Every time I stop at the local food-and-fuel down the road I cringe. The food there used to make me sick, but now it’s the cost of fuel that makes me nauseous. My wallet is still smoking from doling out $85 to fill my four-wheel-drive pickup, which averages a measly 14 miles-per-gallon around town and a decent 18 mpg on a long-distance interstate run.
That’s why I’m itching to get a hybrid. More specifically, I want one of the new Chevrolet Silverado or GMC Sierra Crew Cab 4×4 Two-Mode Hybrid pickups. Brand loyalty aside, both pickups have what I want—great fuel economy. They get around 22 mpg in town and 20-plus on the highway. That’s about 50 percent better than what my 6-year-old truck gets.
Just to see what the difference in fuel costs would be between the new Silverado Two-Mode Hybrid and my truck, I went to the EPA website that has a neat little calculator for such comparison (visit “Web Extras” at HuntingClub.com for a link).
Based on $4.50 per gallon gas prices, driving the new Chevy Hybrid would save me $1,753 a year based on 15,000 miles of town-type driving, or more than $8,766 over a 5-year period. If I spent all my time on the highway, the hybrid would save me a little more than $500 a year, or $2,500 over 5 years. Average those numbers and I figure the Hybrid will cut my fuel costs about $1,000 every year it’s on the road.
GM will be offering the Two-Mode Hybrid package in only the top-of-the-line models in the first year or two. Then that technology will move down the line into lower-trim levels. But for now, if you want to drive green, you’ll have to buy a loaded pickup on top of paying a premium for the new technology. No prices have been set yet, but I expect the price of a top-shelf Silverado 4×4 Crew Cab Hybrid is going to be north of $45,000. The two-wheel-drive model will most likely sell close to $40,000.
The new Crew Cab Hybrid will come with a lot of features as part of the standard package, including the GM towing package; StabiliTrak stability control; electric-locking rear differential; leather; and the best in side/passenger air-bag protection.
Other items specific to the Silverado Hybrid include aerodynamic aids, such as a slightly deeper front air dam and a tonneau cover for the bed to reduce air drag, which adds to the truck being more fuel-efficient.
Is it worth it? I truly feel it is for any outdoorsman who puts a lot of miles on a pickup and keeps it for 8-10 years.
Keeping Utility Intact
Utility functions are a real concern for those of us who actually need a full-size pickup for our lifestyle. GM has kept the functionality aspects alive and well in the 2009 Silverado Two-Mode Hybrid. It still tows a respectable 5,900 pounds, more than enough for the size of camp trailers and ATV trailers I generally see in-tow.
I also expect to see a difference in towing fuel economy between the Two-Mode Hybrid and a standard Silverado pickup because the Hybrid’s electric motors will still be working up to 30 mph, even with a trailer in-tow.
But if you’re like me, a little jump in towing mileage isn’t what sells me on a new truck. A pickup is towing or hauling a heavy load only a small portion of the time I’m behind the wheel. The rest of the time it’s running with the bed nearly empty while serving family and work/commuting tasks, where the improved fuel economy really shows up.
As for the hybrid system, you hardly know it’s there. The one I drove accelerated a lot stronger and faster than a nearly identical model without the hybrid powertrain. That’s one of the benefits of having a pair of electric motors working in unison with the gas engine.
For those who must know the details of how GM’s Two-Mode Hybrid system works, wrap your brain around the 2-3-4 concept. The special Electrically Variable Transmission (EVT) incorporates a pair of electric motors, three planetary gear seats and four hydraulic wet clutches crammed into the same transmission case as found under the non-hybrid 1500-Series GM pickups.
Total available horsepower when the 300 hp 6.0L and twin electric motors in the tranny are at full output is 332 hp. This marvel of hybrid engineering allows the on-board computer system to instantly provide excellent low-end torque with the perfect gear ratio—either variable electric or four fixed-ratios—to meet any and all power needs while maximizing fuel economy.
“Along with being very smooth, the EVT always provides abundant torque at all rpm levels for easy towing,” said Mark Cieslak, GM vehicle chief engineer. “It’s particularly helpful on grades, as the EVT’s greater ratio spread allows the engine to hold optimal rpm for smooth, steady performance, with no hunting between higher and lower gears.”
The EVT incorporates grade braking and tap-up/tap-down shift control. It also benefits towing on curves or lower-speed back roads, as exceptionally smooth gear transitions eliminate the “shift shock” torque disruption that can occur during abrupt shifts, such as when slowing or braking.
Electric motors do great at lower speeds (rpm), but as a vehicle nears 40 mph, electric motors become less efficient than a gas engine. GM’s Hybrid Optimizing System (HOS) solves this dilemma.
HOS gets torque-based information coming from throttle-position sensors, the transmission module, brakes and other systems in the truck, then instantly determines the most efficient means of putting power to the ground for that moment in time. That could be using either the V8, the two electric motors by themselves, or any combination thereof.
Hard acceleration, towing, four-wheeling, or other high-load situations brings the V8 and the two electric motors on-line; driving with a light right foot in stop-and-go city traffic might see just the electrics doing all the work up to 30 mph.
Active Fuel Management
Another very cool piece of technology is how the HOS system manages the big 6.0L Vortec V8. The engine has Active Fuel Management (Mode 1), where the onboard computer switches between four-cylinders and eight as you drive—all based on the throttle and load conditions. The truck runs on four cylinders during very light, no-throttle or coasting/idling situations. GM has had this on their V8s for several years now.
What’s different on the new dual-mode truck is HOS allows the V8 to run in 4-cylinder mode for a much longer time and with a bit more throttle as it’s now being helped along by the extra 30 hp of the electric motors. Hence the reason for the Silverado Hybrid getting a 25 percent improvement in combined city/highway EPA numbers.
So, where does the juice come from to power the electric motors? Think very powerful trolling-motor batteries. The new GM hybrids use a state-of-the-art (for now) 300-volt nickel-metal hydride Energy Storage System (ESS). This battery pack is located under the rear seat, where it takes up virtually no additional space.
There’s also an “on-board” charging system incorporated in the ESS to keep that battery pack topped-off at all times. Battery charging takes place every time you hit the brakes. Cruise along and the ESS will use either the gas engine, or one or both of the electric motors (reverted to generator mode) as a battery charger.
Oh, and as I found driving a new hybrid, the brakes are really strong and fast-acting because they also get a boost from the electric motors as they turn into generators when you lift off the throttle, applying natural braking forces of their own.
“The Silverado Hybrid is exceptionally quiet,” said Cieslak. “From a passenger’s perspective, the refinement of the hybrid system is quite evident throughout the driving experience, and showcases itself when the vehicle is moving under electric power.”
I’m not much on golf-cart quiet. What I liked was how GM has managed to keep the sound of a muscular V8 in place; when you stand on the throttle, the exhaust has a V8 report. So you can be stealthy one second and have the sound of a high-performance pickup the next.
In addition to supplying power to the EVT, the ESS also provides power to the air conditioning compressor and the Accessory Power Module (APM), which converts the high-voltage supply to 42 volts for the electric power steering system, and 12 volts for the vehicle battery and other 12-volt electrical accessories.
Another minor oddity is that the gas engine shuts off when you come to a stop. Not hearing the engine idling is a little weird at first. But then you get used to the dead silence, knowing full well the technology just saved you a few more nickels at the pump.
Accelerate lightly and for a while the Silverado will remain eerily silent, moving out under electric power to about 30 mph at which point the V8 smoothly purrs to life. Apply a little heavier throttle from a lower speed and the V8 comes to life quicker. The transition between electric and gas is smooth and instant thanks to the electric motors replacing a conventional starter.
However, it’s the Silverado as a whole that really gives me hope of getting behind the wheel before too long. Just keep this in mind: While I wait my turn for ownership, I’ll be jealous of every one of you who get one before me.