With gasoline at $4 a gallon and the Toyota Prius flying out dealership doors, General Motors' mild hybrid vehicles are stuck in neutral because of battery-pack failures.
GM had to use 9,000 battery packs to replace leaking ones it recalled, a company spokesman says. GM diverted those batteries from new hybrids for sale this year.
GM planned to sell about 27,000 mild hybrid vehicles this year, possibly more given the sharp rise in gasoline prices. But insiders say GM will fall far short of that goal because of problems with its Michigan-based battery maker, Cobasys, a joint venture of Chevron Technology Ventures and Energy Conversion Devices.
GM discovered an internal leak in the nickel-metal hydride batteries that Cobasys made for GM's 2007 model hybrids. The leak caused the hybrid powertrain to shut down. The vehicles could still be driven, but not with the hybrid system.
The vehicles affected were the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line and Saturn Aura Green Line hybrids. A GM spokesman says the company recalled about 9,000 vehicles to replace battery packs. That slowed the launch of the 2008 Saturn hybrids and the new Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.