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2005 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

Thinking Green

    This truck is greener than just its paint job. Is it an environmentally minded full-size pick-up truck, or a multipurpose workaday vehicle capable of getting you to the work site and powering your tools? How about both? Who has ever heard of such a thing, I can’t imagine. This all sounds appealing to me, but unless the badge on the side says Prius, don’t expect any of your tree-hugging buddies to embrace it. Interested? Read on, I’ll explain.
     The Silverado isn’t exactly what you would call a full hybrid. Rather, it has been termed a “mild” hybrid. Instead of being able to propel itself using either gas or electric power, the Silverado’s propulsion is still solely reliant on the V8 under the hood. The additional 42V battery pack merely “lightens” the load of the engine. Accessories are powered through this battery pack versus direct power off the engine. With the reduced load on the engine, there is no reason for cylinders to be firing while sitting at a stoplight. So, the engine shuts off. Anywhere under 13 mph the engine will shut off if you are coasting to a stop. This is a little disconcerting at first. I mean, when a 4 cylinder shuts off, no big deal, but when a V8 shuts down, your mind starts going through the ‘what’s wrong’ checklist. Air conditioning, lights, brakes and even power steering are all managed through the battery when this happens. So you still have control and creature comforts when things go silent. Hit the gas as the light turns green and she lights back up with the help of a 14-kw electric starter generator bolted directly to the crankshaft between engine and transmission. This starter generator is also what feeds electricity to the battery pack utilizing the crankshaft to create power and recapture energy during braking. Driving the Hybrid around was like driving any other Silverado; with the exception of the engine shut down at stops. Taking off from a stop light required the slightest pause as the engine refired and the mechanicals returned to motion. The electric power steering took some getting used to as well, all but eliminating what feedback the hydraulic system had. Other than that, four-wheel drive and towing capabilities remain as competent as they ever were.
     Boiling it down, what advantage does a hybrid truck have over one with a conventional powertrain? For starters, GM is expecting you to see a 10% reduction in fuel usage. For comparison purposes we will use the rating GM publishes for the combined average fuel economy of city/hwy driving for the Silverado with a 5.3L V8, which is 16 mpg. Thus a 10% increase would yield 17.6 mpg. This doesn’t sound like much, but over a period of 12000 miles (typical miles/year lease), this accounts for a savings of 68.2 gallons of unleaded regular, or approximately $120 at $1.76 per gallon. Now, if you were trying to be really frugal with the petrol, you could go ahead and invest in your typical compact hybrid car, getting 40 to 50 mpg, but don’t plan on using it for anything else but the morning commute. With the Silverado comes clean capability. Need to haul a boat? Yeah, it can do that. Need 4-wheel drive to get to the cabin back in the woods? Yup, it’s good for that too. How about that sheet of plywood your wife needs you to pick up to finish the basement? No problem. Get the drift? Sure, but now you are thinking, and the numbers just aren’t coming out. How can you justify paying a premium of $2,500 for the hybrid when all it will gain you is about $120 in net savings per year? Well, you can’t, but that is where GM is hoping you will see the benefits of everything else this truck has to offer. Consider this truck a mobile power generating station, complete with four 120-volt/20-amp outlets. Basically you have a portable generator built in, without taking up valuable bed space, or requiring extra fuel. Switching the truck to generator mode requires you to press a button on the dash and turn the key to the proper spot, but after that it is all automatic. The batteries supply power with the engine automatically kicking in only when a recharge is necessary. Up to four electric devices can be used while the truck is either driving or parked. GM claims that the Silverado can power tools and/or appliances for up to 32 hours non-stop if needed. Not bad for the work site or in case of a power outage.
     As mentioned previously, the Silverado Hybrid is pretty much the standard GM truck with a few added features. The same goes for the interior. A large Hybrid badge and a small circular button depicting an electrical outlet are all that change for this aging IP. Material quality and functional layout are still acceptable, but fit and finish and design are lagging way behind, especially behind the Ford F-150, Nissan Titan bar setters. Lift up the rear bench to reveal the box containing the 42-volt power pack. Judging by its massive size, it is easy to figure out why electric cars never got very far. An emergency shut off switch is provided inside a small access panel on the passenger side in case an accident should occur. Also located front and center of the box are two of the four 120-volt outlets (the other two are located in the bed), which were quite handy for those of us laptop wielding auto journalists.
     Justified? We think so. Especially when all is taken into account of what the Silverado Hybrid has to offer, better efficiency, more mileage, and remote power generation. All this starts at $31,505 and equipped with the options on our test vehicle, will sell for $36,860. The other hitch is that it is only sold in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Nevada and Florida until its nationwide rollout in 2006. Will the greenies be thrilled? Is there a Prius badge on its flanks?! Is it a step in the right direction? You better believe it. One that we hope will provide a footing for an even larger step.

The Good:
Increased efficiency, increased capability, user-friendly everyday packaging.
The Bad:
Platform is aging, never cared for the Avalanche front-end look.
The Verdict:
‘Bout time they made a hybrid out of something useful!


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