When General Motors sells Saturn later this year it will lose more than a quarter of its sales of hybrid vehicles. Saturn, with no V8 models, full-size SUVs or pickups, is GM’s most fuel-efficient brand and is second only to Chevrolet for overall hybrid sales with its Vue and Aura mild-hybrid models. One of those models, the Vue crossover, was destined to spawn an advanced plug-in hybrid variant, and at a recent GM event, it had been teased for sale under the Buick brand. News breaking today reveals that the vehicle is already canceled due to negative public, media and dealer feedback.

The yet-unnamed Buick plug-in hybrid crossover was essentially nothing more than a Saturn Vue plug-in with a  Buick-style waterfall grille, and that rubbed consumers, dealers and many in the media the wrong way - especially after Fritz Henderson's pledge to avoid all badge engineering. The bottom line at Buick, according to GM Vice Chairmain Tom Stephens, is that the re-branded Vue just didn't mesh with the Buick image.

"Last Friday, reaction to the Buick crossover was discussed at the meeting of our Executive Committee, the newly formed group that steers product decisions, and it was decided that if it didn’t belong, it didn’t belong. Buick crossover canceled," wrote Stephens on GM's Fastlane Blog. "And we decided that the important plug-in hybrid technology would be applied to another vehicle, at no delay, that we’ll discuss in the very near future."

The idea for a plug-in Buick hybrid isn't dead, however. Instead, the powertrain will be tucked into a new Buick body. That means that most of the key facts and figures on the proposed 'Vuick' hybrid will still hold.

The replacement will still be set to arrive in 2011, and will meet the other design criteria, such as being able to seat five adults. It is also still expected to be the first commercially available plug-in hybrid crossover produced by a major automaker.

According to GM, the plug-in technology underpinning the Vue and the forthcoming Buick model has the potential to achieve double the fuel economy of comparably-sized SUVs and crossovers on short trips. This is because of the significant boost in economy achieved by combining a modified version of the automaker's 2-Mode Hybrid system with lithium-ion battery cells and charging technology developed for the Voltec system, which will debut in the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid late next year.

In fact, the Buick plug-in hybrid will use the same manganese-spinel based chemistry and polymer battery cells as the Volt. The 8 kWh battery - containing half the energy of the Volt battery pack - will be packaged in a rectangular-shaped box under the cargo floor. The lithium-ion battery can be fully recharged in four to five hours by simply connecting the vehicle to any standard 110V household electrical outlet. In early testing, the plug-in hybrid is capable of electric-only propulsion for more than 10 miles at low speeds.

On the road, GM's 2-Mode plug-in hybrid system can use any combination of electric or gasoline engine power to move the vehicle, depending on the driving conditions. Importantly, this differs from GM's Voltec technology, which provides the Volt with up to 40 miles of emissions and gasoline-free electric-only propulsion, and an overall range of more than 300 miles when using its internal combustion engine.

In addition to the lithium-ion battery pack, the Buick plug-in hybrid's powertrain features two powerful electric motors, sophisticated electronic controls and battery management systems and an efficient direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 flex-fuel capable engine.

[GM Fastlane Blog]

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