Buick To Get GM Plug-In SUV

TRAVERSE CITY, MI—General Motors said Thursday that it will deploy the plug-in technology it has been touting for the Chevy Volt across its other three brands well, starting with the Buick brand in 2011.

The plug-in hybrid application that was planned for the Saturn Vue compact SUV, said GM vice chairman Tom Stephens, will go into an all-new crossover SUV in the Buick lineup. That crossover, based on the same vehicle platform as the Chevy Equinox, will hit showrooms next year with a 2.4 liter direct-injection ecotec engine next year. The plug-in hybrid version will come later, first into government fleets, and then into retail showrooms.

The first plug-in vehicle GM expects to launch is the Chevy Volt, which is expected to debut in small numbers by the end of 2010. That car, says GM, will go up to 40 miles on a single charge of the battery, after which a gas engine kicks in to continue powering the battery, which pushes the car. The idea is to offer consumers who travel less than 40 miles per day the possibility of traveling gasoline free without the anxiety of worrying about running out of gas.

GM has been building up a lot of anticipation around the Volt. The biggest wildcard is what the final price for the small sedan will be after government credits are factored in. It has been suggested that the final price may be between $32,000 and $40,000, a level many believe to be high to attract customers in large numbers. GM expects the plug-in Buick to be the first plug-in SUV on the market.

GM had planned the system for the Saturn Vue, but the company has reached an agreement to sell its Saturn business to Penske Automotive. As GM has pared its brands from eight to four in North America, it is imperative that it pump some life into its Buick brand, which has long been hamstrung by attracting a much older customer base than its other brands. The average age Buick buyer is over 60 years old.

Buick sales are off 33% overall this year. The company is amidst a launch of its LaCrosse sedan, though, for which it has high hopes despite the Recession. The Enclave full-size crossover has been extremely well received, and has been attracting buyers under the age of 50, according to GM executives. Enclave sales are off just a bit over 3% despite much bigger declines for the industry and some of its competitors.

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