Saturn Vue Offers Alternative Hybrid Architecture

January 23, 2006 by Jeff Shepard

The 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line sport utility vehicle will feature a less complicated and lower-cost hybrid system, according to the automaker. The Vue's hybrid system will cost under $2,000, and the full vehicle price is expected to start at less than $23,000.

"The Vue Green Line is expected to be the lowest-cost hybrid-powered SUV in the market," said Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president of Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing. "Its lower price allows us to offer the fuel-saving benefits of hybrids to a wider group of customers."

There are several ways that the Vue Green Line is simpler and less costly than other hybrids already on sale. The Vue Green Line is expected to be the first hybrid SUV available in front-wheel-drive only. Officials said there will be no all-wheel-drive offering, as there are for the three current hybrid SUVs on the market, the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h.

Also, while the Vue Green Line uses an electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery pack to supplement a 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower, this Vue cannot run beyond a few short seconds solely on electric power. Typically, this short electric-only operation comes when the Vue is just starting up from a stop and the gasoline engine is just getting started.

This electric-only time is limited because the Vue's hybrid system is designed primarily to supplement the gas engine in acceleration maneuvers, say, when the driver wants to pass another vehicle on the highway. The electric power is not meant to provide propulsion on its own.

This means that Saturn didn't have to re-engineer the Vue's powertrain. Instead, the Vue's electric-drive motor is combined with the vehicle's alternator, which is simpler and less complicated than Toyota's use of two electric motors as well as a planetary gear.

The Vue's system includes regenerative brakes that are designed to recapture energy when a driver is braking. This energy is stored in the battery pack, where it can be retrieved for electric motor uses.

And, because the battery pack doesn't need to provide enough power to propel the vehicle all by itself, it's smaller than expected. As a result, the rectangular pack sits tidily behind the back seat, under the cargo floor, where it does not impinge on storage space, though in the test Vue Green Line the battery pack looked a bit like it had been welded into place in someone's garage.