DETROIT - At the North American International Auto Show, GM will unveil two gas-electric sport/utility vehicles: the Saturn Vue Green Line, which will retail for less than $23,000, making it the lowest-priced hybrid SUV on the market, and a Chevrolet Tahoe with a more sophisticated system that GM is developing with DaimlerChrysler AG and BMW AG, according to the Detroit News. When the Vue goes on sale in the summer, “people will be very surprised at the kind of price you get in a hybrid and that it will deliver very pleasing performance and 20 percent (better) fuel economy,” GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner told the Detroit News. GM plans to become a leading player, alongside Japan's front-runners and rival Ford Motor Co., by offering 12 hybrids - including a Cadillac Escalade coming out next year - in its lineup within four years. That's in addition to gas-electric buses it sells to city fleets. GM's commitment to hybrids comes as industry experts predict that demand for gas-electric vehicles will surge even though they cost thousands more than similar cars powered only by gas engines. Online auto research site estimates hybrids could double their market share this year from 1.2 percent in 2005, and consulting firm J.D. Power and Associates forecasts a 4 percent share for the segment by 2012. Toyota Motor Corp. leads the pack, accounting for more than half of the estimated 200,000 U.S. hybrid sales in 2005. Ford Motor Co., the first U.S. automaker to market a hybrid, the gas-electric Escape SUV, recently launched the Mercury Mariner and plans to sell 250,000 hybrids a year by 2010. The hybrid Vue, retailing for about $2,000 more than a conventional Vue, features a new system that yields twice the fuel savings of GM's “mild” hybrids without jacking up the cost. The hybrid Vue is available in front-wheel drive, while its engine and transmission have undergone just minor modifications. The system in the Vue also will appear in the Chevrolet Malibu sedan coming out in 2008. With the next hybrid system, GM hopes to vault to the technological forefront by delivering 25 percent more fuel efficiency and a better performance at high speeds, reported the Detroit News. The GM “two-mode” system features two electric motors; one geared to add power at low speeds and another at higher speeds.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials