What do you do when people demand large pickup trucks but regulators demand high fuel economy? If you are General Motors, you try to satisfy the bureaucrats without killing the goose that laid the golden egg. In May, GM will offer 500 Chevy Silverado and 200 GMC Sierra pickup trucks in the California market to find out whether buyers will pay an extra $500 for a truck that gets 12% better mileage.
The trucks will be equipped with a new version of GM’s eAssist mild hybrid system. The eAssist hardware includes an alternator that turns into an electric motor. It then can be used as part of a start-stop system or help the vehicle accelerate. Both of the trucks are equipped with GM’s 5.3 liter pushrod V-8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. The eAssist system will be bundled with GM’s cylinder cutoff system — an active fuel management program that turns off four of the engine’s cylinders at highway cruising speeds.
The eAssist system bumps fuel economy from 16 mpg city/22 highway, and 18 mpg combined, to 18 city/24 highway and 20 mpg combined. Those numbers are higher than for any other full size pickup truck with a V-8 engine according to the EPA. The comparable Ford F-150 equipped with a 5.0 liter V-8, six-speed automatic and lightweight aluminum body has an EPA rating of 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.
The eAssist system will be available only on the Chevrolet Silverado LT crew cab models with rear wheel drive and the GMC Sierra SLT crew cab rear wheel drive trucks. The system uses a 24 cell lithium ion battery pack that fits under the console or front bench seat and adds about 100 pounds to each vehicle. GM has also made a few aerodynamic tweaks to help highway fuel economy. The trucks have active grille shutters in front of the radiator which open and close based on the vehicle’s speed and temperature and a tonneau cover over the bed to reduce wind resistance at highway speeds.
GM offered a full hybrid powertrain on its large pickups from 2009 to 2013. The Two Mode system, which varied power to the wheels, delivered best-in-class V-8 fuel economy of 21 mpg city/ 22 highway and 22 mpg combined, but the trucks didn’t sell well, partially because of the high price. The least expensive 2012 Silverado Hybrid was $41,000 before destination and taxes, — $11,000 more than the non-hybrid version. Prior to the Two Mode option, GM offered a hybrid Silverado that also doubled as a mobile power-generating station. That truck was available from 2005 to 2007. It didn’t sell well either.
GMC spokeswoman Kelly Wysocki said GM will closely monitor sales of the hybrid trucks, which arrive at California dealers in May, and decide by the end of the year if the they will be launched nationally. GM has not yet announced final pricing on the hybrid trucks, but Wysocki said the GMC version will cost around $50,000.
GM is apparently thinking its prior hybrid truck offerings didn’t sell well before not because they were too expensive but because they were not expensive enough. As P. T. Barnum once said, “You’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American buying public.”