2011 Chevrolet Cruze and pre-production 2011 Chevrolet VoltEnlarge Photo
The Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan is an important car for General Motors.
It's hugely outselling its lackluster predecessor, the Chevy Cobalt, and the EPA rates the special Cruze Eco model at 42 mpg in the highway cycle, giving it gas-mileage bragging rights.
Plug-in hybrid to join diesel model
But Chevrolet has big plans for future Cruze models. Now we learn that among them are a plug-in hybrid version that could debut as soon as 2014, following the 2013 Cruze clean-diesel model that was confirmed by CEO Dan Akerson in July.
Ten days ago, toward the end of the Los Angeles Auto Show media preview, GM executive Jim Federico told Australia's Go-Auto site: "The plug-in Cruze has a place and it will be a hybrid."
2011 Chevrolet Cruze
Federico's full title is Executive Director, Group Vehicle Line Executive/Vehicle Chief Engineer for Global Compact, Small, Mini and Electric Vehicles. In other words, he's a man who knows the product plan.
“Plug-in Cruze doesn’t make Volt redundant at all," Federico told Go-Auto. "Plug-in Cruze would have a different powertrain. Plug-in hybrids use both the engine and motor all the time.”
Paralleling the plug-in Prius
And that's the reason for the plug-in Cruze: It won't be a range-extended electric vehicle like the 2012 Chevrolet Volt, powered solely by an electric motor that gets its energy either from a lithium-ion battery pack or a gasoline-powered generator once the pack is depleted.
Instead, the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Plug-In Hybrid will use a conventional hybrid drivetrain, paired with a larger battery pack that can also be plugged in to recharge it.
2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, production model
2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, production modelEnlarge Photo
This setup is very similar to the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid that hits dealerships next March. That car has a 5.2-kiilowatt-hour battery pack (versus the 1.4 kWh of a standard Prius) and delivers 9 to 13 miles of electric range--though its engine may switch on at any time regardless of remaining range.
The plug-in hybrid Cruze will use a front-wheel drive adaptation of GM's large and costly Two-Mode Hybrid system, which is currently offered only in full-size sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
A front-wheel drive adaptation of the current Two-Mode system was originally intended for a 2010 Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid model. When Saturn was killed during the GM bankruptcy, it was briefly destined for the 'Vuick,' a re-badged version of the Vue that was swiftly killed.
For awhile, it looked like it would land in the Cadillac SRX luxury compact crossover. But that program was killed in May, for reasons of added weight and sub-par performance. The Cruze plug-in hybrid represents a fresh start with the next generation of the system.
Many green options = product churn?
What to make of a plug-in hybrid Cruze model? It certainly shows GM moving forward on multiple fronts to offer a range of green technologies that meet the differing needs of its customers.
The 2013 Cruze diesel, for example, may be the best option for buyers who rack up lots of miles at freeway speeds, when diesels can be most efficient. A plug-in hybrid Cruze, on the other hand, may be better for frequent stop-and-go traffic and drivers who do lots of short trips.
Chevrolet Cruze EV, test fleet in South Korea, October 2010
Chevrolet Cruze EV, test fleet in South Korea, October 2010Enlarge Photo
And just for the record, GM has tested a fleet of all-electric Cruze EV sedans in Korea as well.
But we chatted with a GM insider who suggested that if the Cruze plug-in is really planned for a 2014 launch, it indicates that the near-term product range is continuing to change. That's not always such a good thing.
This past Summer, CFO Dan Ammann said the company's product plan needed to settle down and solidify to reduce the amount of money wasted in frequent changes of direction.
GreenCarReports reached out to GM representatives for comments on Federico's assertion and the idea of a 2014 Chevrolet Cruze plug-in hybrid model. We had not received any responses by the time this article was published; we'll add any information we may get from GM as it arrives.