Thursday, January 4, 2007

Toward a Plug-in Hybrid Saturn Vue

GM today announced two contracts to "design and test lithium-ion batteries" for use in the Saturn Vue Plug-in Hybrid announced last month at the LA Auto Show. Johnson Controls/SAFT, the huge battery company at which President Bush first publicly announced his support for plug-in hybrids, received one contract. A partnership of Cobasys (Chevron/ECD) and A123 got the second. According to the press release, two variants of Lithium batteries will be "evaluated in prototype Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrids beginning later this year."

One point of interest is that GM and Cobasys are forsaking the technology that could provide plug-in hybrids in the shortest time - the Nickel Metal Hydride battery for which Cobasys holds the patents and GM used in its 140-mile range EV1. While the future may belong to Lithium, a case can easily be made for the early roll-0ut of NiMH plug-ins. Hundreds of millions of safe, robust, reliable miles have been driven in EV1s and Toyota RAV4 EVs, as well as billions of miles in conventional hybrids, all using NiMH. If the automakers felt compelled by the market or the government or a petroleum crisis to bring plug-in cars to showrooms asap, NiMH it would be. Chevron would add royalty payments to its ample bottom line, but clearly that's not enough of a motivator.