By on May 27, 2011

Three times now, GM has planned to build a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of its Theta-platform crossovers, once with the Saturn Vue, once with the Buick “Vuick” and now, according to Reuters

General Motors Co has canceled plans to develop a plug-in hybrid vehicle based on the current Cadillac SRX crossover platform, deciding the project was not financially viable, three people with direct knowledge of the project said.

While two of the sources said the plans could still be revived on a future platform, they and two others familiar with the matter said engineers involved had been reassigned to other projects.

Back in early days of the program, the plan was to bring a Vue PHEV to market as soon as 2010, but the death of Saturn (and other difficult-to-identify issues) forced a change of plans. The Buick version was literally laughed out of consideration in what was the first-ever Twitter-based future product killing. But given that hand-picked members of the public were driving mules nearly two years ago (see video), we figured enough development had been done that GM essentially had no choice but bring the troubled Theta PHEV to market. Today’s cancellation of the SRX version is therefore just a little confusing…

So, what’s the deal? According to Reuters:

The plug-in would have been based on the current SRX platform, which is two years old. In the auto industry, the life cycle of a platform, which dictates the size and body construction of a vehicle, is typically about five years.

By the time the Cadillac plug-in was ready for production, the platform would have been nearing the end of its life, adding to the costs of developing the vehicle, two sources said.

The costs of the program were already high, and the vehicle was expected to lose money, two people with direct knowledge of the program said.

GM has made engineering advances since the program was initiated, so it made more sense to focus on the next platform with the improved, more cost-efficient technologies, one source said.

Having torn through three brands and multiple launch date targets, the Theta plugin has lead a rich development life… which does make one wonder how much money was written off with this cancellation of a product GM has been hyping for at least three years now. And it’s also another black eye for GM’s hybrid development program, which, between the first-gen BAS “mild” hybrids, the Two-Mode V8 hybrid and this plug-in two-mode hybrid, has yet to record any significant successes (still). But with a Volt-based MPV likely planned, it’s time for The General to move onto the next big thing…

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13 Comments on “The Curse Of The Theta Plug-In: Cadillac SRX PHEV Dies...”

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    A 2-row PHEV Buick CUV would work, just not a rebadged Vue.

    Built ground up as a Buick, using the same Theta premium chassis as the 9-4X and SRX, a “baby Enclave” with eAssist / PHEV powertrain would do quite well in the marketplace.

    To be honest, a baby Enclave is the biggest missing piece of the Buick pie.

    Still, if Buick gets the Astra hatch to actually compete with MINI, that might be an easier way to go. Especially if Buick makes an eAssist fuel-sipper one of the base models.

    • 0 avatar

      It should have immediately been branded as a Chevrolet product. Hybrid Malibu (to what ever extent that is), Hybrid Silverado, Hybrid Tahoe, Volt, etc
      Chevy was the brand to adopt this concept.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        Nope. Buick is getting eAssist across the line in all newer vehicles, and seeing it retrofit to older ones. Besides, Chevy is more sporty value whereas Buick is more lux efficient.

  • avatar

    GM is on the wrong track here. The Converj met a similar demise; it’s not that hard to see how financially unfeasible these science experiments are, especially in a Cadillac product.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath for more Volt-based vehicles, either. You don’t make up for losses with volume, but you also can’t sell many $50k MPVs wearing a GM badge.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Cadillac is high-end performance oriented, and coupling that with amazing fuel economy doesn’t work unless you’re at the really high end, like the Porsche 918 or BMW ED.

      At the price point a PHEV / EREV would carry, it has to wear a Buick tri-shield, not a Caddy wreath&crest.

      • 0 avatar

        Cadillac is high-end performance oriented. it has to wear a Buick tri-shield, not a Caddy wreath&crest.

        I’m not so sure…

        …about that.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        You’re saying that a single Buick with an uprated engine elevates it to a comparable position with Caddy’s V line, a la CTS-V? Really?

        Besides, it’s not like Buick even got to rebadge a full-on Insignia OPC/VXR, to say nothing of the smaller, more-focused Astra OPC/VXR.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s amazing to me that y’all can find a difference between Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac. I’m 32, and GM destroyed the distinctions between these brands decades ago. For almost my entire life, both Buick and Cadillac have meant “you paid too much for a Chevy”.

      Yes, they’re starting to differentiate these brands a bit more since 2005 or so. But they’ve got an entire lifetime of Chevy is a Buick is a Cadillac to undo. I expect that it would be easier to take a low-end Korean brand known for unreliable cars that burn oil and turn it into “better than Honda” brand, than it would be really re-establish what Chevy, Buick, and Cadillac are supposed to mean.

      Anyway, who cares which GM badge they use, just so long as they introduce a family car that can get me through my everyday driving without gasoline? Being able to use the same car for trips to go see grandma when gas prices happen to be reasonable is a big bonus.

  • avatar

    “In the auto industry, the life cycle of a platform, which dictates the size and body construction of a vehicle, is typically about five years.”

    Oh really? Tell that to GM (Impala “W”) and Ford (Crown Vic et al. “Panther”).

    Strike three GM, give it up.

  • avatar

    The Equinox AMP EV conversion (developed by former GM engineers in Cincinnati) is gaining customers, despite it’s $50k price – maybe these guys are trying to attract the attention of their former employer?
    I’ve read that it’s a pretty sweet ride (quick and quiet), though the 120-mile range would be off-putting for a trip to the beach.

  • avatar

    My understanding that the VUE was going to have two hybrid models, plug in and two mode. I didn’t think that the plug used the two mode setup. I have seen once source that suggests that they did, but every thing else I have read suggests that they were different.

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