The company has long worked on alternative-technology vehicles, and has recently led the industry with ethanol burning flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on either E85 (ethanol) or gasoline. The company was the first to use turbochargers and was an early proponent of V6 engines in the 1960s, but quickly lost interest as the muscle car race took hold. They demonstrated gas turbine vehicles powered by kerosene, an area of interest throughout the industry, but abandoned the alternative engine configuration in view of the 1973 oil crisis. In the 1970s and 1980s, GM pushed the benefits of diesel engines and cylinder deactivation technologies with disastrous results due to poor durability in the Oldsmobile diesels and drivability issues in the Cadillac V8-6-4 variable cylinder engines. In 1987, GM, in conjunction with AeroVironment, built the Sunraycer, which won the inaugural World Solar Challenge and was a showcase of advanced technology. Much of the technology from Sunraycer found its way into the Impact prototype electric vehicle (also built by Aerovironment) and was the predecessor to the EV1.
GM supported a compromise version of the CAFE standard increase from 27 mpg-US (8.7 L/100 km; 32 mpg-imp) to 35 mpg-US (6.7 L/100 km; 42 mpg-imp), the first such increase in over 20 years.
Hybrid electric initiative
In May 2004, GM delivered the world's first full sized hybrid pickups, the 1/2-ton Silverado/Sierra. These hybrids did not use electrical energy for propulsion, like GM's later designs. In 2005, the Opel Astra diesel Hybrid concept vehicle was introduced. The 2006 Saturn Vue Green Line was the first hybrid passenger vehicle from GM and is also a mild design. GM has hinted at new hybrid technologies to be employed that will be optimized for higher speeds in freeway driving.
GM currently offers two types of hybrid systems. The first type, used in the Saturn Vue, Saturn Aura, and Chevrolet Malibu, is what GM calls the BAS Hybrid system a type of mild hybrid which was canceled in 2009. The second hybrid drive system, co-developed with Daimler AG and BMW, is called a "Two-Mode Hybrid." The two-mode is used by the Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon and will later be used on the Saturn Vue (cancelled), Cadillac Escalade, GM 1/2-ton pickups and possibly other vehicles.
GM's current hybrid electric models:
- 2009 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid
- 2009 Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid
- 2009 GMC Yukon Hybrid
- 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
- 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
- 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
- 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid
- 2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid
GM has recently introduced the concept cars Chevrolet Volt and Opel Flextreme, which are electric vehicles with back-up generators, powered by gasoline, E85, or fuel cells. According to GM, a production Chevrolet Volt will be available by late 2010 as a 2011 model.
The GM Magic Bus is a hybrid powered bus.
GM sold 843 hybrids of all types during the first quarter of 2008, according to the industry newspaper Automotive News. Compare that with Ford, which sold 5,225 hybrids during that time. CSM Worldwide, expects GM to seriously increase its hybrid output, turning the automaker into a serious contender within the next few years. He expects it to produce 40,000 to 50,000 hybrids this year, more than doubling last year's production.
GM was the first american company (in the modern era) to release an all-electric automobile. In 1990, GM debuted the revolutionary "Impact" concept car at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It was the first car with zero-emissions marketed in the US in over three decades. The Impact was eventually produced as the EV1 for the 1996 model year. It was available through dealers located in only a few regions (e.g., California, Arizona, Georgia). Vehicles were leased, rather than sold, to individuals. In 2003 GM decided to cease production of the vehicles.
General Motors has announced that it is building a prototype two-seat electric vehicle with Segway. An early prototype of the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility vehicle—dubbed Project P.U.M.A. -- will be shown off in New York a day ahead of the press previews for the 2009 New York International Auto Show.
On September 16, 2008, as part of its 100th anniversary celebration, GM unveiled the "production" version of the Chevrolet Volt at the GM headquarters in Detroit.
Battery packs for electric vehicles
GM will build battery packs with LG Chem in Michigan. GM also plans to build an automotive battery laboratory in Michigan. GM will take full responsibility for all the battery management systems and power electronics. The company will build a new factory in Michigan, but a specific site has yet to be announced, in part because negotiations are ongoing with state and local authorities on the usual financial incentives and approvals. LG Chem's US subsidiary, Compact Power of Troy, Michigan, has been building the prototype packs for the development vehicles and will continue to provide integration support and act as a liaison for the program.
GM has prided its research and prototype development of hydrogen powered vehicles, to be produced in early 2010, using a support infrastructure still in a prototype state. The economic feasibility of the technically challenging hydrogen car, and the low-cost production of hydrogen to fuel it, has also been discussed by other automobile manufacturers such as Ford and Chrysler.
In June 2007, Larry Burns, vice president of research and development, said he's not yet willing to say exactly when hydrogen vehicles will be mass produced, but he said it should happen before 2020, the year many experts have predicted. He said "I sure would be disappointed if we weren't there" before 2020.
North American market
GM produces several flexible-fuel vehicles that can operate on E85 ethanol fuel or gasoline, or any blend of both. Since 2006 GM started featuring a bright yellow gas cap to remind drivers of the E85 capabilities, and also using badging with the text "Flexfuel/E85 Ethanol" to clearly mark the car as an E85 FFV.
GM is the North American leader in E85 flex fuel vehicles, with over 3 million FlexFuel vehicles on the road in the U.S. As of 2009, GM offers 18 ethanol-enabled FlexFuel cars and trucks in the US, and produce more than one million new FlexFuel vehicles. GM's goal is to have half of their annual vehicle production be E85 or biodiesel capable by 2012.
Despite the significant amount of flex fuel vehicles sold in the US and Canada, the percentage of users actually using ethanol has been very low as many owners are not aware they owned an E85 flex or not enough E85 fueling stations are available nearby, except for the Corn Belt states, where there is a great concentration of E85 stations, as most corn ethanol is produced there. A 2005 survey found that 68% of American flex-fuel car owners were not aware they owned an E85 flex. Several critics have argued that GM and the other American automakers have been producing E85 flex models motivated by a loophole in the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) requirements, that allows for a fuel economy credit for every flex-fuel vehicle sold, whether or not in practice these vehicles are fueled with E85. This loophole might have allowed the car industry to meet the CAFE targets in fuel economy just by spending between USD 100 to USD 200 that it cost to turn a conventional vehicle into a flex-fuel, without investing in new technology to improve fuel economy, and saving them the potential fines for not achieving that standard in a given model year.
 Brazilian market
GM's largest overseas subsidiary is General Motors do Brasil, which started producing flexible-fuel vehicles since its inception in the Brazilian market in 2003. Like other Brazilian flex-fuel vehicles, GM's flex fuel cars and light-duty trucks are optimized to run on any mix of E20-E25 gasoline and up to 100% hydrous ethanol fuel (E100).GM launched its first flex fuel in June 2003, the Chevrolet Corsa 1.8 FlexPower, just two months after the first flex car was launched by another Brazilian carmaker.
GM do Brasil also introduced the MultiPower engine in August 2004, which was capable of using natural gas (CNG), ethanol and gasoline (E20-E25 blend) as fuel, and it was used in the multifuel Chevrolet Astra 2.0 model 2005, aimed at the local taxi cab market. The Brazilian GM Powertrain unit also developed the EconoFlex technology, used for the first time in the Chevrolet Prisma 1.4, which allows the flex fuel engine to maximize fuel economy and power.
Due to the success and rapid consumer acceptance of the flex versions, GM sold 192,613 flex vehicles and 135,636 gasoline-powered automobiles in 2005, jumping to 501,681 flex-fuel vehicles, while only 949 cars and 6,834 light trucks powered by gasoline were sold in 2007, and reaching new car sales of 535.454 flex fuels in 2008, representing 97 percent of all cars and light duty trucks sold in that year.