GM Determined to Think Big with Better Fuel Economy

GM is set to unveil fuel efficient models of all of its biggest gas guzzlers in 2009.  The Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, GMC Yukon, and even the Cadillac Escalade will be equipped with gas saving technology.  Can innovations like this help clean up GM’s archaic image?

As a basic principle of fuel economy, smaller cars get better gas mileage.  Engineering trends keep pushing the limits of the term ‘compact’ car while somehow keeping the interiors large enough to carry people. Unfortunately, the Prius won’t suffice for all drivers, and rightfully so.  There are people in the United States who require space shuttle sized SUV’s and Titantic trucks, and nothing is going to change that in the immediate future.  America runs on progress, and progress cannot happen without construction and high a high towing capacity.  The next generation of GM trucks is attempting to bridge the gap between brute force, and environmental friendliness.

GM is applying fuel saving technology to the biggest trucks in its ensemble (I know, it’s weird to think that not everyone wants to drive a Volt).  The Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Silverado, GMC Yukon, and the GMC Sierra will all come with an Xtra Fuel Economy option (XFE).  The Cadillac Escalade was equipped with hybrid technology in 2007 to deal with complaints about the trucks V8 engine eating up too much gas, and the 2009 hybrid model has been released this month.  But the question to ask is what is GM’s motive?  Is this just the beginning of a trend that will continue into the future to give us more fuel efficient trucks?  Is this just a ploy to keep people from trading in size and power for fuel economy?  In no way is this a negative development for the automotive world.  My biggest questions lie in the future.

Before I explain what I hope GM will do from here, let’s look at the new technology that will be used in the fab four trucks.  The XFE trucks are unique because they utilize simple engineering techniques such as reducing the weight and drag of the vehicles.  According to GM, these modifications will help increase fuel economy by 5% highway and 7% in the city.  The aerodynamic modifications will make the four GM vehicles the most aerodynamic in their respective weight classes, no small accomplishment when dealing with cars the size of some of the leftover dinosaurs they are combusting.

More numbers to chew on.  Those four vehicles have a standard 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway range (it’s an improvement from the 14 mpg/20 mpg GM behemoths of the Carbon Age), and have sacrificed no power or strength in the process.  The Silverado and the Sierra actually gained some towing capacity in the process, which should make people feel a bit easier about buying cars that promise more efficient fuel economy.

The Cadillac Escalade was equipped with standard hybrid technology in 2007.  The 2009 model was released last week with a sticker price of $71,685 ($3600 more than the standard Escalade).  For those of you who are not privy to hybrid details the shortlist is this: an electric motor and a combustion engine work together to achieve the best fuel economy possible.  When the car is idle, the engine doesn’t idle, it shuts off and the electric motor keeps the car on.  According to Cadillac, using hybrid technology in the truck was a natural choice.  The fuel economy was increased 50% up to 20 mpg city and 21 mpg highway from 12 and 15 respectively, no small feat for a vehicle that large!

What does this mean for the automotive industry and more specifically GM?  I’m not entirely qualified to say, but I do feel that this is a positive thing.  Gas prices are all of our problems, and if all the car companies make a conscious effort to bolster fuel economy then we are definitely better off than we were.  It is also nice to see GM curbing to the demand in both regards.  Like I said before, people aren’t going to just give up there big cars.  Everything starts somewhere, and perhaps this will lead us to more fuel efficient trucks in the process.  Needless to say, I would prefer that we scrapped big vehicles, but I am content right now with a conscious effort.

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Photo credit: Bart Everts from flickr’s creative commons.

Anthony Cefali

Anthony is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in biology as well as English. He became interested in the biofuel initiative after getting a job in the Raines Lab of Petroleum Alternatives at the university turning sugars into biofuels. He is the first to admit that he doesn't fully understand everything that he does or is trying to do, but enjoys doing his bit to help the environment. Anthony has very few plans for his future, but is interested in how natural systems work and how urban development changes these systems. On a good day, Anthony enjoys riding his bike really far away and reading Kurt Vonnegut books.