The 2010 Chevrolet Corvette goes like stink. Its 430-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 is the epitome of all-American performance. And that's just the base car. The supercar contender ZR1 model heads straight into the stratosphere.
The Vette is an icon, and GM messes with it at its peril. So a throwaway line in Automotive News set hearts pounding and Corvette fans sweating: If it had to, General Motors would do a hybrid-electric Chevrolet Corvette to meet Federal fuel-economy standards.
We think that's a great idea. Here's why: What would you say to a 750-plus horsepower Vette...with better gas mileage to boot?
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2009 Cadillac Escalade HybridEnlarge Photo
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2008 GMC Yukon HybridEnlarge Photo
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Corvette Stingray Concept split rear windowEnlarge Photo
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Hybrids headed your way
We know, we know: Hybrids are nerdy, geeky, strange-looking cars that are slow, unpleasant, and make funny noises. They're no fun to drive and any American V8 will kick their wimpy little asses. The 2010 Toyota Prius, ptui!
OK, now we're over that. Let's look at some facts. The new US fuel economy standards, along with similar laws in Europe and Asia to cut carbon emissions, will change vehicle powertrains all over the world.
Engines will get smaller, with gasoline direct-injection and turbochargers (like Ford's EcoBoost line) much more common. And some of those engines will have hybrid gear attached. By 2015, hybrids are likely to rise from today's 1 percent of global production to 4 to 6 percent.
That doesn't mean that cars will get smaller, by the way. Beyond very slow shifts in preference, U.S. buyers will continue to want big cars. And they'll get them. It's just that their engines will be working a lot more efficiently.
Electric drive: hellacious fun
Talk to anyone who's driven a 2009 Tesla Roadster, as we have. They'll tell you electric cars can be breathtaking fun, with maximum torque from 0 rpm, and a prodigious rush of power into triple digits. If nothing else, Tesla has made torque junkies into acolytes.
But today's hybrids mostly use electric power with a less-powerful gasoline engine, keeping performance at (roughly) the same level. The only "hot-rod hybrid" so far, the 2004-2007 Honda Accord Hybrid, got little interest among buyers who wanted "hybrid" to mean "better gas mileage."
Two-Mode: All About Torque
And GM's Two-Mode Hybrid system is set up for nothing if not torque. As fitted to the 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid and 2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid large pickup trucks, it happily handles towing up to 6,100 pounds.
That Two-Mode Hybrid system replaces GM's six-speed automatic transmission in rear-drive vehicles and their all-wheel-drive versions. (The front-wheel-drive Two-Mode has a checkered history, and it's not currently clear which vehicle it'll end up in.)
Right now, the Two-Mode is used in the pickups, plus GM's full-size sport utility vehicles: the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid and its brethren, the humbler 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and 2010 GMC Yukon Hybrid. Curiously, it sells best in the priciest models.
Only GM left?
If recent reports are right, development partners BMW and Mercedes-Benz may be moving away from using the Two-Mode in the future. As for the fourth partner, Chrysler, who knows? It killed its 2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid and 2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid last year, just weeks after starting production.