SHANGHAI -- General Motors plans to explore making hybrid cars for China with its main partner in the country, targeting their introduction by 2008.
Beijing, concerned that an energy shortage could slam the brakes on rip-roaring economic growth, is increasingly open to the idea of hybrids on its roads.
Hybrids burn less fuel by adding one or more electric motors to a standard gasoline or diesel engine. The batteries help power the vehicle and recharge by capturing energy during braking.
The world's largest automaker and SAIC Motor Corp. Ltd. said they signed an initial agreement over the weekend to explore the production of energy-efficient vehicles in China -- an extension of an earlier alliance to run hybrid bus trials in Shanghai.
That pact came just a month after Volkswagen AG>, GM's main Chinese rival, unveiled plans to begin making hybrids by 2008 with Shanghai Automotive -- SAIC Motor's parent.
"To make this happen, we need to bring down costs and build the necessary infrastructure -- and the best way to do that is by business and government working together," GM CEO Rick Wagoner said in a statement issued over the weekend.
China is the world's largest consumer of oil after the United States, importing more than a third of its oil needs. Beijing has said it wants to raise the average fuel efficiency on vehicles by 15 percent by 2010 from 2003's levels.
To do so, it has said it would support research into alternative powertrains -- such as hybrids and cleaner diesel engines -- while also exploring fuel-cell vehicles.
Last September, Toyota Motor Corp. said it would start building its Prius hybrid sedans in China with FAW Group in a step it hopes would promote the vehicles as the global standard for fuel-efficient cars.
The Prius, first launched in Japan in 1997, has emerged as the most popular hybrid.