Hybrid Vehicles Making Greater Inroads

By dancurranjr On November 3rd, 2009

new-insightIt’s been a decade since an odd-looking little car called the Honda Insight hit the U.S. market and Americans discovered the smug, fuel-saving joy of owning a hybrid vehicle.

Now, gas-electric hybrids seem to be everywhere.

More than a dozen hybrid models are available in the U.S. today, with options spanning nearly every taste and budget, from gas-sipping small cars like the Toyota Prius to big SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe that blend right in on Texas roads.

And even though hybrid sales have fallen with the recession and lower gasoline prices, the category continues to attract buyers.

“Hybrids were once seen as a curiosity but have now become mainstream,” said Ailis Aaron Wolf, spokesperson for hybridownersofamerica.org.

Hybrids are likely to make still bigger inroads in coming years as automakers strive to meet tougher fuel-economy standards recently introduced by the Obama administration. The rules call for fleets to achieve an average 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Motorists are demanding cleaner and more fuel-efficient transportation in the wake of $4 gasoline last year and widening climate-change concerns.

Hybrid sales will account for about 2.8 percent of U.S. auto sales this year, growing to 6.7 percent in 2012, predicts J.D. Power and Associates in Troy, Mich.

The Toyota Prius sedan continues to be the best-seller, accounting for 50 percent of U.S. hybrid sales. A newly redesigned Honda Insight is seen as an emerging challenger while hybrid models by Ford, Lexus and Saturn are also finding takers.

Most hybrids — which combine a gasoline-fed internal combustion engine with an electric motor — tout better fuel economy and reduced tailpipe emissions when compared with models powered solely by internal combustion engines. The models are especially recommended for stop-and-start city driving, in which the electric motor takes over, recharged with every tap of the brake.

Critics contend that automakers often overstate gas-mileage claims and that hybrids’ higher sticker prices make sense only if gasoline prices are much higher than they are today.

But Aaron Wolf said the growth of hybrid technology over the past 10 years is silencing detractors. It’s also providing a bridge to electric cars for the masses.

Next year, hybrids are expected to take a leap closer to that goal with the release of the Chevy Volt, which General Motors says can achieve 230 miles per gallon. It pairs a gas engine with lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged by plugging into a wall socket at home. The Nissan Leaf, a fully electric and zero-emission model, is expected later.

Meantime, Americans will see a variety of more traditional hybrid vehicles offered in coming years from the likes of Hyundai, Mercedes, BMW, Ford and Toyota.


Diesel and Hybrid SUV Comparison

By dancurranjr On May 13th, 2009

chevy-tahoeMany of you have probably read our Diesel and Hybrid SUV Comparison wondering where the GM representative is. After deciding on a 4WD/AWD diesel versus hybrid comparison test, we then had to make sure the SUVs we included would be similarly equipped. Therefore, the Tahoe, Yukon, and Escalade hybrids were eliminated as contenders because they all come standard with a third row. That alone could’ve made this an unfair comparison. But despite that, some of you still may wonder how one of these vehicles would’ve lined up against the BMW (which charges $1700 for the optional third row), Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Lexus. Here’s a general overview.

The base prices for the vehicles in this comparison vary from an estimated $42,000 for the RX 450h to $51,200 for the X5. The 4WD Tahoe Hybrid starts at $54,210 ($54,680 for the Yukon) and the AWD Escalade hybrid is $76,635 before adding accessories. The Tahoe Hybrid’s price is about $12,000 over a base 4WD and $9000 more than an LT2 trim level; Hybrid content falls between the LT2 and LTZ grades. An Escalade Hybrid is roughly $11,000 more than an Escalade AWD, and the Platinum trim package adds another $11,750.

The GM hybrids all use the same powertrain: a 6.0-liter gasoline V-8 and dual electric motor units sandwiched in the four-speed automatic transmission, rated at 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet total output. This betters the comparison-test fleet’s horsepower by at least 67, but it’s the second-worst torque. (Those with more torque are diesels. What else would you expect?) While they have some weight-saving features to limit the hybrid penalty to roughly 350 pounds–similar to adding 4WD to a rear-drive SUV–they still have 5850-6050 pounds (empty) to haul around.

The GMs’ wheelbase, at 116.0 inches, is longer than the longest wheelbase tested here, the 115.5-inch X5. Track is widest front and rear, and its 202.0-inch length is significantly longer than anything else here. The next-longest vehicle, the X5, is 11 inches shorter. The GMs have the most front-row headroom and overall shoulder room, yet interior dimensions are midpack otherwise. It stomps the rest in cargo volume, though–108.9 cubic feet of storage behind the front row as opposed to 75.2 for the X5, 72.4 for the ML, and 71.0 for the Touareg.

On the road, the big GM hybrid ‘utes feel much like the standard versions when friends are on board. The brake pedal is touchier, and sidling into a tight garage or parking spot might not be as smooth as you’re used to. Golf buddies and lanky families of four or five will be more comfortable in the hybrid GMs than their conventional counterparts. The hybrids use unique front seats for weight savings and they seem as comfortable as the regular seats, but they aren’t as thick so there’s a significant increase in second-row knee space. The GM hybrids all use a bench-seat second row because of the battery pack beneath it, and as the widest SUVs around, they do well at three-across seating on that middle bench. The Tahoe/Yukon/Escalade use a three-person bench with two headrests and a 50/50 split to remove them for a flat cargo floor.

When we tested a 2WD GMC Yukon Hybrid, it did the 0-to-60 sprint in 8.3 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.2 at 88 mph. A nearly identical-weight 4WD Tahoe LT non-hybrid posted 8.3 seconds to 60 and 16.1 at 86 mph in the quarter mile; these and the 45-65 times are all in the same spectrum as the ML and Touareg diesels.

We have no directly com- parative fuel economy data. However, on 70-mile loops that included Interstate, urban, and winding roads all between 100 and 1500 feet above sea level, a Tahoe Hybrid delivered 19.8 mpg, right on its 20 city/20 highway mpg rating; a Yukon 5.3 brought 17.7 (14/20).

In the two-mode hybrids, when you mash the pedal from a stop, as you might to cross a highway, there’s a momentary delay before the gas engine is lit and full thrust comes on, and while the reasons are different, the effect is very similar to the from-rest turbo lag in some diesels. The Escalade Hybrid’s mileage is likely to be slightly lower than that of the Tahoe and Yukon, maybe 1.0 mpg, because it doesn’t have the same aero tweaks, adds 100-200 pounds, and in most instances will be optioned with 22-inch wheels.

Despite the torque from electric drive, the GM hybrids are limited to 12,000 pounds gross combined, so maximum tow rating is 6200 pounds (2WD Tahoe/Yukon). That’s better than that of the RX (3500) and X5 (6000), but falls short of the ML’s (7200) and Touareg’s (7716). For towing on open highways, we’d probably recommend a standard 5.3-liter Tahoe/Yukon, rated at 8400/8200 (RWD/4WD).

The Tahoe and Yukon Hybrids come as 2WD or 4WD vehicles; the Hybrid is the only Escalade with low-range gearing–though apart from scaling a slimy launch ramp, we can’t imagine anyone will ever use it. Ground clearance matches that of non-hybrid models’ and the Hybrids’ cleaner side steps might last longer in the rough stuff, but the bits modified for aero and weight benefits–deeper front air dam, 18-inch wheels, and higher-pressure, low-rolling-resistance tires–all work against off-highway performance. GM does not list fording depth for any of these utilities, hybrid or otherwise.

Would it have been unfair to include the Tahoe or Yukon in this comparison story? Probably, considering that they’re much larger vehicles than those tested here and come standard with three rows of seats. However, when you think about the capability you get for a comparable price, putting the GM SUVs in this context does make for some interesting conversations.

SOURCE: Truck Trend

GMC, Chevy Hybrid Pickups Deliver Fuel Economy

By dancurranjr On April 23rd, 2009

sierra_hybrid_truck_r350x200Working on the theory that saving fuel is most important in the vehicles that consume the most, General Motors has introduced the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado hybrid pickup trucks.

Already out in Yukon and Tahoe SUVs, the two-mode hybrid was developed in a joint venture with Chrysler and BMW. The idea came about as a scaled-down version of GM’s hybrid bus drive train and is especially well-suited to vehicles that need some towing and hauling capability. The system is distinct from most other hybrid systems because it can automatically run on straight mechanical power as well as pure electric or a combination of the two.

Based on the reengineered Sierra and Silverado pickups that debuted in 2007, the hybrids look the same as the crew cab versions of the base trucks with the exception of some hybrid badges, optional hybrid graphics and a standard tonneau cover that helps out aerodynamics. The battery pack is underneath the rear seat, and the hybrid drive unit is about the same size as the transmission it replaces. It contains two compact electric motors (one reverses field to generate power) and four mechanical gears.

The two-mode hybrid system sees the most advantage in city driving, so GM planned an all-city driving route as the first demonstration for the press. Starting off in a four-wheel-drive Sierra rated at 20 mpg n in both city and highway driving, I clocked an indicated average of 22.3 mpg over approximately 75 minutes of driving.

The small print in the EPA ratings do say 16 to 24 mpg is the “expected range for most drivers.” I was driving conservatively, but not to the extent of holding up traffic. My driving partner for the day nearly duplicated my efforts on the return trip with a 22 average mpg reading.

Like other hybrids, the engine shuts off when the vehicle is stopped so as not to idle unnecessarily. When you start moving again, the hybrid pickups are capable of driving up to a stated 30 mph on electric power alone. The gasoline engine starts up automatically and seamlessly when it is needed.

As I had experienced previously in a GMC Yukon hybrid, it was difficult to start moving at a normal rate without the engine kicking in. However, once it was rolling with a steady throttle input, the engine would turn off and we were able to run up to around 28 mph on electric power for a quarter mile or so at a time. Above that, engine power would do the driving duties.

Ideally, at the 35 mph cruising speeds we were getting, the truck would run on hybrid power, a combination of gas engine and electric drive, but this seemed hard to maintain unless we were on a longer stretch at steady speed. When you back off the accelerator and coast, the batteries start recharging. The 6.0-liter V-8 engine will also automatically cruise in four-cylinder mode for extra fuel savings.

Next, two Sierra and Silverado hybrids were hooked to trailers and others were loaded with 800 pounds in their beds. We took a drive towing a 5,400-pound Sea Ray boat with inertia brakes on the trailer. The hybrid was able to pull the boat in electric mode up to 15 mph. When briskly accelerating from a stop, the hybrid felt especially potent.

I asked lead development engineer John Turzewski what was the hybrid drive’s equivalent to first gear.

“You have infinite gear ratios,” he said “The 6.0-liter will do zero-to-60 in 8.4 seconds, plus you get the additional assist of the electric motors, which is instantaneous.”

In that regard, the hybrid might even be better for towing than a conventional truck, not to mention more fuel efficient. The short towing test loop resulted in a quite respectable indicated 15 mpg.

The Silverado and Sierra hybrids do deliver as promised, and the hybrid drive functions in a silent, seamless manner. However, their advantage can only be used to its full potential in a fairly narrow set of circumstances. Extensive city driving, perhaps as a delivery truck or a longer stop-and-go commute are some areas where the hybrids would excel in efficiency. On short trips, especially in cold weather, you won’t see any savings over a similar gas-only pickup with cylinder deactivation, as the engine must be fully warmed up before the hybrid drive starts functioning.

Yukon and Tahoe hybrid SUVs hit the market last year only fully loaded at upper-end sticker prices; GM has made the price of admission for the pickups more affordable with a decently equipped package starting at $38,995, including destination. Probably not low enough to save money in the long run at today’s gas prices, but it’s still a compelling product and an impressive engineering achievement.

SOURCE: Search Chicago

Chevy Tahoe Hybrid SUV Breaks New Ground

By dancurranjr On April 20th, 2009

chevy-tahoeAmidst all the criticism of General Motors and the perception that it trails in the development and production of technologies and vehicles that meet current needs one fact has gone unnoticed.

GM produces the only volume-production, full-size hybrid light truck available anywhere in the world — state-of-the-art technology where it matters. It makes for good press to brag about 5-litre/100 km fuel economy in a class and size of vehicle where 6-litres/100 is the average.

While that 20 per cent improvement is worthy, the argument could be made that in a market where half of the vehicles purchased and driven are fuel-thirsty trucks, a similar reduction would save a great deal more fuel.

Put more directly, if you drive a compact hybrid 20,000 km a year you might save 200 litres of fuel. If on the other hand you drive a full-size SUV that savings would be in the order of 800 litres, conservatively. And there are more of these large vehicles on the road — making the impact even more significant.

I speak from personal experience with a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe equipped with GM’s new Two-Mode Hybrid system. Conventional big SUVs powered by V8 engines, including both a Tahoe and a Yukon, driven over a particular 350-km test route involving both city and highway driving have averaged 16.3 litres/100 km. No attempt was made to save fuel. The vehicles were driven at legal speeds and the route included dozens of hills and long inclines.

I think of it as ‘real world’ mileage as compared to numbers generated in the laboratory of Saskatchewan-flat roads. The 2009 Yukon Hybrid averaged 12.1 litres/100 km over this same route despite string winds and cold temperatures. That is a real world saving of more than 25 per cent.

GM claims the two-mode Hybrid system can improve urban fuel consumption by as much as 50 per cent. While this may be possible under certain circumstances where the electric motors are used more often, the constant elevation changes in our area make that all but impossible.

But the 25 per cent improvement I witnessed is likely a worst-case scenario and if driven primarily and conservatively in the city, this big truck — and its GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade siblings would do much better than that. Like any hybrid, the big gains come in urban driving, with much of that from shutting the engine off when sitting at a light or stopped in traffic.

The Tahoe is the first vehicle to offer this new system, developed by GM in conjunction with BMW and Daimler-Benz. This cutting-edge two-mode hybrid system lets the Tahoe run on a big 6.0-litre V8 engine, electric motors or both. The V8 boasts variable valve timing and the ability to shut down four cylinders under low-load conditions. It also shuts down completely when the Tahoe comes to rest for more than a few seconds, restarted instantly and seamlessly by the 300-volt battery pack beneath the rear seats. Two electric motors inside the casing house the four-speed automatic transmission allowing the big truck to operate in two different modes — thus the Two-Mode Hybrid moniker.

In low-speed, gentle driving around town the Tahoe acts like other hybrids, shutting down at lights and drawing power from the battery pack and initial motivation from the electric motors, when crawling along in traffic or in the initial stages of accelerating away from a stop. The engine then kicks into life and, at higher speed or when more oomph is required, one or both electric motors go to work as well.

The Tahoe Hybrid gets a power-conserving air conditioning system and a deep front valance which may restrict off-road activity but it also cleans up airflow around the vehicle for improved aerodynamics. The 332-horse- power V8 and rugged chassis allow it to tow up to 6,000 pounds — well beyond the capability of any other hybrid on the planet.

While the Tahoe Two-Mode Hybrid offers welcome and measurable improvements in fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, it is restricted to a high-trim level putting it out of reach of the average buyer at a base price of $70,000.

The standard equipment list is extensive: heated seats, power adjustable pedals, power windows, seats and locks, OnStar, rear-view back-up system, navigation system, Bose audio, tri-zone climate control, on-demand four-wheel-drive and three rows of seats. The third row is best left for little or athletic people and there isn’t much room for cargo with all seats in position.

The Tahoe Hybrid breaks new ground. It is a big truck capable of towing heavy loads or carrying up to eight people. And it does this with technology that offers a considerable reduction in fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.

SOURCE: Chronicle Herald

2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid Review

By dancurranjr On March 28th, 2009

The Tahoe Hybrid makes its mark in two ways: By being the first GMC-built vehicle to use the two-mode hybrid system; and secondly, to use hybrid technology in any full-size SUV. Whether or not you’re a fan of large SUVs, it is quite a feat to tune a large 6.0-liter V8 engine to retain 20-mpg on the dot. It has received its accolades, such as Green Car of the Year.

I drove a 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid with 4-wheel drive and the two-mode, 6.0-liter V8 engine. Standard highlights included 6-way power seating; heated leather seating; second-row climate control; power adjustable pedals; remote vehicle start; rearview camera system; Bose stereo; 1 year of OnStar service. The power sliding glass was an extra ($995) as was the rear seat DVD entertainment system ($1,295). Total vehicle price came to $56,500.

Making a big point of categorizing the Tahoe Hybrid’s gas consumption as the same as the 4-cylinder Toyota Camry – that is, the 2-wheel drive engine, which gets 21-mpg. It’s certainly true any vehicle with such a large V8 engine can get anywhere near this gas mileage.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: Despite the leather and wood trim, overall the interior doesn’t woo me. Creature comforts include heated seats with three settings and tilting/sliding moonroof. Second row climate controls and full DVD entertainment system. The optional third row is nicely designed; the right or left seat pops up separately so the system is flexible and easy to use. No automatic rear liftgate. The vehicle has been branded repeatedly on the exterior – count them – nine times with hybrid paraphernalia. A bit ostentatious for my taste; the response for this was usually snide.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The Tahoe is equipped with anti-lock brakes, their stability control system called Stabilitrack, remote start, head curtain side-impact air bags, and OnStar Turn-by-Turn navigation – if you get lost, you can speak to a live person who will guide your route. GM backs the Tahoe Hybrid with a 3-year/36,000 mile limited warranty and a 5-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty

Cost Issues: The $56,500 is a chunk to swallow – one that turns out to be an investment, as far as depreciating assets go. In Consumer Report’s calculations, if you evaluate a five-year cost of ownership, you save thousands on gas ($4,500) and receive a tax rebate ($2,200); overall you’ll save $1,500 versus say a Lexus GS 450h Hybrid that ends up putting you $5,500 in the red. If you do the long-term math, only a handful of hybrids really do save you money; the Saturn Vue Greenline Hybrid, another GM product, saves consumers $3,000 using the five-year ownership averaging.

Activity & Performance Ability: It’s a weighty vehicle with the 4-wheel drive able to tow 6,000 pounds. Turning radius was convenient (better than expected). The ride is controlled and smooth; the brakes take some getting used to. The shifter placed on the steering wheel is a little sticky.

The Green Concern: While it’s commendable to put a hybrid system in a large SUV, keep in mind the new powertrain isn’t making leaps and bounds with gas conservation. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives all Tahoe Hybrids an across-the-board score of 6 out of 10 concerning reduction of air pollution and greenhouse gases. The Green Car Journal – a magazine – awarded the Tahoe Hybrid as its 2008 Green Car of the Year.

The Chevy Tahoe is for families who are comfortable with a more traditional SUV-shape but looking to alleviate all the gas-consumption guilt. The V8 engine still holds impressive power while the two-mode hybrid transmission really does retain 20-mpg.

SOURCE: The Auto Channel

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