The 2008 Saturn Flextreme may still be a concept, but it is another example that General Motors is serious about putting advanced, fuel-efficient hybrids on American roads in the not too distant future. They had better be. The long-term financial health of GM is staked in the success of cars like the Flextreme and Volt. The “Not so distant future” is the standard answer out of Detroit regarding timelines for production of electric vehicles. So when will the Saturn Flextreme be made? 2010. Isn’t it great that the “not so distant future” is becoming the present?
The Flextreme is the automotive sequel to the Chevy Volt, and a reskinned GM-owned Opel with Saturn badging. Aside from the badge changes,what’s important about this Saturn is the progress that it demonstrates. The ecologically minded plug-in Saturn features pure electric propulsion. One motor drives both front wheels. The on-board three-cylinder 1.3-liter turbo-diesel is only used to charge the car’s lithium-ion battery pack. The batteries may also be charged by a standard household current in about three hours. Running on just electricity, the Flextreme is capable of driving up to 34 miles before the diesel engine starts up to charge up the batteries. This range, GM claims, will enable many drivers to own the vehicle for months or years without ever traveling far enough to require the Flextreme’s diesel engine to run during their normal commute, providing completely emissions-free operation. Driving range after leaving the house with a fully charged battery pack and a full tank of ultra-low-sulfur diesel is estimated to be 444 miles. Super low aerodynamics play a huge role in achieving greater driving range on electric-only power. According to GM, aerodynamics ar even more important than weight, so the Flextreme is stylistically designed to improve its aerodynamic drag.
Saturn continues to share design elements from Opel and will continue to do so with the replacement models of the Vectra and Aura. The base of the hood is pushed way forward, conventional stick-out rear-view mirrors are replaced by flush-mounted rear-view cameras, there are no exposed door handles, and the trailing edge of the roof remains high. Each of these design elements help smooth the flow of air over the car, making it easier for the electric motor to do its job. While the wheels look to have conventional spokes, the wheel face doesn’t create energy-robbing turbulence, another mpg-increasing touch. The design of the Flextreme also features “FlexDoors” and “FlexLoad” systems. The FlexDoors utilize conventionally opening front doors with reverse opening rears.
The FlexLoad system is more unusual, and consists of an electrically powered load floor that literally hands you your stowed luggage. In keeping with the electrically-powered theme of this concept, the Flextreme carries twin Segway scooters in its cargo compartment.
I’m skeptical about how many of these various concept elements will make it into a production vehicle, but at least you will have the opportunity to drive an electric car before you know it.