JAY RAMEY

China lands Chevy Volt in a Buick wrapper

Buick rolled out its version of the Chevrolet Volt for the Chinese market this week, with the upscale hybrid dubbed Velite 5 in the Middle Kingdom. Buick offers far more models in China than it does in the U.S., and analysts predicted a Buick version of the Volt would be offered there before the second-generation model even debuted.

Just like the Volt, the Buick Velite 5 will be powered by two electric motors drawing juice from a lithium ion battery and a 1.5-liter inline-four range extender. In contrast with the 53-mile pure-electric rating in the U.S., the Velite 5 has been rated at 72 miles for the Chinese market, reflecting a different testing methodology.

"Equipped with GM’s latest intelligent electric drive system, the Velite 5 offers up to 768 kilometers of range in extended-range mode," Buick says. "Its prioritized pure electric driving mode provides 116 kilometers of range, fulfilling consumers’ demand to commute with zero petroleum consumption and zero emissions."

768 kilometers is 477 miles -- significantly higher than the 420-mile rating of the Volt, but in terms of engineering, the powertrains are nearly identical.

 

Aside from a mildly restyled exterior, the Velite 5 will offer a more upscale interior along with an upgraded air-filtration system geared for high-smog cities -- placed where cars sometimes need a weekly cabin filter replacement.

It will also be built in China.

How big of a premium will buyers in China pay for the Buick badge? Not a whole lot, it turns out. The Velite 5 GL trim level will be offered starting at the equivalent of $33,300, while the upscale GS model will start at around $37,700. That's before the application of a $5,233 New Energy Vehicle government subsidy, which will bring the starting price down to the high-$20,000 range. The price points are nearly identical to the LT and Premier trim levels of the 2017 Chevrolet Volt, before any federal and state rebates.

The Velite 5 will be the second Chinese-market vehicle to get the Buick Blue badging -- to distinguish "new energy vehicles," as hybrids and electrics are referred to in China. The first Buick hybrid offered in China was the LaCrosse.

For now, GM does not plan to offer a Buick version of the Volt in the U.S., still smarting from the fallout from the pricey Cadillac ELR, which went of out of production in the U.S. in 2016 after tepid sales and massive price cuts. A Buick version of the Volt makes far more sense in China, where Buick continues to enjoy wild success still not replicated by any other American marque, Cadillac included.

 

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