The EPA rating is out for the new dual mode hybrid version of the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon: 21 city, 22 highway. This is under the EPA’s new mileage rating system, which generally reports lower numbers than the system used in previous years. It contrasts with 14/20 for the non-hybrid gasoline version.
This is for a vehicle weighing almost 6000 lbs. with a 322 hp V-8 engine and a 6,200 lbs. towing capacity, not snuffle-nose compact with grocery cart wheels. Prices are expected to start in the mid-$40,000 range.
The dual mode hybrid system developed by GM, in conjunction with BMW and Chrysler, is considered by them far superior in efficiency to the Toyota single mode system. The dual mode system acts like an ordinary hybrid at low speeds, turning off the internal combustion engine at idle, using only electric motors at low speeds and augmenting the internal combustion engine with the electric motors during acceleration. But, unlike the Toyota system, the GM system also uses two electric motors at highway speeds coupled to two continuously variable transmissions feeding the standard four-speed automatic. In the highway mode, the internal combustion engine deactivates cylinders not needed.
Also, unlike the Toyota system, the entire dual-mode system is housed within the transmission, eliminating the need for other vehicle modifications and keeping down the weight of the extra hybrid components. GM has offset the extra weight that the dual mode system does entail by making certain body panels of lighter materials, such as aluminum, rather than steel. Locating the battery pack under the second row seats has also preserved interior space.
The GM dual mode hybrid system has the potential to make hybrids far more popular than the current Toyota system, which has been confined to small cars. Many consider the entire Prius concept unappealing: small car, not much to look at, not something you’d want to drive for any length of time on the highway, certainly not something you’d ever want to try passing another car with, and appealing primarily to people seeking to make a political statement.
In fact, though Newsweek magazine recently reported that the political statement made by the car was one of the prime reasons people bought it, Toyota has recently been displaying the car at NASCAR races in an effort to broaden its consumer base. (Good luck on that one.)
The GM approach, however, could just hit the mainstream. Reports by those who have driven pre-production versions say that the new hybrids are seamless in their operation. They require the owner/driver give up nothing to gain the fuel economy benefits of the hybrid drive train. For many people, the hybrid Tahoe and Yukon are going to be the equivalent of an almost-free lunch.
GM is not badging these vehicles differently than the standard models, except for certain discrete identifying marks on the body and instrument panel, so these vehicles won’t be making much of a statement. Though that approach has hurt Honda in sales of its hybrid vehicles, leading them to the current development of a stand-alone hybrid model to compete with the Prius, it is entirely possible that buyers of the Tahoe aren’t interested in appealing to those with an Al Gore mentality.
Toyota, meantime, seems to be slipping on all fronts. While GM seems confident of producing a lithium ion battery-powered car in the Volt, Toyota’s has acknowledged that they’re far from being able to do so and have lately resorted to making public statements that lithium ion batteries – which they championed as the coming thing only two years ago – aren’t really all that important. In Japan, Toyota this week admitted it won’t meet its sales targets for the year in its home country.
The Tundra hasn’t been the hit they expected, they’ve abandoned or postponed plans for a heavy duty version, and haven’t a thing to match the hybrid versions of the GM trucks/SUVs. Moreover, GM is also introducing the dual mode hybrid in several 2008 passenger car lines, including the new Malibu. Toyota does not have a hybrid to compete in the larger car markets in which GM is introducing these models.
For all the hoopla about Toyota’s progress with hybrids, it looks like its GM that’s actually making the hybrid concept work.
Perhaps they ought to change the background color on their famous “GM Mark of Excellence” to green.