Chevy’s Green pickup

It’s early March, and the top news story this morning is the prediction by economists that the price of gasoline could jump as much as 25 cents in coming weeks, reaching record high prices across the country.

That’s bad news for you if you depend on full-size pickups to get your work done. These trucks have many attributes that make them invaluable on jobsites – but sparkling fuel economy isn’t one of them.

Enter the Silverado Hybrid – Chevy’s bid to make big pickups a little less expensive to park in front of the gas pump. The Silverado Hybrid looks and drives like a conventional four-wheel-drive pickup truck, but with one crucial difference – instead of a 12-volt electrical system, the Hybrid features a huge 26-volt battery under the rear seat (all Hybrids are extended-cab models).

Hit the Hybrid’s brakes, and a regenerative system transfers energy from the truck’s forward motion into the battery. Pull up to a traffic light or drive-through window, and the pickup’s onboard computer shuts the engine off. Redundant support systems immediately take over once this happens: The radio continues to play. The HVAC system maintains proper air temperature in the cab. The lights stay on. The power steering functions normally. And the instant you take your foot off the brake, the computer restarts the truck so you can drive away as if nothing remarkable happened.

An added bonus for contractors is the fact the Silverado Hybrid is also a genset. The truck is equipped with four 120-volt, 20-amp electrical outlets that can power any standard electrical tool like saws, lights or air compressors up to 32 hours nonstop.

Seamless performance delivers measurably better fuel economy
I was given a Silverado Hybrid to test-drive for a week and see for myself how it performed in the real world. And the bottom line is that despite all the high-end electronics, the truck drives, handles and performs pretty much like a standard Chevy Silverado. The Vortec 5300 gas engine provides ample horsepower, both on and off road (although I found the stock tires to be too small – they were unable to handle any serious mud and I had to be touchy with the throttle to keep them from spinning in the rain).

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The automatic shutoff function works so well I initially thought it wasn’t working at all. Many times if I hit the brakes on a long coast up to a red light, the engine would already be off by the time the truck stopped rolling forward. All systems worked seamlessly while the engine was off – and there was no significant delay when the engine restarted.
Chevy advertises up to a 12-percent improvement in fuel economy over a similarly equipped Silverado half-ton truck. My experience was in line with those estimates. In fact, compared to my personal pickup (a 5300 Vortec-powered Sierra) the Hybrid went an extra four days before I had to refill the gas tank.

As neat as the Silverado Hybrid is, I think Chevy has room to improve the total package. I know from recent sneak peeks that GM is working on computer-controlled, displacement-on-demand gas engines: The computer gives you all eight cylinders when you’re starting out or need to pass, for example, then gradually goes to six, and then four cylinders as you get the truck up to speed. In my opinion, a combination displacement-on-demand/hybrid pickup would be a powerful weapon in the war against rising fuel prices.