GM’s Buick will enter the e-Mobility era with a hybrid crossover sold in China

Aug 19, 2019

GM filed trademark paperwork for its Enspire name with the USPTO in December 2018. Automotive insiders say the development and production of the Buick compact crossover with a hybrid electric powertrain is well under way. GM has made no announcements concerning its debut, either in China, where it will be built, or in the United States. Its GM program code – E2UB – indicates the production-intended Enspire will be mechanically related to the Cadillac XT4, GM’s next pure electric vehicle, which has a 2020 to 2021-time frame.

By John Coulter, Current EV CMO

The Buick Enspire and Cadillac (no official name yet) crossovers will share the same new GM platform designed for electric vehicles of all kinds. But their powertrains will be different. While industry sources indicate the Cadillac will be a pure electric, the GM Authority blog site says of the Buick: “Expect the production version to be powered by a traditional internal combustion engine, rather than featuring an electric powertrain, and launch in 2020 as a 2021 model year vehicle in both North America and China.”

Buick debuted its Enspire concept at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show, which makes sense, as China is Buick’s biggest market. Closely-sized to the current Buick Envision crossover, the Enspire’s exterior displays modern, sleekly-sculptured lines; a definitive departure from past Buick designs. The car supposedly uses a drivetrain offering 550HP and a battery pack providing 370 miles of range. GM has indicated the Buick crossover will have a 4.0 second zero to sixty time, and that the battery pack will support an inductive charging capability; it will replenish 80% of its capacity within 40 minutes with fast charging. The car will employ two electric motors, one on each axle, to turn all four wheels.

At the Beijing Auto Show, the concept car displayed some innovative e-Mobility concepts. It’s not known if all, or just a few of them will be included in the final production model:

• An Automatic Park Assist feature which can be deployed with or without a driver at the wheel. Enspire will be able to find an open parking spot and guide itself into it. Later, the car can be summoned from afar, maneuver out of the parking spot and auto-drive to its owner’s location (assuming it isn’t too far away). Tesla has a similar system in production for its upcoming models.

• Enspire will sport an LED grille on its front end which will use light signals (flickers) to communicate with pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. On its rear end, Enspire will use a pair of smart Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) taillights to display braking intensity to following vehicles. The range of signals will include “Gentle Stop,” “Preparing to Turn,” and “Hard Brake To Avoid A Collision.” Flicker intensity will convey the level of braking severity.

• Enspire’s seats will feature a “lightweight skeletal structure” to serve as a “support structure” and “shock-absorbing mechanism.” The advanced seats will better protect occupants from hard bumps and road dips.

• An augmented-reality Head-Up Display (HUD) which projects data onto the windshield (like other HUDs currently in use), and also displays info concerning navigation route guidance and nearby points of interest.

• A Facial Recognition System capable of unlocking the vehicle and preparing it for the approaching driver. GM and Buick are already using proximity keys for their cars; the new facial recognition technology will take the unlocking and car preparation system a step further.

• Front Air Curtains will reduce aerodynamic drag by directing oncoming airflow around the front wheels rather than into the wheel wells, where its impact decreases airflow efficiency. These curtains will provide greater acceleration, better stopping power and less wind noise. Similar air curtains are already present on other GM vehicles, like the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500.

• Rear Air Curtains will prevent rushing air from “detaching” too abruptly from the vehicle’s body. The result will provide greater stability and reduce wind noise at high speed.

In 2018, GM sold more cars in China (3.6 million) than it did in the USA (3 million). In the recent past, the company has announced its intentions to launch 10 electric and hybrid cars there by 2020. This summer, it started selling a 2-seater EV in China priced at just $5,300.

GM does well in China, but is still trying to figure out how to handle its American market. General Motors reportedly loses $9,000 on each Chevrolet Bolt it sells, considering it a compliance car. The company’s USA sales strategy relies heavily on cutting costs; they’ll do so with steadily dropping battery prices, more efficient motors and car designs that weigh less.

GM’s e-Mobility history has had its ups and downs. It invented the electric starter, which helped to kill the first wave of electric cars at the turn of the Twentieth Century. In a strange twist of events, it developed the EV-1, a promising early electric vehicle, but then inexplicably recalled the 2-seaters from their owners and crushed them into EV carcasses in a junkyard. GM was selling the Hummer while Toyota was promoting its highly-popular Prius.

The company took a large step forward when it debuted the Chevrolet Volt PHEV, followed by a huge leap with its greatest coup so far – the 200-mile, $30,000 pure electric Bolt.

But the market has become increasingly competitive with the emergence of new value-offering EVs. Bolt sales have dropped off. Chevrolet’s next EV offering looks to be its all-electric Cadillac crossover SUV. The Buick Enspire may follow right after it, though GM will closely track what it does in China first, focusing its primary Buick Enspire promotions in the country which currently leads the world in EV sales.