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GM Eyes Electric All-Wheel Drive for Cadillac, Chevrolet

DETROIT — General Motors is developing a high-performance electric all-wheel-drive system for the next generation of Cadillac V-Series sedans and crossovers that could trickle down to GM's other rear-drive models.

Dave Sullivan, an analyst at AutoPacific, told Edmunds that other GM candidates would include Alpha-platform-based vehicles such as the Cadillac ATS and Chevrolet Camaro, and possibly a Corvette derivative.

In many parts of the United States (snow country), all-wheel drive has become a must-have for high-performance luxury car buyers, and Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are ahead of the game with their AWD-equipped RS, AMG, M and Turbo models. Cadillac, however, lags behind this trend, having just introduced the 455-horsepower ATS-V and 640-hp CTS-V, both rear-wheel-drive sedans.

Cadillac is also lagging in its offering of electrified fuel-efficient models. Its ELR plug-in hybrid (basically a Cadillac coupe version of the Chevrolet Volt) has been a sales embarrassment, while its German competitors offer multiple electrified models, including many sedans and the supersexy BMW i8 and Porsche 918 Spyder supercars. Acura is also ahead. The 2016 Acura NSX, which was just introduced at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, is a midengine high-performance two-seater with electric all-wheel drive.

An electric all-wheel-drive system, known in the industry by the acronym e-AWD, can solve these two problems for GM and potentially boost fuel economy in many future vehicles.

However, the system GM desires is many years in the future.

Joe Slenvak, director of powertrain electrification for North America at Robert Bosch Group LLC, told Edmunds that adding electric all-wheel drive to the front wheels of a rear-drive car has challenges.

"When you put the electric axle drive in the front, you have a lot of crossmembers and things that are in the cradle that you have to work around. It would be a little bit hard to do (but) I think you could do it," Slenvak said.

Slenvak said a vehicle could be retrofitted to add that system. He would not say if Bosch is developing an electric all-wheel-drive system for GM's rear-drive cars.

And when asked on the floor of the Detroit auto show, the new president of Cadillac Johan de Nysschen confirmed that retrofitting such a system to existing cars is not practical. Platforms must be designed for it from the beginning, he told us.

In other words, this isn't something we will see until the next generation of Cadillacs are engineered. And that's not any time soon, considering the ATS debuted just two years ago, and the CTS is in its first year of production.

Edmunds says: Electric all-wheel drive has proven its worth to a variety of manufacturers. GM's applications will be welcome, however late.

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