Hybrid Chevy Truck Cuts Construction Costs

By dancurranjr On May 16th, 2009

chevy-silveradoOnce in a while you run across a strutting blowhard who drives a pickup truck for the same reason he wears green janitor pants. He wants to look like a serious worker who gets things done. Never mind that he hasn’t held a job for years. And never mind that the cluttered, faded look of his property shows unmistakably that he doesn’t get much done at all. Never mind reality. The guy craves the image.

Image is an important factor for many motorists. It explains why some silver-haired gents with fat wallets drive youthfully sinewed Porsches. It explains why some donors to the Sierra Club will only buy a Toyota Prius, a hybrid car designed to use gas sparingly.

But the green sensitivity that motivates so many hybrid-car sales hardly seems to mesh with the workman image imparted by pickup trucks. So I wondered, why is Chevrolet now bringing out a hybrid version of its full-sized Silverado pickup.

The answer came from Brian Hesse, general manager at Commonwealth Motors in Lawrence. He pointed out that the 2009 Silverado Hybrid pays legitimate dividends to real working men. A lot of them work with trucks that stay largely in limited confines — at a construction site, for example, or around town with a landscaping crew and some gear. Hybrid vehicles, Silverado’s version included, get good gas mileage on city streets, where conventionally powered models burn a lot of fuel.

“I don’t think they’re marketing this to people in Vermont. It’s a contractor’s vehicle,” said Hesse. “Construction companies are doing a lot of work in the cities. They’re seeing 20-plus miles per gallon in the city” with Silverado Hybrid. “That’s great for them.”

Officially, the rear-wheel-drive version of the hybrid Chevy truck is rated at 21 miles per gallon in city driving, and 22 mpg on the highway. The four-wheel-drive Silverado Hybrid drops slightly, to 20 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. Both versions come as four-door, crew-cab models that accommodate six people. They include some fuel-saving features as standard equipment, such as low rolling-resistance tires, a front air damn shaped to cut wind resistance, and a soft, removable bed cover over the back to reduce turbulence.

The base sticker price is $39,015 for two-wheel drive, and $41,870 for four-wheel drive. But Hesse noted that current discounts from Chevrolet knock down prices to about $35,000 for some Silverado Hybrids. As of last week, Commonwealth Motors had one available. But overall the hybrid is a limited-production model. You won’t find a lot of them around.

Test-driving a four-wheel-drive Silverado Hybrid, I averaged 20 mpg without even trying, covering 525 miles in seven days, with about three-quarters of that on the highway. I never felt that the big truck lacked pick-up or power. Its combination of a 6.0-liter V8 gasoline engine and an electric motor produces 332 horsepower.

Like other hybrids, the Silverado automatically shut down its gasoline engine whenever I stopped — mostly while waiting at intersections. Hybrids obtain such favorable around-town fuel economy primarily because their engines don’t waste gas by idling when the vehicle stands still. What’s more, Chevrolet says its Silverado Hybrid can move as fast as 30 mph on electric power alone, before the gas engine kicks in to share the load. When I drove it, I heard the gas engine start around 12 to 15 mph whenever I launched the vehicle moderately at intersections. The transition was easy to discern, because truck’s electric motor and its four-speed automatic transmission were very audible until the engine started.

But except for the electric motor’s whir at low speeds, nothing in the Silverado’s operation gave away that I was driving a hybrid pickup. Not only did the hauler seem capable of performing legitimate pickup-truck chores, it also conveyed the appropriate, get-it-done image.

In addition to the Chevy Silverado, the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade — big, truck-based SUVs made by General Motors — employ the same hybrid system. If combined sales rise high enough to make the hybrid-drive setup more economical to manufacture, prices might fall. A lower purchase price could make Silverado Hybrid more attractive to more ordinary consumers, suggested Kevin Bihl, general manager of sales and marketing for Bill DeLuca Chevrolet Cadillac in Haverhill.

A run-up in gas prices also might goose interest in the hybrid truck, he noted.

“The phone calls on hybrids at this time last year were frequent,” said Bihl. But that was when gas prices had begun their journey toward $4 per gallon. “The phone calls now are minimal,” with gas at a comfortable, $2 per gallon, he said.

In fact, moderate gas prices, along with cut-rate deals from manufacturers, are bringing more recreational truck users back to dealerships to buy conventionally powered models, reported both DeLuca and Commonwealth.

“Last summer, only the businesses were buying trucks,” said Hesse of Commonwealth, which sells Honda, Kia and Volkswagen vehicles in addition to Chevrolet. “Now I’m seeing a lot of people who like to have a truck around for personal use.”

That especially includes families that play hard, added Kevin Bihl of DeLuca. With seating for five or six and a big, open cargo box, crew-cab pickups are favored for towing snowmobiles, Jet Skis and dirt bikes for family getaways, he illustrated.

Sure, the pickup-truck fashion has passed. A couple of years back, “there were more people buying pickups just because they thought they were good looking,” Bihl conceded. But dealers agree that the core pickup buyers — those returning to showrooms today — remain loyal because the trucks genuinely serve them.

That may include a few fuming blowhards. But most of all, tradesmen, laborers, active homeowners and outdoor recreationalists — people with happy and healthy outlooks — will keep coming back to places like Bill DeLuca and Commonwealth to buy the big haulers, both Bihl and Hesse believe.

And if the price of gas surges, the Silverado Hybrid could become an attractive alternative for more than just contractors who idle around work sites.

SOURCE: Eagle Tribune

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