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Review and photos by Greg Wilson
First came hybrid cars, then hybrid SUVs, and now hybrid pickup trucks. GM’s new gas-electric pickup trucks, the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra Hybrid pickups, are the latest vehicles to take advantage of the gas-saving benefits of hybrid technology.
Hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Honda Civic Hybrid have proven to be some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. The two-seater Insight, for example, offers the best mileage in Canada. But these cars have small, fuel-efficient four cylinder engines to begin with. It stands to reason that vehicles with bigger, less fuel-efficient engines will benefit more from hybrid technology.
Big pickup trucks, vans and SUVs are prime candidates for the gas-saving benefits of hybrid technology. Even a 10% saving in fuel adds up to a lot of gas saved when you’re driving a gas-guzzler. And for automakers, there’s another incentive to promote hybrid technology: they can lower their U.S. corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rates which might help them avoid penalties for not meeting the U.S. government’s fleet fuel economy standards.
GM’s new Hybrid pickups, currently available as extended cab Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups with 2WD or 4WD equipped with the 5.3 litre V8 and 4-speed automatic transmission, feature a powerful 42-volt lead-acid battery pack underneath the rear seat, an auxiliary starter-generator between the engine and the transmission, an electronic control module, and a regenerative braking system which charges the battery while braking and coasting.
Unlike ‘full’ hybrids, like the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Toyota Prius, the Silverado Hybrid won’t run on battery power alone. The main function of the three deep-cycle lead acid batteries is to assist the starter generator to instantly re-start the engine. When the Silverado Hybrid comes to a stop while in Drive or Park, the engine will automatically shut off. When the driver takes his/her foot off the brake and puts it on the accelerator, the engine re-starts automatically and almost seamlessly.
GM claims the Hybrid offers a 10 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the regular extended length pickup, plus reduced exhaust emissions. The biggest gains in fuel efficiency are during city driving because the engine stops running at traffic lights.
According to federal government Energuide fuel consumption figures, the Silverado Hybrid 1/2 ton extended cab 2WD pickup offers 12% better fuel economy in city driving than the non-Hybrid version [13.2 L/100 km (21 m.p.g.) vs 15.0 L/100 km (19 m.p.g.)]. But in highway driving, the Hybrid’s fuel consumption is almost exactly the same as the non-Hybrid [10.4 L/100 km (27 m.p.g.) vs 10.6 L/100 km (27 m.p.g.)]
Fleet operators whose vehicles rack up a lot of kilometres would be best positioned to take advantage of hybrid pickups. But for the average residential owner, it would take a long time to pay off the extra $3,500 price of the Hybrid option. And the 42-volt battery pack has an expected four-year lifespan. It won’t be cheap to replace (no figures were available at press time).
Another concern is the additional weight of the large battery and hybrid components. The Silverado Hybrid, for example, weighs 220 kg (487 lb.) more than a comparable non-hybrid Silverado pickup. As a result, its maximum payload capacity is reduced by the same amount to just under 1100 pounds. Towing capacity is reduced by approximately 136 kg (300 pounds), to 3492 kg (7700 lb.)
But there is one feature of GM’s Hybrid pickups that is likely to create a lot of interest with tradesmen, contractors, and do-it-yourselfers: two 120 volt power outlets inside the box near the tailgate, and another two 120 volt outlets inside the rear cab. These can be used for power tools, compressors, generators, heaters, appliances or any other electrical appliance. The Silverado Hybrid is essentially a generator on wheels for on-site jobs, camping, or even emergency power supply.
To avoid the possibility of someone using the external 120-volt outlets without the owner’s permission, the outlets can be deactivated with a button on the dashboard.
You might be wondering how the power steering and power brakes work if the engine is shut off? Well, the Silverado has an electro-hydraulic variable-effort power steering system which operates independently of the engine. During the week that I had the Silverado Hybrid, I found the steering effort light, and though not sporty, there’s nothing unusual about it. The 42-volt battery also keeps power supplied to the brakes when the engine is off. An electronic control module keeps tabs on the battery’s charge, and automatically restarts the engine if it senses a power drain.
At a stop light, when the engine re-starts automatically, you hardly notice it. But if you’re stopped on a steep hill with the engine off and you take your foot off the brake, the truck will slip backwards momentarily before the engine re-starts. You can counter this with some left foot braking.
Another difference I noticed is that the Silverado Hybrid feels like it’s dragging slightly when coasting downhill, and the brakes are more sensitive than regular brakes. This is due to the regenerative braking system which captures energy during braking to charge the battery.
Overall, the Silverado Hybrid extended cab is a comfortable, smooth-riding pickup with a quiet, torquey V8 engine, a roomy cab with good ventilation and excellent outward visibility, and a rugged durable chassis. Equipped in the mid-level LS trim, the Silverado Hybrid has all the popular comfort features as standard equipment.
The smooth-changing four-speed automatic transmission includes GM’s driver-selectable ‘tow/haul’ mode. By pressing a button on the end of the column shifter, the transmission adjusts the shift points to accommodate heavy trailer loads or payloads.
One criticism with the handling: unloaded, the truck’s rear end is very light, so it’s easy to spin the rear tires on wet roads when accelerating quickly and to fishtail when going around corners. In the snow, the 2WD Silverado has very poor traction, and I would recommend the 4WD model if you plan on using this truck in the winter.
Except for the hybrid badges on the sides of the truck and the external 120 volt outlets in the bed, the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid looks just like any other extended cab Silverado. Chances are no one will even know you have one.
Whether or not buyers will find the extra $3,500 price-tag to be worth a 10% gain in fuel savings remains to be seen. My guess is the 120-volt exterior power outlets will prove as much a draw to potential customers as the 10% in fuel savings.
Technical Data: 2005 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid 2WD extended cab pickup
|Base Price (LS)||$34,910|
|Options||$7,310 ($6,900 – Preferred equipment group 1SH includes hybrid powertrain, Vortec 5.3-litre V8, dual zone climate control, 6-way power driver’s seat, AM/FM CD
Cassette, 16-inch alloy wheels, heavy duty suspension; $410 – Locking rear differential)
|Price as tested||$43,370|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger extended cab|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive (or PT 4WD)|
|Engine||5.3 litre V8, OHV, 2 valves per cylinder|
|Horsepower||295 @ 5200 rpm|
|Torque||335 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm|
|Curb weight||2094 kg (4617 lb.)|
|GVW||2811 kg (6200 lb.)|
|Payload capacity||718 kg (1583 lb.)|
|Max trailer weight||3538 kg (7800 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||3644 mm (143.5 in.)|
|Length||5781 mm (227.7 in.)|
|Width||1994 mm (78.5 in.)|
|Height||1808 mm (71.2 in.)|
|Ground clearance||203 mm (8.0 in.)|
|Box length||1998 mm (78.7 in.)|
|Box width at top||1572 mm (61.9 in.)|
|Box height||495 mm (19.5 in.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.2 L/100 km (21 m.p.g.)|
|Hwy: 10.4 L/100 km (27 m.p.g.)|
|Fuel type||Regular unleaded 87 octane|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Assembly location||Fort Wayne, Indiana|