GM to launch Buick plug-in SUV

The automaker says the five-passenger crossover will roll out in 2011 as fuel-economy standards tighten and consumers shun gas-guzzlers.

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Reuters) -- General Motors Co. unveiled plans to launch a plug-in SUV for its Buick brand in 2011, its latest move away from gasoline-thirsty vehicles in response to higher fuel-economy standards.

The new five-passenger Buick crossover is expected to be the first commercially available plug-in hybrid sport-utility vehicle by a major automaker, and would follow GM's heavily touted Chevrolet Volt plug-in car into the market.

GM Vice Chairman Tom Stephens, announcing plans for the Buick hybrid at an annual industry conference in Traverse City, Michigan, on Thursday, said the company's "robust" balance sheet following its bankruptcy restructuring gives it flexibility to focus on product development.

Major automakers, including GM (GM, Fortune 500) and Toyota Motor Corp. (TMC), have been ramping up plans for a range of electric vehicles to meet higher U.S. fuel-economy standards and increased consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Buick plug-in will use some of the same technology GM is developing for the Chevrolet Volt. It will be powered by next-generation lithium-ion batteries to be built by South Korea's LG Chem and its Compact Power unit, based in Troy, Michigan.

LG Chem is also supplying lithium-ion batteries for the Volt, which is slated to hit showrooms in late 2010. The Volt is one of the most eagerly awaited GM vehicles.

Last year GM said it would launch a plug-in version of its Saturn Vue SUV, but its dropped that plan earlier this year when it decided to sell the Saturn brand. That sale is pending.

The automaker had said the vehicle that would replace the now-scrapped Saturn would be an SUV from one of the four brands it plans to retain after it completes its restructuring: Chevy, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. To top of page

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