If you want to look down the pike at what's coming for the U.S., you could do worse than watching what Buick is doing in China.
One of the main things the company is doing in China is expanding its lineup of plug-in cars.
Those include two new models at the Beijing Auto Show, the all-electric Enspire concept that we covered yesterday, and the production-ready Velite 6, a plug-in compact wagon.
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Velite is the name Buick uses for its Chinese version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid; it's officially the Velite 5.
The Velite 6 is a little longer, with a higher roofline in back, basically a Volt with more useful cargo space and perhaps a slightly roomier back seat.
Initially, the Velite 6 will go on sale as a plug-in hybrid with 435 miles of range from its plug-in battery and 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine combined. It will use "variable electric transmission," likely not dissimilar in function to the way the Volt splits power between gas and electricity.
Buick Velite Plug-in Hybrid layout
It will also bring new levels of connectivity to a Buick in China. Owners can set up profiles online to set preferences for functions such as the navigation system, Internet connectivity, and OnStar, as well as post to China's WeChat social network. They can use their smartphones as a key and allow others to drive the car using an app.
Buick says an all-electric version will go on sale about a year later, but the company is releasing very few specs.
What GM is saying is that the Velite 6 rides on an all-new electric-car architecture for GM. It's not based on the Volt, with that car's inverted "T"-shaped battery pack constraining rear seat and cargo space, nor on the Bolt, with its under-floor battery.
Buick Velite 6 Plug-in Hybrid battery layout
The T-shaped battery pack in the Velite 5 and the Volt doesn't offer many expansion possibilities to build a pure electric car while preserving rear seat and cargo space. And General Motors has not previously built to accommodate both a big battery pack for an electric car and a gas engine for a plug-in hybrid.
The battery pack in the Velite 6 fits entirely under the floor of the rear cargo area. That could leave room for expansion down the center tunnel or under the floor.
The new architecture underpinning the Velite 6 could signal a new approach for GM that will allow the company to build a car with flexible powertrain options including gas range extenders as well as full battery power. With the electric-car market booming in China and Buick's popularity there, China could be the logical test bed for such a new offering.
If that's the case, we can't wait for it to come to the U.S.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect information provided by Buick after it was first published.