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Battery pack recall has GM hybrid sales stuck in neutral

by Drew Johnson

Thanks to $4 a gallon gasoline, hybrid vehicles sales are on the rise and show no signs of stopping. Automakers like Toyota and Honda are cashing in on their hybrid vehicles, but General Motors' hybrid sales are stuck in neutral.

While Toyota is averaging more than 10,000 Prius sales per month through the first half of 2008, GM has moved less than 2,000 units of its mild hybrid vehicles -- the Saturn Vue Green Line, Aura Green Line and Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid -- through the first part of '08.

The problem doesn't stem from the vehicles themselves, but rather a battery recall from late last year that the automaker is just now getting caught up on. In December 2007, GM issued a recall on about 9,000 vehicles equipped with its mild hybrid drive due to a leaky battery pack supplied by Michigan-based Cobasys. GM replaced all 9,000 faulty packs with brand new batteries, preventing the Detroit-based automaker from producing any new hybrid vehicles.

"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 told Automotive News. "It's not an insignificant number, but it's also part of what happens with a brand-new technology."

GM planned to sell 27,000 mild hybrid vehicles this year, but will assuredly miss that mark.

Through April, GM sold 326 Saturn Vue Green Lines because of the battery shortage, down from 2,683 the year before. Aura Green Line sales are even further off the pace, totaling just 69 retail sales through April.

The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is faring slightly better -- recording 260 sales in the month of April -- but still well below GM's target of a 10 percent take rate. Chevy sold 17,050 Malibus in April, meaning the division missed the mark by more than 1,400 units.