General Motors to offer new hybrid system

/ Source: The Associated Press

General Motors Corp. says it expects to bring its first lithium-ion battery powered hybrid engine system to market in North America in 2010.

The world’s largest automaker by sales was to announce the hybrid system Tuesday at the Geneva International Motor Show, saying the new battery will deliver three times the power of GM’s current nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

Automakers and battery companies across the globe have been racing to develop lithium-ion technology, seen by many as the key to mass producing hybrid vehicles powered by conventional and electric motors. The batteries also are essential in producing the next generation of electric cars.

Daimler AG plans to introduce a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its Mercedes-Benz flagship S-Class luxury sedan that also uses a lithium-ion battery starting next year.

Lithium-ion technology already is widely used in consumer electronics, but now is being adapted to meet demanding automotive requirements. The batteries are lighter than other batteries, but cost and concerns about overheating have delayed their use.

Lithium-ion batteries common in laptops are smaller, yet more powerful than the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in gas-electric hybrids like Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius.

The GM and Daimler announcements in Geneva indicate increasing confidence about lithium-ion technology.

In addition, Toyota said in December it was preparing to start mass producing lithium-ion batteries for low-emission vehicles.

GM said the new hybrid system eventually will spread worldwide, and it expects sales volumes to exceed 100,000 vehicles per year. The system would build on GM’s current hybrids, reducing engineering costs and the cost to consumers, the company said.

The battery system would be paired with a wide range of GM engines, including turbocharged gasoline, diesel and biofuel power plants. It would be used in multiple GM models across all brands, but the company would not say which models would get the new system.

The new system will produce a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in fuel economy over what a nonhybrid vehicle would get in 2010, GM spokesman Brian Corbett said.

The company said the hybrid system would debut in North America before the Chevrolet Volt, which is an electric car with a small conventional motor used to recharge the batteries. The company hopes to bring the Volt to market in 2010 as well.

GM said in a statement that the new hybrid system would save fuel by turning the engine off at idle and cutting off fuel during deceleration. It would offer brief electric-only power, the company said in a statement.