General Motors is about to shift into high gear with gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.
The Saturn Vue Greenline has its coming out party at next month's North American International Auto Show. That vehicle will be followed by a hybrid version of the Malibu sedan. Then comes a series of hybrid trucks.
Leading GM's hybrid powertrain team is Larry Nitz, a 30-year GM veteran. Nitz, 47, assumed the title of executive director of GM's global hybrid powertrains in 2003. Nitz, who holds 35 patents in powertrain and vehicle systems, spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
Many people don't know this, but GM has been building hybrids since the 1930s -- if you count trains. Did any of the knowledge from Electro-Motive Division, as well as the EV1, the hybrid bus program and the gasoline-electric Precept concept car help you develop the hybrids for production vehicles?
Absolutely. All the experience we have had on all the programs is coming to bear. We had significant learnings from the EV1 and from GM ATV (Advanced Technology Vehicles), which did the Precept. We have a lot of experienced people who have worked with trains, and from automotive in the work that was done before. When we consolidated all of these engineering functions to work on a dedicated and limited number of solutions, it really improved our capability. The experience from the EV1 and bus programs is very significant. We have an engineering team in Torrance, Calif., that is expert on electric motors and inverters.
Ford also is securing suppliers for its hybrid vehicles. Would GM and Ford work together to build a North American supply base and to share costs and technology like you did with the six-speed transmission?
As you look at the supply base for electric motors and inverters and batteries, the number of suppliers is so limited that everybody is talking to everybody. We talk to all the different potential suppliers, whether they are in Europe, North America or Asia.
Ford says it needs around 300 engineers in the coming years for its hybrid vehicle programs. What's the situation at GM? Will you be hiring?
We are still looking for a few specific positions, but it is not anywhere near 300 people. We need engineers here and there for some hybrid components.
How has GM geared up to build hybrids after first brushing them off?
We have, over the last five years, done a number of things to get us where we are today. We have consolidated work across the corporation into my group for (hybrid) powertrains. I have at my disposal the whole group of people who know how to do hybrid powertrains. Those people came from research, from Allison Transmission, from GM Powertrain and from the organization that was GM ATV.
The second thing we did was focus ourselves on not exploring every system known to man, but only on the ones that we are going to go to production with that will provide customer choice. We've narrowed the solution choice to the hybrid system we have in the Saturn Vue Hybrid and the two-mode system (a hybrid powertrain with two electric motors).
Why share GM technology with DaimlerChrysler and BMW on the two-mode hybrid system for trucks?
We've been able to really leverage the supply base and to reduce our development costs. Also, we've pooled our engineering talent.
We've seen Opel engineers do much of the heavy lifting in integrating fuel cell powertrains. Does that mean Opel engineers will have a role in developing hybrid systems?
We have a significant amount of interaction with Opel on the base technologies of motors, motor controls inverters and batteries. Fuel cell vehicles are always fuel cell hybrid vehicles because they have battery packs. The same people that work on the hybrid batteries work on the fuel cell batteries. The same people that do electric motor controls for the hybrid system do motor controls for the fuel cells, too.
Does GM expect to make money on hybrids?
I am not able to answer that question. But our objective long-term is to make money on every vehicle we produce.
You may e-mail Richard Truett at [email protected]