By on August 4, 2010

Prior to going on television on Monday, I spoke to a GM spokesman in hopes of better understanding the business case for the Volt. Perhaps the most interesting thing he told me was that a major impetus for developing the Volt as an Extended-Range Electric concept was GM’s failure to achieve success with three alt-energy concepts (EV-1, Hydrogen, and yes, E-85 ethanol) due to their need for fueling infrastructure. As we talked, it occurred to me that three other less-than-entirely-successful GM “green car” projects might have helped lead The General down the primrose path to the Volt: GM’s BAS “Mild Hybrid,” the Parallel Hybrid Truck system (PHT), and the V8-based “Two-Mode” hybrid drivetrains. He admitted (somewhat grudgingly) that GM’s hybrid sales had been “disappointing” and that the ambitious Volt project was to some extent motivated by this lack of market success. What he didn’t tell me: GM is bringing back the discontinued mild-hybrid BAS system for 2011.

GM executive director of hybrid and electric powertrain engineering Larry Nitz tells Automotive News [sub] that the BAS or “Belt-Alternator-Starter” hybrid system will become available again starting in the 3rd Quarter of 2011, on one Chinese-market sedan and one US-market mid-size car. The system had previously been available on the Saturn Aura and Vue “Green Line” and the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. And though Nitz refused to confirm which models would receive the system, his announcement confirms an earlier report that had the Buick Regal receiving the BAS system in late 2011, and rumors of a BAS revival date back to the Wagoner era.

Nitz also told AN [sub] that the first-generation of BAS drivetrain is currently available in China on the Buick LaCrosse, but made it clear that the US-market revival of BAS would be an improved version of the original system.

Nitz said the electric motor is improved and the electronics and controllers are fully integrated with the conventional gasoline engine. The system will be wedded to GM’s Ecotech engine and a six-speed transmission capable of maximizing performance and fuel savings, he said.

When the mild hybrid was introduced in the Saturn Vue in 2006, it was bolted onto a four-cylinder engine and four-speed transmission not designed for regenerative braking. That mild hybrid produced a 15 percent improvement in fuel economy.

Said Nitz: “It was a forced execution before.”

The new system should offer 20 percent better fuel economy than the Ecotec on which it’s based, and will be one of the early applications of GM’s in-house electric motors. It will still not be able to run on full-electric power, however, which leaves one of the most common criticisms of the system unaddressed. Nitz didn’t give price premium details, but the BAS system previously added $1,600-$1,700 to the price of an equipped car. If the premium remains the same, an improvement in efficiency might help its chances… but the revival of BAS also highlights GM’s hybrid struggles. With the Volt and Mild Hybrids likely to bookend the Prius, GM may just be missing the sweet spot of the green-car market.

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30 Comments on “GM Mild Hybrids To Return For 2011...”


  • avatar
    Bunter1

    The 15% improvement in the previous system was very theoretical.

    In road tests it tended to be about 1 mpg and not necessarily better than the conventional powertrains in other brands.

    I recall a test in MT (I think) in which the VUE whybrid was able to post the worst acceleration and mpg numbers vs. conventional rivals.

    Same old General.

    Bunter

  • avatar
    educatordan

    How bout an EcoTec mild hybrid Cruze? But then I bet it’s too small for the packaging.

    I always felt that the V8 hyrbid system had potential but not much more than applying the aerodynamic tricks that the hybrids had to the regular models.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Who and or when was it decreed that a hybrid needs to run on electric even if only for some small time? Is there some sound engineering and actual functioning advantage to electric only mode?
    So, if the BAS system, as tepid as it seemed to me when it was introduced, is cost effective in its fuel savings, then who is to argue?

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      When you are in stop and go or idling (and AC on etc.) or going very slowly, emissions and fuel economy of a gasoline are horrible, horrible (compared to actually driving). The Prius (and other full hybrids) can run fully electric (efficiency is about the same in all speed ranges for E-motor) and AC and the water pump (for heating) also runs electric. It also reduced turning on and off of the gasoline engine in stop-and-go if you have start-stop-automatic.

      That’s one reason why mild-hybrids never really are efficient, especially not in city driving.

  • avatar
    thalter

    BAS is not bad in concept. The problem is when GM decided to market it as a hybrid.

    Toyota has already defined what a “hybrid” is, and it is not BAS: regenerative braking, EV mode, etc. Had thay called BAS what it really is (engine stop-start), it would have done better.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Exactly. Marketed as such and priced right, it would be seen as another tool to improve efficiency. But slap a “Hybrid” name on it and it comes off a a poor engineering job.

      A question: Why no means to plug in a hybrid to top off the batteries? I never have an indicated “full” SOC with my Altima, which has a big effect on operation. When the SOC is shown in the lower 1/3 of the range it is allowed to use, it stays out of EV mode. I guess this is the same as Toyota’s system as it say Toyota on the electronics box under the hood, once you remove the plastic cover.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Don’t call them anything associated with “Hybrid” b/c it is not a hybrid. It simply has start/stop technology which is a better idea as you can apply that to your entire lineup – which will provide CAFE improvements > than selling 100k hybrids a year.

  • avatar
    Episode26

    I think GM should be applauded for this. Here they have something which can be improved upon and they are doing so. Because I do believe that GM has a number of aborted fetuses in their closet that could have actually could have become some useful things. Rear wheel steer on pickups, semi enclosed suv and probably others.

    Maybe, okay big maybe, the’ve gotten similiar effiencey to what Honda have gotten with their application of a mild hybrid system. And I don’t mean the pathetic Accord’s.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Mild hybrids seem to offer the worst of both worlds: The additional cost, complexity and weight of a hybrid but with disappointing fuel economy gains. I can’t see this being any more successful than Honda’s of GM’s previous effort.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      carguy – mild hybrids simply have a larger stronger alternator and either two normal lead acid batteries or a larger sized one. It also sometimes has an electric a/c system so it can keep turning when the engine is shut off. The engine which is already warm is easy to start as the timing is set so that it is easy to fire a piston to quickly start turning the engine (does not reuse the starter for this). That is what a mild hybrid is. It only adds $100 – $200 extra to the cost of a car – and you get a 25% increase in city mpg. That’s it.

      A true series or parallel hybrid system adds banks of li-ion batteries, a specialized engine /complex transmission that generates electricity during braking and coasting (rather than an alternator / generator). This system adds $3k – $8k in costs to the car.

      Thus, a mild hybrid is nowhere near the worst of both. It costs much less and does the # one thing a hybrid does in that it shuts off the engine when stopped.

      Add this invasive technology to millions of regular cars / trucks sold today and we’ll cut our dependence on oil w/o ever having to change our driving habits and frequency. Auto MFGRs get that 25% increase in mileage to meet new CAFE ratings. We spend less $ at the pump.

    • 0 avatar
      ALB-MAN

      wait a minute, didn’t c/d get 19 mpg city in a malibu mild hybrid? Where all the other competitors in the same conditions got well above 25 mpg city.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    For now, it seems that Toyota defined what an hybrid is. Sincerely I think it’s because other manufacturers haven’t come by yet with a better solution. The moment that happens (and a lot of hype and fanfare will help a lot), Toyota’s system will be old news and a new definition will be established.

    I think this is a good idea.

    But what is the ultimate goal?, and this question is not just for GM or Toyota.

    1) Less CO2 emissions?
    2) Less fuel consumption?
    3) A combination of the 2 above
    4) Prepare the land for an electric future?
    5) Why not use an hydraulic aid? I think KERS works like that (don’t follow the F1 soup opera too much).

    If 1) is the question, CNG can help reduce it a LOT, and the technology is already available. Also, if combined with an electric/hydraulic motor would even reduce it more.

    I don’t understand why green=hybrid=Prius=Toyota when in the current times there are so many options on the table to achieve the goals.

    Definitely, as my boss told me once, creative thinking is needed to solve some problems. There are many ways to approach a problem and many different solutions.

    • 0 avatar
      dhathewa

      Stingray: “I don’t understand why green=hybrid=Prius=Toyota when in the current times there are so many options on the table to achieve the goals.”

      You should not get your understanding of the “green” market from “South Park.” For people interested in going green(er), there are lots of choices. Some of these choices have nothing at all to do with transportation. If I had about $20K to invest in greening up my life, I could buy a solar hot water heater, solar photovoltaic panels, switch to geothermal heat or do any of a number of other things. People who are “green-oriented” typically do think of all these things. One of their chief interests is in not driving at all (some move closer to work, arrange to work from home, bike, walk, use mass transit).

      But you’ll notice that those are all major capital expenses or big lifestyle changes.

      For those who do not think they can give up driving or just want to go greener without a major capital expense or change in lifestyle, a Prius costs very little extra (compared to a mid-size sedan), has some definite practical advantages (hatch) and a proven track record for reliability (see CR or, if you can’t stomach CR, go to TrueDelta). One can cut one’s annual use of auto fuel practically in half by spending just a little extra on a Prius. And quite a few people choose to do so. At 10K units/month (and often more), it’s now a mainstream choice.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      “I don’t understand why green=hybrid=Prius=Toyota when in the current times there are so many options on the table to achieve the goals.”

      It’s not so much green=hybrid=Prius=Toyota as it is

      green=hybrid==Toyota=9 hybrid models and counting.

      Toyota has a giant lead over anyone else at the moment. Ask around which brand most of them would associate with when they think “hybrids” and I bet a majority if not all of the responses will be Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      green=hybrid==Toyota=9 hybrid models and counting.

      I hope you were as diligent in counting their guzzlers.

    • 0 avatar
      ALB-MAN

      Dont do the gas guzzler bs cause then we would have take into account all of gms suvs and what not.

  • avatar

    This system actually yields better milage if like me you do NOT have a lot of stop and go driving.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    GM’s hybrids were very expensive and didn’t sell. They don’t get it. They should put their resources into cars “Americans want to buy”.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    If they spent the same amount “adding lightness” (less steel, more aluminum and carbon fiber), I wonder how much mpg would improve, not to mention performance. And without the added complexity of a hybrid.

  • avatar
    GarbageMotorsCo.

    Another round of early battery replacements?

    http://www.autoblog.com/2008/06/03/doh-battery-leakage-hurts-gm-hybrid-production/

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    Idle-stop is not a bad idea, at all. However, to be truly worthwhile, the A/C must be converted to electric (so the engine can be stopped in summer – even Ford didn’t get this on the original Escape hybrid, though) and, to actually be saleable, the premium shouldn’t be more than a couple hundred bucks. I’m not sure regenerative braking is all that important (although it would be nice to have). It would probably be a plus if the engine could shut off on a downgrade.

    In the real world, a lot of fuel is wasted at lights and at curbs. I’d be interested in such a vehicle and a small premium would not be a problem.

    The original BAS mild hybrids were expensive (my recollection is that the $1700 estimate is low) and suffered greatly from “good enough” syndrome. I think the base Prius was actually less expensive, which made the BAS cars look even less attractive.

    For example, the BAS models had a 4-speed auto, just like the standard trims. When the new 6-speed auto came out, it was added only to the LTZ (and maybe XR) trim, instead of improving the fuel economy of the BAS model. After a while, it became an extra cost option on the lesser trims. So, the BAS car, which should have been the fuel economy leader in the line, wasn’t getting the fuel economy numbers the 6-speed vehicles were. Why would anyone want it?

    Somebody at GM believed people buying “hybrid” cars were stupid and/or obsessed with “green credibility” and wouldn’t make rational choices. This belief was in error.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Whatever the fuel economy increase on the Saturn and Chevrolet BAS mild hybrids, it didn’t justify slapping so many “hybrid” badges on the bodywork. They should have just called them XFE models, or even just tell the truth and call them “Mild Hybrids.”

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      They are not hybrids and never should have that badge. You want to sell this to people who do not want a hybrid. Mazda is adding start/stop technology but is smartly not calling it a hybrid or comparing itself to them except that their car will cost $s less and be much more fun to drive than a hybrid.

  • avatar
    Tortoiseme

    I don’t know of any manufacturer who has claimed a 25% fuel savings from a stop/start system…. try 8%
    http://www.worldcarfans.com/10810062002/land-rover-freelander-2-gets-fuel-saving-stopstart-system

  • avatar
    jaje

    The 25% increase is city only where the savings are purely from waiting at lights / stopped. Overall if you do a combined cycle (hwy and city) it is lower ~ 10%.

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    I expect eventually that start-stop will become a requirement on passenger cars. The writing is on the wall, fuel economy needs to improve, and governments around the world are looking for things they can do. Start-stop is a simple technology that’s not too hard to implement. Perhaps GM sees the writing on the wall and is getting ready for when it’s a requirement?

  • avatar

    I have a Malibu Hybrid as a compmany car for the last 43K miles. I watch mpg closely and consistently get 34mpg HWY and avg 31.5mpg overall. The start/stop technology works well going from light to light in traffic. Worst downside, the AC stops working unless you over-ride it manually.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      To put your mileage in perspective, I get 34 MPG out of my Altima Hybrid. I drive 40 plus miles each way. About 50% of that is bump and grind. I don’t drive for efficiency most of the time; liberal use of the throttle is common. I don’t know if you nurse the pedal, but your numbers seem to indicate that. I can get high 30s if I drive like Grandma. This hybrid does offer some jollies behind the wheel. I would venture to guess that adding the same suspension components that the Altima Coupe has would transform the car to the point of eliminating the hybrid “fun” penalty. Rockin’ brakes, too.

    • 0 avatar

      My sales area is the entire southeastern US, so a typical week will have three or four jaunts on the interstate of 400 miles or so, which might be skewing my results. Usually, I run around 72 or so. Using cruise control loses a couple mpg because the car can’t seem to pick a gear even on the slightest incline. I wouldn’t have bought the car myself, but it doesn’t make a bad company car, and they pay for my gas anyway. Frankly, I’d have expected better mpg from a the Hybrid (if you want to call it that) and I am not sure how much better it does than the standard 4cyl Malibu. Not much, I expect.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I agree that GM should have never called them “Hybrids”. They should be adapting the two-mode system they had in the Tahoe/Yukon to their cars. That’s a better much better, more effcient design than that goofy synergy drive Toyota uses. I suspect the Tahoe/Yukon Hybrids would have been a lot more succesful if they hadn’t come out just in time for the economy to fall flat on its face.


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