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Although General Motors is yet to bring any full or mild hybrid vehicles to Australia, in the United States, the company currently sells its share of hybrid cars. Not that there is anything wrong with that, given the rising cost of petrol and the success Toyota has had with the Prius.

But GM has a problem. A rather big problem. General Motors’ mild hybrid vehicles have suffered a reputation and sales blow with repeated battery-pack failures.

In case you don’t know, a mild hybrid differs from a full hybrid as it does not power the vehicle on electric power alone. The idea is more a stop-start system which also provides additional power when the vehicle is accelerating.

GM was forced to issue a recall and replace 9,000 leaking batteries. The new batteries were all destined for new hybrid vehicles, which have now been delayed.

The old General was hoping to sell roughly 27,000 mild hybrid vehicles this year, a goal which is looking very unlikely. The problematic batteries have an internal leak which causes the hybrid system to shut down, effectively making the vehicles a standard petrol-powered car.

The other issue is that GM’s contract and design process means it has to stay with the current battery supplier until it brings out the next generation of mild hybrids in 2010.

“I don’t know how many hybrids we could have sold, but we would have had at least 9,000 more batteries for the pipeline,” GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said. “It’s not an insignificant number, but it’s also part of what happens with a brand-new technology.”

The biggest blow to GM, however, is the damage to its reputation. Buyers are now left wondering if Toyota and Honda are the only two manufacturers capable of producing reliable hybrid cars.

With GM Holden having recently announced that diesel and hybrid commodores are only two years away, we are thankful that the American market has become the guinea pig for GM’s hybrid operations.




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