WHITE MARSH, Md. General Motors today launched production of the Two Mode hybrid transmission that it developed in a landmark partnership with BMW AG and the former DaimlerChrysler AG.
The first Two Mode transmission came off the line at GMs Baltimore transmission plant here in a ceremony attended by government dignitaries, including U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski (both D-Md.). They lauded the powertrain as a way to help the nation meet environmental challenges and reduce dependence on foreign energy.
GM said that 78 percent of the components used in the transmission are supplied by U.S. companies.
The 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon large SUVs are the first vehicles to use the transmission. The trucks are expected to go into production next week at the GM assembly plant in Arlington, Texas.
The hybrid Tahoe is expected to sell in the lower to mid-$40,000 range. Specific pricing will be announced at next months Los Angeles auto show.
The vehicles are full hybrids, meaning they can drive entirely on electricity. GM's Two Mode hybrids can go as fast as 32 mph using just electricity.
At higher speeds, they use either all gasoline power or a combination of gasoline and electric propulsion.
The Two Mode hybrid works with GMs active fuel management system to increase fuel efficiency.
Next year, GM will roll out the Two Mode system in the Cadillac Escalade SUV and the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. The Baltimore plant also will supply Two Modes for the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango SUVs.
BMW is expected to offer the hybrid powertrain in its X6 crossover. It showed a concept X6 with the Two Mode in September at the Frankfurt auto show.
The U.S. government rates the fuel economy of the two-wheel-drive versions of the Tahoe and Yukon hybrids at 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. That matches the four-cylinder Toyota Camry's 21 mpg city rating and beats the V-6 Camry's city rating by 2 mpg.
General Motors expects to sell a combined 10,000 units of the hybrid SUVs in the 2008 model year.
The Baltimore plant also produces Allison transmissions for heavy-duty trucks.
GM spent $118 million to expand the plant by more than 38,000 square feet and bring Two Mode hybrid transmission production here.
The nearly 500,000-square-foot plant employs 415. One shift of 25 hourly workers, plus 15 support staff and engineers, are dedicated to Two Mode hybrid production. That is expected to increase as production warrants.
Although the Two Mode hybrid takes the same amount of time to produce as the Allison 1000 transmissions made here, it has a much longer cycle time, meaning it spends more time at each assembly station. Cycle time for the Two Mode is nearly 6 minutes vs. 95 seconds for the Allison transmission.
Don Burks, chairman of UAW Local 239, predicted the transmission will be popular with SUV lovers.
Said Burks: We have demonstrated that made in America still means something.