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Rumors of the 2005 Saturn Transponder Materialize
SaturnFans.com August 13, 2002 General Motors has big plans for Saturn’s next-generation midsize car. GM will once again use Saturn as its laboratory for change as it explores new ways to mass-produce fuel-efficient vehicles. If successful, Saturn’s new midsize car could help usher in a new era of hybrid-electric vehicles at GM. The Epsilon-based Saturn will share components with the 2003 Saab 93, 2003 Opel Vectra, 2004 Chevrolet Malibu, and 2004 Pontiac Grand Am. In the future, more GM vehicles may be moved to variations of the platform as GM standardizes on the Epsilon and W-Body architectures as a basis for its midsize cars worldwide.
When Saturn moves to the Epsilon platform, the L-Series nameplate will likely be dropped. Current L-Series sedans and wagons have not lived up to the sales projections Saturn and GM had hoped they would generate. The new Saturn midsize car is known internally as the ‘Transponder’.
There will be a number of notable differences between the today’s L-Series cars and tomorrow’s Transponder. Most noticeable will be the lack of polymer panels. GM officials have hinted that future Saturn vehicles built outside of Spring Hill, TN would feature metal bodies. The Transponder will be the first to test the public’s acceptance of a totally non-polymer Saturn. Production of the Transponder may move from Saturn’s Wilmington Assembly Plant in Delaware to Fairfax, KS where it would be built alongside the upcoming Chevrolet Malibu Maxx. Saturn has confirmed that Wilmington will manufacture L-Series cars through 2005, but Saturn has not made any commitments past that date.
In addition, the Transponder will only be available as a 5-door sport wagon “crossover” vehicle; a 4-door version will not be built. GM will only offer 4-door Epsilon sedans in the US through its Saab, Chevrolet, and Pontiac brands. What’s not clear at this point is what kind of crossover vehicle the Transponder will be. More than likely, it will have an upright rear liftgate, similar to the Opel Signum and Malibu Maxx wagons. However, there is a possibility it could sport a fastback hatchback a la the Mazda 6.
As with the Signum and Malibu Maxx, the Transponder will ride on a long wheelbase version of the Epsilon architecture. The actual length of the Transponder will be a half an inch shorter than the 2004 Malibu sedan, but its wheelbase will be 5.5” longer. The so-called wagon-like “smartback” design will provide ample interior space and room for a new innovative feature: flexible rear seating. This will give drivers the ability to position the rear seats so they can maximize either passenger room or cargo space. The rear seats in the Malibu Maxx are said to provide business-class comfort.
Despite some of these intriguing characteristics, the Transponder’s powertrain may prove to be the most interesting aspect of the car. While there is a remote possibility that GM could expand the VUE engine exchange agreement with Honda to include a V6 powerplant for the Transponder, the new Saturns will likely use engines from GM’s upcoming high-value high-output V6 family. A Honda V6 could be used to further differentiate the vehicle from its Pontiac and Chevrolet cousins. However, it is interesting to note that some folks within GM’s upper-management do not like the idea of using a Honda engine in a General Motors import-fighter. Regardless of which engine is used, a 5-speed automatic and a 6-speed manual transmission will likely be offered. Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive models will be available.
The 2005 Saturn Transponder is also expected to be the first production vehicle to utilize GM’s new hybrid-electric ParadiGM (say PAIR-a-dime) system. At least 7,000 hybrid Transponders are expected to be produced in the first year.
At the heart of the ParadiGM system is an innovative new transaxle. The transaxle package mates to a full-sized engine and includes the two electric motors, the differential that drives the wheels, and the air conditioning compressor. The entire package, including the internal combustion engine, will fit in transverse fashion, over the front axle.
In the Transponder, ParadiGM will combine the V6 engine with a pair of electric motors and a battery pack. The result is a vehicle that will run on electricity at slow speeds when the efficiency of gasoline engines is lowest, yet have the muscle of a V6 when traveling at higher speeds or carrying heavy loads. The Transponder will get GM’s 3.6-liter V6 version of the hybrid powertrain. It will generate 220 horsepower from the internal combustion engine, plus another 32 horsepower from the electric motors.
Balancing the output of a 3.6-liter V6 engine with a pair of electric motors to optimize efficiency at all times requires sophisticated software which ensures that each part of the system is working in concert for optimal efficiency. Each of the two electric motors actually has three operating modes: it serves as a motor to drive the car’s differential and propel the car; it works as a starter motor for the internal combustion engine; or it turns as a generator to convert energy created by the engine or by the car’s coasting motion into electricity that is stored in the batteries.
A manual transmission, which is automatically shifted by a computer, combines the fuel efficiency of a manual with the ease-of-use of an automatic. GM has said that at highway speeds, drivers won’t be able to tell the difference from a vehicle powered by a conventional engine. Pulling away from a light, however, the hybrid system will reportedly provide superior acceleration and quietness.
The car’s range on battery power alone is quite limited, to save the weight and expense of a large battery array. Initially, the vehicle will rely on a 42-volt lead-acid battery pack with 25 kilowatts of peak power, but GM continues to investigate other battery technologies. Essentially, the V6 engine is the primary source of power, but it will be turned off when power demand is low to save fuel. Intersections will be quieter and cleaner, because a ParadiGM car will "idle" and accelerate away from the traffic signal on electrical power alone. As the vehicle gains speed and power demand becomes greater, the IC engine can run most efficiently on gasoline.
The ParadiGM system is engineered to overcome some of the shortcomings of the small, mild hybrids that are currently available. Most notably, it efficiently powers the air conditioning system, even when the engine is off. Air conditioning is actually the second-largest consumer of the car's energy, after moving it down the road. And, as has been seen in early production hybrids, air conditioning can create serious problems for efficiency and performance. The energy-hungry air conditioning compressor will be driven by ParadiGM's innovative transaxle, allowing it to be turned by the V6 engine, one of the electric motors, or even by the regenerative power of the car coasting.
Trandsponders equipped with the ParadiGM system are expected to get about 20 percent better fuel economy than non-hybrid Transponders. Saturn is targeting a combined city and highway gas mileage of 35 miles per gallon. ParadiGM will help the Transponder achieve lower tailpipe emissions, and deliver a 30 percent reduction in fuel consumption in urban driving.
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