Two-Mode Hybrid System: GM's Larry Nitz on Lessons Learned

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2010 GMC Yukon Hybrid

2010 GMC Yukon Hybrid

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The Two-Mode Hybrid system for large sport utilities and trucks hasn't exactly set the world on fire.

In 2006, General Motors, Daimler and Chrysler (then a single company) announced a partnership, soon joined by BMW, to develop the Two-Mode Hybrid system for large rear-wheel drive vehicles.

But Daimler and Chrysler split, two of the partners declared bankruptcy and were reconstituted with U.S. government funds, and the once-promising four-way partnership has been dissolved.

GM goes solo

Now GM is the sole proprietor (and largest user) of the Two-Mode system. Yet last year, GM sold just 8,820 Two-Mode Hybrids, the bulk of them full-size hybrid sport utility vehicles from Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC. Toyota, meanwhile, sold almost half a million Prius hybrids globally last year.

GM's Larry Nitz, at the Hybrid Development Center in Troy, Michigan, in April 2006

GM's Larry Nitz, at the Hybrid Development Center in Troy, Michigan, in April 2006

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In March, Chrysler's Ram Truck brand (nee Dodge) killed its Ram Hemi Hybrid pickup truck, which was to use the Two-Mode system.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz use the Two-Mode only in small numbers of their X6 and ML crossovers, and are moving away from using the Two-Mode, preferring instead to evolve their own mild hybrid system.

With all that water under the bridge, we were curious how GM viewed the Two-Mode Hybrid project these days--and what lessons the reconstituted company felt it had learned from the project.

We spoke to Larry Nitz, who is GM's executive director of electric and hybrid powertrain engineering. He said the company's intent "was not to sell huge amounts of these in the early stages."

Not aiming for high volume

Instead, Nitz said, "the intent is to learn" how they're used and how they hold up to real-world conditions. And the same may apply to the second generation of the system as well, though perhaps in slightly higher quantities.

It'll only be "by the third or fourth generation that the costs get lower," Nitz said, and that's when GM can go "much higher" in production volumes--perhaps just in time to meet the stringent fuel economy requirements that come into effect for 2016 and thereafter.

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Comments (4)
  1. Larry Nitz is COMPLETELY wrong. The reason why the GM 2-modes didn't sell is because it offers MINISCULE benefit for a hefty price tag. Why buy a Tahoe Hybrid that only gets 3MPG better than the regular hybrid for an extra $10,000? You can make that Tahoe Hybrid as unique as you want, but in the end if it offers no significant improvement over the regular version, it's not going to sell!
    Instead, the GM execs blame the lack of sales on not making their 2-mode "look distinctive." This kind of horse-blinders mentality is what caused them to go bankrupt in the first place!
    The Toyota Prius succeeded because it delivers a significant improvement in fuel economy over a comparable car in its size class while charging a much lower "hybrid premium" than the GM 2-modes. Sure it looks distinct, but anyone who thinks looks is the sole reason for the Prius's success is deluding themselves.

  2. I agree HEV, that was exactly the problem. Too much cost, not enough benefit. If you would get 25 hwy with the two mode, it would have been a success story.

  3. You are 100% correct HEV. I actually would prefer a normal looking car/truck with no markings. Just give me better gas milage.

  4. Kudos to GM. They are learning about using the 2-mode technology in larger vehicles by deploying small numbers in the real world. Sounds pretty smart to me. The gas mileage will only get better.

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