GM’s return to hybrids could start with large pickups and SUVs
GM’s change of position on hybrid vehicles is good news for the company, its customers and the environment. Now the automaker must implement the plan. Easier said than done.
In response to the automaker’s stumble in launching its new electric vehicles, GM CEO Mary Barra said at the end of January that GM would offer plug-in hybrids in the United States, reversing an earlier decision to focus on electric vehicles without hybrids as a move. intermediate.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles, or PHEVs, combine a traditional internal combustion engine — also called an ICE — with an electric battery powerful enough to allow the vehicle to be driven frequently without emissions.
PHEVs are not a silver bullet. There is no free lunch in engineering: a vehicle with a second power source is more complex and expensive than an ICE alone. That, combined with confidence in GM’s Ultium batteries and electric motors, led the automaker to announce its leap into electric vehicles, even though it pioneered plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology more than a decade ago with Chevrolet Volt car.
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“I’ve always been skeptical of going all-electric without having a backup plan,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Cox Automotive. “The road to electricity is very bumpy.”
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are a small player in the U.S., with registrations up 51% through the first 11 months of 2023, the latest numbers available, according to S&P Global Mobility. However, they accounted for only 1.8% of total car sales: 251,000 units. By comparison, electric vehicles accounted for 7.4% of U.S. sales and 1.03 million vehicles.
The powerful Hybrid Alliance, which is pushing for long-range plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) with electric power, says the vehicles are highly effective at reducing emissions and oil consumption, while also attracting customers who aren’t ready to make the jump to electric power alone.
In addition to its leadership in plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology in the United States, GM has continued to develop and build it in China, where demand is strong.
“Bringing back plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) to North America signals the company’s ability to be flexible and make changes on the path to zero emissions,” said Stephanie Brinley, S&P Global Mobility analyst. “GM’s goal of delivering a zero-emission vehicle fleet has not changed. The global company has a huge toolkit; the decision to revisit plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) in North America shows they will use the entire kit as needed to get where they want to go.” mechanism.
GM must execute this course correction flawlessly.
GM had a head start with the Volt
GM calls the Volt an “extended range electric vehicle,” but it’s indistinguishable from a PHEV to anyone but an engineer.
But it lost any leadership advantage when it canceled its planned Volt SUV and ultimately dropped the car and technology. Customers may see Chevy, Cadillac, Buick and GMC as latecomers compared to brands that have sold PHEVs all along, including Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota.
The latest concern: Consumer Reports recently issued a scathing indictment of the reliability of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), saying they have more than twice as many problems as ICE vehicles. The complexity of having two separate power sources makes plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) more vulnerable to breakdowns, said Jake Fisher, CR’s director of automotive testing.
Which PHEV will go first, and when?
GM has not said when the first new PHEV will debut in America, or which models will offer the technology. Even the chassis of vehicles sold with PHEV power in China will need engineering to make them suitable for US customers and regulations.
Additionally, the biggest impact on fuel use and emissions will come from deploying the technology on larger vehicles that GM sells in the U.S. but not China — pickup trucks and large SUVs.
“One of the first PHEV models will likely be the next generation of Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks, which are scheduled to debut in late 2026,” said Sam Fiorani, of consulting firm AutoForecast Solutions. “Given the need to balance large V8 engines in pickup trucks and SUVs, GM will likely target hybrid and electric models from Ford, Toyota and Ram.”
Compact and family SUVs ranging from the Chevrolet Equinox to the Traverse and Buick Enclave should take a look, too.
GM’s initial plan to jump directly from internal combustion engines to all-electric power was a bold venture, but it turned heads. Doubling down would be foolish. Recalibrating with the technology GM has proven itself capable of delivering is a smart move.
Contact Mark Phelan: 313-222-6731 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan. Read more about Cars And subscribe to us Auto Newsletter. Become a subscriber.