Buick to launch new electric, plug-in hybrid models in China; what about US?

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Buick Velite concept, 2016 Guangzhou auto show

Buick Velite concept, 2016 Guangzhou auto show

For 15 years now, Buick has been a far more important brand in China than it is in North America: four out of five Buicks sold globally are purchased by Chinese buyers.

The brand has a wider range and variety of vehicles in that country, along with numerous models U.S. buyers never lay eyes on.

So Buick's announcement that it will take the wraps off a new model with both plug-in hybrid and battery-electric versions inevitably leads eager U.S. plug-in electric car fans to wonder if those cars will appear Stateside.

DON'T MISS: GM to launch two new electric vehicles within 18 months, 20 by 2023 (Oct 2017)

On April 2, Buick announced it would introduce a pair of new Velite 6 models at the Beijing auto show that opens to the public later this month.

The Velite name is already used on the version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid sold in China, which is available there not as a Chevy but as the Buick Velite 5.

One version of the upcoming Velite 6 will have a plug-in hybrid powertrain, the other will use full battery-electric propulsion.

Buick Velite 5, for sale in China, at 2017 Shanghai auto show [photo: Ronan Glon]

Buick Velite 5, for sale in China, at 2017 Shanghai auto show [photo: Ronan Glon]

Buick Velite concept, 2016 Guangzhou auto show

Buick Velite concept, 2016 Guangzhou auto show

Teaser for 2018 Buick Velite 6

Teaser for 2018 Buick Velite 6

Buick Velite 5, for sale in China, at 2017 Shanghai auto show [photo: Ronan Glon]

Buick Velite 5, for sale in China, at 2017 Shanghai auto show [photo: Ronan Glon]

The new Buick Velite 6 will be based on the Velite concept vehicle first shown in November 2016. It's a low, relatively aerodynamic five-door hatchback with a few subtle crossover cues.

That plug-in hybrid will "feature a high-performance hybrid-electric" propulsion system that will "maximize performance, fuel savings, and range," GM said in its release.

Oddly, the Buick release describes the Volt-based Velite 5 as an "extended-range electric vehicle," even though that description was more suitable for the first-generation Volt than the current model.

CHECK OUT: GM goal: profitable, affordable electric cars built in big numbers

The fully electric Velite 6 will "adopt an all-new battery-electric" propulsion system, the company continued, one that ensures a "comfortable driving experience."

The powertrains will leverage technologies "from GM and its partners," which may suggest that LG Chem designed and will build some of the major subassemblies, as it does for the Chevrolet Bolt EV that went into production in December 2016.

The pair of new models seem to indicate that within GM's portfolio of vehicle architectures is one that can accommodate both full battery-electric drive and a plug-in hybrid powertrain with a smaller battery pack but also a combustion engine and a hybrid transmission.

2018 Buick Encore

2018 Buick Encore

Today, there's no GM vehicle in its entire lineup that offers that flexibility.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV, originally developed as a variant of the new Sonic/Aveo subcompact, ended up as an entirely separate architecture with only a handful of shared subcomponents.

Adding to the puzzle are two additional facts.

READ THIS: All-electric Buick small SUV to be based on Bolt EV: report (July 2017)

First, a person who attended a focus group last summer for a future Buick electric SUV said it resembled a next-generation Buick Encore—and was based on the Bolt EV, but with different sheetmetal, styling, and interior fixtures.

Among the changes were "a floating roof," and a larger tablet-style touchscreen in the middle of the dash, though the report didn't indicate whether a rear motor was added to offer all-wheel drive capability.

If that vehicle launches in North America, it would very likely comes from the Orion assembly plant in Michigan where the Bolt EV is built, especially since the Sonic also built at Orion is going out of production.

Teaser for Buick Enspire concept debuting at 2018 Beijing auto show

Teaser for Buick Enspire concept debuting at 2018 Beijing auto show

Second, on Sunday, Buick said it would unveil a new, all-electric concept SUV next Tuesday, April 17, in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, China.

The Buick Enspire concept may be the Encore replacement, but it is likely a different vehicle from the Velite 6 that will offer both battery-electric and plug-in hybrid powertrains.

We should learn more then, when we get a chance to see the full vehicle. Right now, Buick has released only a single teaser image of the Enspire's sharply raked rear screen and full-width band of taillights.

 
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