Think battery power and regenerative braking are only for granola-eating hippies? Think again. GM was kind enough to give us a little time with their new-for-2009 (read: available in the first half of next year) Silverado hybrid. And we tried something you can’t do with a Prius: We tooled around town with three people onboard — and a 20′ SeaRay boat out back.
But is this an option for which you’ll ante up a couple grand next year? Read on past the jump for our hands-on experiences and lots of photos.
Like all hybrids, the Silverado recovers energy during braking and coasting, storing it in a 300V bank of NiMH batteries located under the rear seat. Instead of idling when you stop at a light, the truck shuts down the engine, powering accessories like the a/c compressor and power steering with electric motors.
As you accelerate from a stop, the Silverado starts out on battery alone, delivering power via two electric motors directly attached to the transmission. When the load is too much for the motors, GM’s electronics automatically start the engine and feed in gas power through planetary gear sets. GM calls this “hybrid mode.” If you mash the right pedal even harder, the truck enters “engine mode” and powers the wheels totally with the gas engine under the hood.
GM calls the Silverado a “two-mode” hybrid because they optimize each of its two electric motors for separate purposes: one for stop-and-go city use and the other for supplementing engine power at highway speeds.
The Silverado also incorporates GM’s active fuel management system, which shuts down cylinders to convert its V8 into a V6 or even V4 when under light load — or when the hybrid’s electric motors can provide enough assistance to make up the difference in power. And the hybrid incorporates a re-designed front air dam and factory-standard tonneau cover to reduce drag and further improve fuel economy.
We drove a short-bed crew cab, similar in most every way to other 900-series trucks. Our model was equipped with a mid-level interior package complete with climate control and a touch-screen-based driver information/entertainment system. On hybrid trucks like ours, this system can also display a moving graphic indicating the vehicle’s current power mode and charging status.
Also specific to the hybrid is an “auto-stop” indicator located between the lower “peg” and the 1,000 RPM point on the tachometer and an “efficiency” gauge to the right of the tach. Unlike old vacuum gauges that just show how hard the engine is working, the Silverado’s “efficiency” gauge is operated by the truck’s computer, giving you an aggregate view of how the whole system’s working. Keeping the efficiency needle at the 12 o’clock position saves you the most bucks at the pump.
Read on to page two for our driving and towing experiences.