The gasoline truck isn’t a lone star anymore

2009, GMC, Sierra hybrid

San Antonio, TX - All manufacturers agree that the one thing that will create sales is new product. I was on a radio show the other day and one guy said he was waiting for the advanced technology that will give more miles per gallon. General Motors is bringing out a their new Chevy Silverado hybrid and GMC Sierra hybrid that they say will be the most fuel-efficient truck in the world.

When I told my neighbor, Sheri, that I was going to San Antonio, TX to drive the new Silverado hybrid she had so many questions. Sheri is a horseback rider and she has a Dodge Ram to trailer her horses.

"What is the fuel mileage? I get about 10 miles per gallon when trailering, what does the Silverado get? What is the torque? When does it come on? What is the towing capacity of the hybrid versus gasoline?

Whoa girl, settle those horses down. Let's take these questions one at a time.

General Motors partnered their patented two-mode hybrid system with Energy Storage System (ESS) and a Vortec 6.0L V-8 gasoline internal combustion engine that gets 332 @ 5100 rpm and 367ft.-lb.torque @ 4100 rpm. If you include the two-sixty kw motors in the transmission you can get an extra 49 horsepower.

The fuel mileage for the two-wheel drive gasoline version of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra is 14 city/19 highway. Compare that with the two-wheel drive Chevy Silverado hybrid or GMC Sierra hybrid at 21 city/ 22 highway. That's a forty percent increase for city miles! My colleague, Ron, and I drove the city route set up by General Motors. I got 20.6 miles per gallon, Ron got 18.6.

With gasoline at $2.00 a gallon people are not as worried about an increase of 5 miles per gallon, but people are worried about money. The difference between the 14 city miles for the gasoline and the 20 miles I got in the hybrid is over $600 a year. For one truck. January of 2009 saw Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra sales fall 35-40 percent. Even with that fall, General Motors is set to sell 775,000 of those two trucks. If all of those trucks were hybrids the nation would save $4,650,000 annually.

What about towing 5,500 pounds with a hybrid versus towing a horse trailer with Sheri's Dodge Ram?

The Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra hybrid can tow 6,100 pounds. We drove a couple of miles hauling a beautiful boat weighing 5,500 pounds. While Sheri gets about 10 miles to the gallon the Chevy/GMC hybrid gets 14 miles to the gallon. Even better than the increase in miles per gallon is the seamless torque input in the hybrid. There was no compromise in towing capability. John Turzewski, Lead Development Engineer, Full-size Truck Hybrids talked to me about the Electrically Variable Transmission (EVT) in the hybrid, which eliminates the constant bump of gears caused by upshifting or downshifting. It helped the ride smoothness that the trailer itself had brakes on it.

How did Chevy do it? General Motors has a system called two-mode, or dual-mode hybrid. It is the same two-mode system you will find in General Motors' SUVs, just packaged differently to fit the truck. The other full-size trucks that have a back seat can push the seat up for extra storage. Beneath the rear seat of the Silverado/Sierra is a 300-volt Nickel Metal hydride battery (NiMH). I wondered if it would be okay to put heavy items on top of the battery.

When Sheri and I take our four dogs for a walk we drive to the canal in her pickup. Sheri throws the back seat up, so that my nine-year old black lab, PJ, can sit in the back instead of having to jump into the cab. The NiMH battery is encased in hard plastic and takes up half the back seat and is about a foot high. Mike Tulumello, Vehicle Line Director said that the battery could hold up to 200 pounds. The problem is that the case only goes ½ way across bottom, so my dog wouldn't be secure in his footing.

I asked Tulumello how much extra the tonneau cover was on the Sierra. Tulumello pointed out that standard on the GMC Sierra 4WD hybrid crew cab that we drove was a hard tonneau cover. Because of aerodynamics, using a tonneau cover increases one's miles per gallon by ½ a mile.

There are two trim levels: volume and premium. The volume trim level, starts at $38,995 MSRP. I drove the 2009 GMC Sierra 4WD hybrid crew cab 3HB and the starting price was $47,675. GM added on a power sunroof for $995 and a destination charge of $975. There is a fully transferable 5 year/100,000 mile warranty on the powertrain and an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty on the hybrid technology.

Tulumello says the difference in price between the gasoline only and the hybrid 2-mode is about $3,000. You can still get a $2,200 tax credit if you buy this product. Couple that with the $600 you would save in gasoline the first year and it practically pays for itself.

There is a strategy General Motors is using by bringing the 2-mode system out in SUVs and then trucks. According to Tulumello SUVs hold the most profit, with trucks coming in second. In order to stay competitive in the smaller markets General Motors is going to need to amortize that cost in the vehicles that they can afford to put it in, and eventually bring the system to the smaller cars.

All of the numbers and the information about torque and miles per gallon were music to Sheri's ears. But when Sheri bought her truck there was one reason she bought the Dodge Ram: Turning radius was a big deal for Sheri. She has a narrow driveway and a sharp corner to turn into. When you're towing a horse trailer you're going to have an extra 20 feet or so behind you. Sheri needs that turning radius to get around her driveway. The Dodge Ram quad cab has a 45.1 turning radius, with a turning radius of 140 inches. The GMC Sierra extended cab turning radius is 47.2 feet with a wheelbase of 143.5 inches.

That was four years ago, before the 2-mode hybrid. While the turning radius on the Dodge is still better than the Chevy, Sheri would look harder at the new 2-mode.

After all, her two trucks before the Dodge were both Chevys. General Motors will offer the truck in a 2WD and 4WD in hopes to spur sales.

By Lou Ann Hammond

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Images of the 2009, GMC Sierra hybrid

2009 GMC Sierra hybrid
2009 GMC Sierra hybrid
the secret sauce of a 2-mode
the secret sauce of a 2-mode
the battery runs the length of the back seat
the battery runs the length of the back seat
towing capacity for the hybrid is 6,100 pounds
towing capacity for the hybrid is 6,100 pounds