By DANNY HAKIM
DETROIT, Dec. 23 — General Motors, which has been the most reticent major carmaker when it came to the prospects for hybrid vehicles, intends to offer some form of hybrid electric power on five of its major models over the next four production years, according to people briefed on the plan.
G.M.'s plan, which will be announced next month at the North American International Auto Show here, is a surprising endorsement of the fledgling hybrid technology, which improves gasoline mileage by supplementing the internal combustion engine with electric power. G.M., the largest automaker, will offer several versions of the hybrid technology. The most advanced will be on the Saturn Vue sport utility vehicle, while less advanced versions will be available on the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks, a coming Chevrolet pickup called the Equinox and the Chevrolet Malibu.
The development is a sign that the Big Three are growing increasingly serious about the technology as a business threat from overseas. For several years, Toyota and Honda have been the only companies offering hybrid cars. The Toyota Prius, for instance, has an electric motor that takes over for the internal combustion engine at low speeds. The car never needs plugging in, a shortcoming of battery-powered cars, because the battery is recharged by the gasoline engine. Honda sells a small aluminum hybrid, called the Insight, and a hybrid version of its Civic.
"G.M. needs an aggressive plan just to keep pace with the Japanese, who view this as a core technology over the next decade," said John Casesa, an analyst with Merrill Lynch, when told of the plan. "It's an idea that hasn't arrived yet, but whose time is coming fast. This is going from an environmental and public relations curiosity to a generally accepted commercial product."
So, of course, the Green Team derided the efforts:
Environmentalists expressed a mixture of encouragement and disappointment at the news, part of which was reported today by The Wall Street Journal, and said that the Vue, as described, would be a significant improvement. "G.M.'s hybrid plans are a mixed bag," said David Friedman, an engineer and analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The full hybrid Saturn Vue appears to be a move toward good hybrid technology. The other vehicles are an example of using good conventional technology."
"Labeling them as hybrids is an attempt to ride the `green' image of hybrids," he added.
Russell Long, executive director of the Bluewater Network in San Francisco, another environmental group, said it was "tremendously disappointing that they would take such a weak approach."
Ok, here's the deal, environmentalists: What is your "acceptable or target number" ? Zero?
Please note that they'll never give you a number, even if you ask.
Next, ask them, "if we must move beyond combustion engines," are you saying "electric only," and if so, what do you consider a reasonable driving range, hill-climbing ability, and cargo-carrying capacity for the cars you envision? What specifications do you consider "acceptable" ?
And if "electric vehicles only" is your solution, please tell us where to put the powerplants which will be required in order to make this happen? Oh, nowhere? Come again? Are your plans and demands serious, or just gum-flapping, self-serving rhetoric? Ah, I thought so....
After they can't, won't, or don't answer a few questions like those, you might want to reconsider whether or not to give them your support.