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by Mike Zazaian October 31, 2006 - 4:05pm, No Comments

GM's Saturn Green Line hybrid SUV

After ditching dreams of electric cars prior to the Milennium, General Motors is revisiting notions of the ultra-low-emissions vehicle with a plug-in hybrid called I-car.

In efforts to ramp-up competition against second-best automaker Toyota, General Motors is dipping into its $8 billion in pocket money to fund development and production of several upcoming hybrid-electric models. According to an undisclosed source within the company, the star of GM’s lineup will be a plug-in hybrid called I-car which drivers will be able to charge at any standard electricity outlet. GM has also publicly announced plans for hybrid versions of its Silverado pickup, Yukon large SUV, a hydrogen vehicle that emits only water vapor for exhaust, and gasoline engines with fuel efficiency rivaling that of Honda and Toyota. Said John Casesa, managing partner at Casesa Strategic Advisors in New York:

This is a major shift for GM because in the past it had gone out of its way to criticize the financial viability of hybrids.

According to the sources a team of engineers has been assigned to developing the I-cars, short for Icon car. The I-car is alleged to run like a conventional hybrid, but with an extra boost from a plug-in electric battery. While the battery can offset the use of gasoline, the I-car will be able to run only on liquid fuel if the additional battery is exhausted.

Despite the fact that Toyota sold 235,000 hybrids worldwide last year, Toyota has announced no plans for a comparable plug-in model. Analysts believe that the uniqueness of GM’s alleged I-car could help the company gain traction in the hybrid market as Toyota gears up to sell 1 million hybrids annually by 2010.

GM has to change the rules of the game through new technologies because they are simply fighting to not lose share now,said Pete Hastings, an analysts for Morgan Keegan & Co. The first and best to market will be critical for future share dominance.

GM's ev1 lineup, produced between 1996 and 1998

Few people know that General motors was actually was the first to demonstrate an electric car prototype when it rolled out its ev1 in 1996, leasing 800 EV1 cars to buyers between 1996 and 1998. The cars were leased mostly in California, and had to be returned after the 3-year lease period during which they were offered. Whether due to financial inviability or pressure from oil companies, the ev1 was killed shortly thereafter.

Via Bloomberg