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GM May Kill Two-Mode Hybrid Pickups, SUVs: Report

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Silverado Hybrid Badge

Silverado Hybrid Badge

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"We can't provide you with any information related to future product technologies or timing."

That's the standard response from carmakers--in this case, from Kevin Kelly, GM's Manager, Electric Vehicle and Hybrid Communications--when asked a question they'd rather not address.

Our question was pretty simple: Please comment on a recent report of the rumored death--or long delay--of the Two-Mode hybrid trucks, which include three full-size sport utility vehicles from Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC, and two pickup trucks from Chevy and GMC.

The report by GMinsider said that GM has largely shut down plans for hybrid versions of the next-generation GMC and Chevrolet pickups and sport utilities, though a possibility remains that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid SUV model would remain.

The Escalade had actually sold a larger percentage of hybrids than either of its less-glamorous siblings, though the total numbers of GM large hybrids sold always remained low--from a high of 8,797 across all five models in 2009 to only 3,114 last year.

Work on a revised, smaller, and less expensive version of the Two-Mode Hybrid system had been underway for several years now.

The current iteration of the breathtakingly complex Two-Mode system was rumored to cost GM as much as $10,000 a copy in the low volumes it's sold in. The system produces substantial gains in fuel efficiency, but it has never given the large, thirsty trucks any kind of green tinge.

Instead, several commenters have suggested, GM may be considering boosting fuel efficiency in its full-size trucks by resurrecting the small the 4.5-liter diesel it had fully engineered and then shelved several years ago.

2010 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

2010 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid

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Following the GM Insider report, General Motors issued what you might term a non-denial response.

We should stress that carmakers are quite happy to provide information related to future products and their timing when they do want to promote them.

So GM's response indicates the company doesn't really want to discuss this topic publicly at all.

That could mean many things. It could mean that the report is accurate, and that the hybrids are all but dead.

Or it could mean that GM hasn't made the decision yet.

Or that revised versions of the large Two-Mode Hybrid system are still too expensive or complex, or aren't delivering the fuel-efficiency improvements they need to, so they've been sent back to the lab for more work.

It might even mean that the report is flat-out wrong, but that GM will only talk about its future large hybrids when it's good and ready--and not before.

We're a little skeptical that the entire system has been killed off, but we're also skeptical that it could be used solely for a next-generation Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.

Mass production is the key to getting hybrid costs down--3 million Toyota hybrids and counting, anyone?--so restricting a complex, expensive hybrid transmission and battery pack to the lowest-volume variant of GM's highest-volume vehicles makes little sense.

And we'd note one further thing: In the fuel efficiency regulations issued a couple of weeks ago, which will take corporate average fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025, there's one provision that might rescue the next-generation Two-Mode Hybrid system.

2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

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The rules contain a credit for alternative drivetrains in pickup trucks, defined as hybrid-electric systems--but the credit does not apply to diesel engines.

Many carmakers are not happy about this, including Toyota--which knows a fair bit about hybrid cars--and the German companies with most experience designing and selling diesel passenger cars.

Also, Ford has partnered with Toyota to collaborate on full hybrid systems for large vehicles, including pickup trucks. The partners haven't released any details yet, but we know that work is well underway.

And what Ford does, Chevy usually does too (and vice versa).

So we think there's more to this story than we're seeing right now. Just sayin'.

What do you think? Should GM pursue a smaller, cheaper, more efficient next-generation large hybrid system for big trucks?

Should it replace that direction with small V-8 diesels? Or should it do all of the above to spread its bets?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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Comments (5)
  1. Well, with Ford's EcoBoost getting 20mpg+ and selling like a hot cake, GM is rethinking its approach to the fuel efficiency in full size pickup trucks. Apparently, the "eco boost" way is a lot cheaper buyer than "hybrid" options...
     
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  2. @John, good article. I share your skepticism that GM will bail on hybrids for pickups. Even though AFAIK the exact CAFE benefit for fielding a hybrid truck is TBD, manufacturers generally do no leave CAFE credits sitting on the table.

    GM's dual mode transmission has not been popular among the shared users (Chrysler, Daimler, BMW), so unit costs must be very high.

    I haven't seen any details on the Ford/Toyota effort. I would think the best solution would be a clutched Integrated Starter Generator (like Porsche) which could replace the torque converter. If applied to V6 (which would give extra space for the ISG), you could install a large enough motor to propel the vehicle. Might not show in EPA label, but real world would help.
     
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  3. Could they be killing the big truck hybrid program to use the voltec drivetrain? aka Via motors?
     
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  4. The two mode system is unlikely to get axed any time soon.
    GM could build a twin-turbo'ed V6 like Ford, but it would lose 4 mpg or so in the city and 1 on the freeway compared to a hybrid. Plus, they have to design & build the engine. An adaptation of the Camaro's High Feature V6 is possible but the costs seem to outweigh the benefits.
    The diesel would face a similar tech premium to the hybrid: low production, high cost in both cases.
    Ford & Toyota are both trying to introduce full size hybrid trucks, which would leave GM looking out of date if they scrapped Two-Mode.
    My bet? Continued low production with no major engine changes until the next generation of hybrid, probably with 6 speeds in the gear box, comes out.
    My hope? Diesel hybrids.
     
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  5. I've wondered about the wisdom of the elephantine engine displacement that GM chose for that combination - even with cylinder deactivation, the large displacement engine was a FE liability. A more modestly size engine like a GDI V6 of around 3.5 l displacement should yield considerable efficiency and FE improvements - look what a modern V6 did for the Ram truck FE ratings. With that sort of setup and aero drag improvements, the truck should be able to get into the 30's on EPA cycles...
     
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