GM sells only about 10,000 Two-Mode Hybrids a year, but if nothing else, its system is technically sophisticated.

Sophisticated enough, in fact, that a former General Motors employee and her husband have been indicted on charges of copying thousands of pages of GM documents on the system in January 2005, just five days after the company extended her a severance offer.

According to the indictment, after Shanshan Du of Troy, Michigan, did so, her husband Yu Qin arranged a sale of the information to Chinese automaker Chery.

In May 2006, the couple allegedly shredded the documents and discarded them in a Dumpster at a retail store. The couple will appear in court today.

Backed by Chinese government industrial policy, Chinese automakers are quickly attempting to come up to speed on the complex design and manufacturing of cars with electric drive--both battery electric vehicles and hybrids.

The GM Two-Mode system embodies a lot of patented intellectual property that could help in that process.

[UPDATE: The Detroit News offers more details on the case, here. And Chery says it was unaware of the case.]

Starting slow

The Two-Mode system is intended for large sport utilities, pickup trucks, and full-size sedans. Early volume has been deliberately low to let GM learn in its first iteration, said Larry Nitz, the company's executive director of electric and hybrid powertrain engineering.

The project was originally a partnership, announced in 2006, among General Motors, Daimler and Chrysler (then a single company), soon joined by BMW. But after the Daimler-Chrysler breakup, the once-promising four-way partnership has been dissolved. GM is now the largest user of the Two-Mode Hybrid hardware.

In 2009, GM sold just 8,820 Two-Mode Hybrids, the largest part of them in full-size sport utility vehicles from Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC. Chrysler, which had intended to use the system in a pickup truck, killed its Ram Hemi Hybrid pickup truck last March.

Today, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are fitting only small numbers of their X6 and ML sport utilities with the Two-Mode system, and the pair are moving away from using the Two-Mode, preferring instead to evolve their own separate hybrid hardware.

[Associated Press via Yahoo News]