2009 Chevrolet Silverado hybrid

2009, Chevrolet, Silverado hybrid

San Antonio, Texas -- Despite being in the throes of a dreadful recession, the pickup truck market, just like the housing market, the stock market and the economy as a whole, will rebound someday. We hope.

So with that in mind, General Motors is rolling out two new twists on pickup trucks: hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.

Recently in the hill country near San Antonio, Texas, GM put these trucks on display, exhibiting their fuel economy, towing power and hauling capacity.

For these models, GM has employed an Electrically Variable Transmission and a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride Energy Storage System that conserves and regenerates unused power.

The two-mode hybrid system lets the Silverado start moving on just electricity, which then gives way to the gas engine. To further enhance fuel economy, the V8 engine also has Active Fuel Management, which shuts off four of the eight cylinders when the truck reaches highway speed.

Then, for good measure, another jolt of electric power kicks in to keep it in four-cylinder mode yet give it all the power it needs to maintain speed. The automotive journalists who gathered in San Antonio got to drive the Silverado and Sierra on a mostly urban route around and through the city that was designed to display its fuel economy performance.

Hybrids often do better in gas mileage in city driving compared with highway driving because they are relying more on electric power.

We also got to drive a hybrid truck towing a large recreational boat and another that had about 800 pounds of sandbags and plywood in its cargo bed.

The verdict that most of us reached was that this truck's performance at least equaled that of a traditionally fueled truck, which is to say it was pretty impressive. Sure, you knew you were in a hybrid at stoplights, because the thing gets so darn quiet you almost think the engine has cut off (in a way, it has - the gas engine, anyway).

But it was fun to keep an eye on the average fuel economy indicator, which, for most of us, registered consistently around the 21 mpg mark.

That result is better than the EPA estimate of 20 mpg city, 20 highway for the four-wheel-drive model that we drove.

Two-wheel-drive models are rated by the EPA at 21 city, 22 highway. Traditional Silverado pickups get 13 and 18 with the 5.3-liter V-8 and 14 and 19 with the 4.8-liter V-8. We drove the crew cab model, which looks identical to the regular Silverado except for its hybrid badge.

As far as the mechanical configuration goes, things are pretty neatly arranged. The hybrid electric motors are placed where the EVT transmission rests, and the battery sits in a box under the rear seat.

But the important thing, with this being a pickup truck, is answering the question of whether it can function in a way that serious pickup truck drivers use it. The answer is yes.

As mentioned earlier, we got to do some towing in San Antonio, dragging a boat around for a few miles. The Silverado hybrid performed admirably. GM says it can tow more than 6,000 pounds.

The electric motors solely provided enough power to pull the boat from our initial start, and the gas engine kicked in seamlessly as we picked up speed. The truck continued to operate smoothly in cruise control. Understandably, gas mileage suffered, dropping to about 12 mpg, according to the truck's gauge.

Overall, we were quite impressed with the truck's performance, whether towing, hauling or riding by itself. The sticker prices for the hybrid trucks started at around $38,000 ranged to nearly $45,000.

At each level, you would be paying a few thousand more than you would for a regular Silverado or Sierra, so it bears noting that it might take you a while to realize savings on fuel.

But if you want to go green, and a pickup truck is what you need, these models are worth a look.

By Rob Douthit

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