter V-6 engine and two electric motors powered by a lithium-ion battery made by LG Chem of South Korea.

The plug-in will put the Buick brand "front and center" in advanced technology, Stephens said.

GM's dual-mode hybrid system uses two electric motors and a V-8 engine to get up to 23 miles per gallon in a pickup truck or large sport utility vehicle. A computer determines what combination of the three motors is most efficient for the road conditions, temperature and load.

Stephens said new Buick will not operate on electricity alone. Instead, the electric motors will help the internal combustion engine get better gas mileage, he said.

The new Buick will initially be powered by a four-cylinder engine. It will get the plug-in powertrain in 2011 for Department of Energy fleet use, followed shortly thereafter by sales to the public.

Stephens also said GM will begin selling the Chevrolet Spark minicar and Chevrolet Orlando seven-passenger small crossover in 2011.

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