And now, GM says it has a hybrid that can beat Toyota

Posted by: David Welch on January 7, 2009

Vue hybrid.jpg

Every throne has its challengers, or pretenders in some cases, and Toyota’s hybrid crown is finally getting a bit of a test. Not only has Ford said its Fusion hybrid will have a better fuel economy rating than the Camry hybrid, but General Motors is making a play to beat Toyota, too.

In a couple months, Saturn will start selling a hybrid version of its Vue with the two-mode system that powers the hybrid Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade. (Saturn already sells a mild hybrid system in the VUE) GM still doesn’t have a government rating for the two-mode Vue’s fuel economy, but indications are that it will beat the hybrid Toyota Highlander by a nose. GM says it will be the most efficient V-6 hybrid of any kind. They say it will get a 50% boost over the current V-6-powered Vue. That would put the fuel economy at 27 mpg, compared with 26 for the Highlander hybrid. We’ll see what the government says when the car goes through the paces.

If GM delivers, the Vue looks promising. Its direct-injection V-6 and electric motor combo will deliver 252 horsepower. The Highlander would trump the Vue’s power with 270 hp. But GM is hinting that they might have a price advantage. The Vue two-mode will sell at a base price of $33,000—about $700 cheaper than the Highlander base price. A plug-in hybrid version that promises even better fuel economy is coming in 2010.

The tough part will be making the Vue a big seller. Saturn sold 3,265 of the existing Vue hybrids last year. Toyota sold more than 19,000 Highlander hybrids. And even GM insiders will admit that Saturn’s marketing budget is razor thin. If they have a great hybrid, will anyone know? Plus, what’s to become of Saturn? In its turnaround plan sent to Congress in December, GM named Saturn as one of four brands that are in for some kind of strategic review. The brand could be sold or shuttered. That won’t happen before the Vue hybrid goes on sale. But it’s a big question for the brand. And it’s not good publicity.

Forget about making money on this car. GM’s two-mode system is hugely expensive. That’s the price you pay when it’s a rival is on its third-generation hybrid system and GM is just working on Gen 2. The two-mode system can be as much as $10,000 a car in cost, but the customer’s premium is about $5,000. At least GM is pushing ahead in the hybrid game though.

Reader Comments

Ballbuster

January 8, 2009 12:41 AM

GM's 1st generation so called "hybrid" involved cutting-off the engine at red traffic light and later the 1.5 generation "hybrid," the mild power assist hybrid, employed a tiny electric motor that could not propel the vehicle on its own power. From the start, the 1st generation Toyota Prius used a much more powerful electric motor and battery storage system and hence, had three mode of locomotion: all electric, all gasoline or a combination of both. Even humble Honda used a more sophisticated and powerful hybrid system, the Integrated Motor Assist, than GM. As another demonstration of repeated stupidity or mismanagement, The 3 Clowns of GM, Wagoner, Lutz, and Wellburn decided to go cheap on the American consumers by foisting these 1st and 1.5 generation "hybrids" upon consumers. Not impressed, the American consumer refused to buy GM’s inferior "hybrids" and now GM is back on the drawing board with this 2nd Generation. Today, even with taxpayer bailout money GM is near bankruptcy because its 3 Clowns failed to deliver leadership, quality, technology and value to shareholders and consumers. In addition, the fault also lies with GM's board of directors which has allowed incompetence, mediocrity, and self-delusion of The 3 Clowns to masquerade as business talent. Even if BW readers generously excuse their inability to run a car company, BW readers must find The 3 Clowns to be utterly stupid when they traveled to Congress via luxurious corporate jets for the purpose of begging a $15Billion taxpayer bailout. Without simple common sense and so out of touch with reality, how could these Clowns produce a profit building any car, let alone complex 2nd and 3rd generation hybrids? After more than 70 years as symbol of American industrial ingenuity and power to the world, GM today humiliates America as a nation of incompetence, impotence, and imbeciles. When The 3 Clowns are shown the exit door later this year, theirs will be the unwanted but infamous legacy given to America. America wants to be proud, dignified and respected around the world, not the laughing stock. America will not miss The 3 Clowns' departure and eagerly awaits this nightmare to end.

Dan

January 9, 2009 8:42 AM

Kurt

January 9, 2009 11:44 AM

The GM 2-mode hybrid is pretty amazing, allowing their full-sized Tahoe to get the same city fuel efficiency as a FOUR CYL Toyota Camry! This is a technology that the Japanese do not have.

And on the horizon comes the Chevy Volt next year, another technology the Japanese do not have, and which will blow all others out of the water, requiring no gas at all for normal commuters, and drawing less electricity than a refrigerator.

M. Holland

January 10, 2009 11:39 AM

Fat chance ,that GM has a car thats better than toyota,Time will tell,How long it will last.Before it has to go to the shop for repair.I was a mechanic for 15 years and the American cars just are not as good of cars,the buick is one of the better ones of the bunch.I used to be a Ford man,till i started working on cars for a living.Than i found out the whole picture to the story.Now i drive a honda civic.07 .Great car 25/40 miles per gallon.It was made in the USA also.The American car companys did the whole thing to them selfs.They did'nt want to change and they still don't want to change.The auto mechanic has tons more skill than the UAW ,and we get paid 1/3 the money to work on those cars.Its time to get rid of the UAW .M Holland

Tom

January 11, 2009 12:32 PM

When I go to a dealership to have work done, I'm charged $85 an hour. UAW-represented employees make $27 an hour, and new hires make $14 an hour. I don't think there is a single mechanic in the country who is paid $9 an hour. How do you think people feel when they go to a mechanic, and are charged $85 an hour times 1.5 hours for a job that takes 30 minutes?

As far as quality goes, you cannot assemble a quality car when you don't have quality parts and a quality assembly process. Remember, the Japanese had major issues with quality, and they worked single-mindedly to make that their top priority, unlike American manufacturers who thought reworking the sheetmetal was all that was needed to keep selling cars in huge numbers. That lack of foresight on the part of the American manufacturers is what ceded the game to the Japanese. Stop blaming the UAW worker for everything that auto execs mucked up.

Paul (Vw)

January 11, 2009 2:46 PM

What I'd be interested in seeing when cars are written about is a comparable measure of how long it would take for the hybrid option to pay for the extra cost over the similar non-hybrid model/version.

Of course this would vary based on gas prices, but it would help people like me who don't care as much about what kind of technology is under the hood -- we just want to know which car makes a better value proposition.

I don't care if there are squirrels in a cage under the hood, so long as it provides an acceptable level of cost, reliability, functionality, etc.

A few months ago I was wondering if I should look at a hybrid. Now with gas prices relatively low, a hybrid it is not appealing to me. Probably I should wait a couple more years to see how things shake out (in terms of technologies) anyway.

I just hope I live long enough to see hydrogen cars powered (essentially) by nuclear power plants.

Mark

January 13, 2009 7:06 PM

Tom, I make $180 per hour drilling oil wells. How does that make you feel when you fill up your tank?

Wolfrman

January 14, 2009 7:38 PM

Dan, Dan, Dan, don't you know that GM can do no right, and the imports can do no wrong? Just ask any Toyotahondanissan owner. Watch them gaff off the old 80's models trucks that rusted into oblivin within a few short years. They don't like being reminded about Toyota's class action lawsuit regarding their V6 engines and sludge. Honda owners don't like being reminded about Honda's two hybrid flops - the Insight and the Accord. Nissan owners don't like being reminded that Nissan very nearly left the U.S. market.

M. Holland. GM is well aware of how precarious their situation is. They have finally gotten the point when it comes to product quality. I have an '08 Impala with the 3.9L AFM equipped engine. I also keep to 55 mph on the highay and logged 36.5 mpg between Aurora, CO. and Amarillo, TX. on the way home from a family trip. It has not had one single warranty repair, and I now have 22k miles on the vehicle. I have a '97 Ford F150 with the 4.6L v8. It is a former CDOT construction vehicle, and I bought it with 146k miles on it. I now have 168k miles on it, and the only thing I've had to do was replace one minor part in the EGR system, and replace the fuel pump. It doesn't use a drop of oil between oil changes, and runs as glass smooth as a brand new one. It is for sale now, only because I decided to downsize.

I bought an '89 Nissan truck. It only had 68k miles on it when I bought it. I have a rear main oil leak, transmission pan leak, the A/C compressor seized up on me a week ago, the heater core leaks coolant, and the windshield wiper motor squeals when it's cold. Yeah, it's older, but has lived a far better life than the F150 could have ever hoped for. I like the Nissan due to it's smaller size. I don't however, think it's a better truck than my F150.

Jason

July 2, 2009 11:49 PM

Tom, automotive technician in general are under paid a new tech at dealer can expect to make less than 10hr for years and years and a top technician can barely afford a place to live and a mid sized car.
funny thing about auto repair is the harder the job the less the technician gets paid. the service jobs pay the bills and the warranty jobs steal from a technician

Tom

August 27, 2009 4:33 PM

Mark, here's the deal:

Roughnecks (drill deck workers) can earn up to $355 per day. This would translate to an annual salary of $USD 47,500. From here it is possible to be promoted to a Driller. In this case the daily rate is likely to be around the $420.00 mark, translating to $56,250 per annum. Not quite the $160/hr you claim.

Tool Pusher and Drill Leader positions (Chief and Supervisor's positions respectively), allow you to earn between $75,000 - $100,000 per annum.

That's fine by me, it's a tough job.

Jason: I understand. My point is the same, that the number being quoted as the pay of a UAW worker is not what that person makes.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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