Trucks – June 2009

With hybrid cars getting all sorts of attention these days, it’s no surprise to see hybrid pickup trucks also entering the limelight. And with good reason: Chevrolet says its 2009 Silverado Hybrid offers at least 33 percent better fuel economy in the city and an overall fuel economy improvement of 25 percent compared to standard pickup trucks. Plus, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service offers a one-time $2,200 tax credit for each Silverado Hybrid purchased as an incentive for those looking to go green.

I had the opportunity to test out Chevrolet’s four-wheel-drive Silverado Hybrid Crew Cab equipped with a 6-liter V8 engine. The truck handled well, cutting corners easily and running smoothly over various types of terrain. It also remained close to the estimated 20 miles per gallon claimed for driving in the city and on the highway, compared to the often-typical 15 miles per gallon associated with regular pickups.

“Drivers can achieve the same city fuel economy you’d get from a 4-cylinder hybrid car, and still be able to handle all the work-related aspects expected from a regular Chevy truck,” says John Schwegman, product marketing group manager, Chevy Trucks.

Power packed
Chevy credits its two-mode hybrid system with these fuel economy strides. The system includes a 300-volt battery pack that powers two electric motors contained inside the transmission casing, which work in tune with the V8 engine. The truck can be propelled by the electric motors or the gas engine, depending on conditions, or a combination of the two.

The Hybrid Operating System acts as the truck’s brain center, considering all the inputs – environmental and driver related – to determine the best way to propel the vehicle.

Once you turn the key, the only noticeable difference between a hybrid truck and a regular truck comes from a lack of engine start-up noise. If you hit the brakes, the electric motors produce energy, which is stored and used to power the vehicle when you accelerate – also known as regenerative braking.

The engine typically kicks into gear around 20 or 25 miles per hour, but below that, the truck runs off hybrid power. To accelerate quickly, you can hit the throttle and use the gas engine to assist you in reaching a particular speed; otherwise, you can keep the truck running on battery power.

The fuel saver gauge located on the driver information center identifies instant fuel economy – a valuable tool for truck fleet owners who want to train their employees to drive smarter. “If you brake or accelerate too hard, it becomes evident on the information center,” Schwegman explains.

Drivers can also set the gauge to zero to observe fuel economy for every gallon used, or program the DIC to show when the truck enters coast mode, where it automatically switches to four cylinders instead of eight.

Still dedicated
Chevy doesn’t ignore one of the main reasons people use trucks to begin with – to haul and tow materials. On two-wheel-drive models, the Silverado Hybrid offers a 6,100-pound towing capacity and 1,500-pound payload capacity; it offers a 5,900-pound towing capacity and 1,418-pound payload capacity on four-wheel-drive models.

“You really aren’t having to compromise with payload or towing capability, like you would with a hybrid car,” Schwegman says. “Extra torque from the battery pack makes towing and hauling a seamless operation.”

Other features include a tire pressure monitoring system and an oil life monitor. “Everyone thinks you have to change the oil every 3,000 miles, but the oil life monitor determines the best time to do so based on cold starts and your driving cycle,” Schwegman notes.

As for the hybrid system’s durability and maintenance, Chevy says it is designed to last for the life of the vehicle, and there should be few to no maintenance issues.