Typically, SUVs are in the news because of their gas-guzzling or because some tree-hugger has set a bunch of them on fire. Not this time. Chevy unveiled the '08 Tahoe hybrid at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. It's powered by a 6.0L Vortec V-8 joined to the electric Two-Mode hybrid system developed by GM, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. When the Two-Mode is combined with the V-8's cylinder deactivation system, the fuel economy improves by 30 percent overall and up to 50 percent in the city. That puts the 2WD Tahoe's 21-mpg city mileage on par with a four-cylinder Toyota Camry. And the 4WD model isn't far off at 20 mpg. The Tahoe's technological advances earned it the 2008 Green Car of the Year award by judges at the Green Car Journal-a panel that included the executive director of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club liking an SUV? Now that's news.
Green was definitely the theme at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show. The environmentally friendly (or, at least, friendlier) trucks making their debut included:
'09 Chevy Silverado Hybrid, which uses the same 6.0L V-8/Two-Mode electric hybrid system as the '08 Tahoe, making it "the most fuel efficient pickup" when it hits the market next year, according to Chevy General Manager Ed Peper.
'09 Dodge Durango Hybrid, another recipient of the Two-Mode hybrid system, this time mated to a 5.7L Hemi V-8. Look for a 25 percent improvement in overall fuel economy, with city mileage rising by 40 percent.
Porsche Cayenne Hybrid Prototype, not yet scheduled for production, is a gas/electric hybrid, with an electric motor sandwiched between the gas engine and transmission. Porsche's goal is to reduce the SUV's fuel consumption by a third.
If Toyota's '08 Sequoia looks familiar, that's because it's essentially a Tundra from the driver seat forward, with minor trim changes to the front end and interior materials. Not only does it get Tundra's looks, it's also available with the pickup's 381hp, 5.7L V-8. The multi-mode 4WD system uses a lockable center unit for road use and 2.62:1 low-range with electronic aids for the trail; hold the button long enough and they can be turned off.
Behind the A-pillar, a fully boxed frame carries an all-steel IRS system with coils, air available. A new, top-grade Platinum model offers adjustable suspension damping for its 20-inch wheels. The new Sequoia is just an inch longer and wider than its predecessor, though it has gained 600 or so pounds, with tow ratings near 8,000 pounds for the 4.7 and 10,000 for the 5.7. We found a low-line model with air suspension and 18s to be the best performer off-pavement, but it's still better suited to towing a rig to the trail head.
Don Alexander, a member of the 200-mph Club and a racing instructor, was our trail guide recently when Hankook let us sample its new Dynapro ATm RF10 all-terrain tires on several trails near Big Bear Lake, California. The tires were up to everything thrown at them, which included basic two-track roads and steep climbs over loose rock. The new tires are available in a wide range of metric and flotation sizes, with fitments for wheels from 15 to 22 inches.
Jeep has announced that it's expanding the availability of the 3.0L, V-6 diesel in the Grand Cherokee to include Laredo models. That means the diesel is now available in three Grand trim levels: Laredo, Limited (shown), and Overland. In addition, the cost of the diesel option in the Limited and Overland models has been reduced by $1,000.
Long-time journalist (and 4WOR contributor) Sue Mead was among several off-road industry movers and shakers recently inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in Reno, Nevada. Mead was inducted along with racing pioneer Mickey Thompson; desert race promoter Walt Lott; Funco founder Gil George; four-wheeling pioneer Bill Bryan; and racers Frank "Scoop" Vessels, Dick Landfield, and Edo Ansaloni. On hand for Mead's induction were fellow off-road journalist (and former P.R. guy) Bill Baker (center) and Hall of Fame Executive Director Bob Bower.
You read that right. The nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible off-roading is entering all its new and renewing members into contests to win gear from companies such as Goodyear, Warn, Cabela's, and Coleman. Seen here is Scott Jackson from Denver, who won a Coleman prize package in a recent membership drawing. To get in on this great deal, visit www.treadlightly.org.
Last month we told you about the robotic Chevy Tahoe, nicknamed "Boss," that was taking part in the DARPA Urban Challenge, a competition between vehicles that drive themselves in a mock urban environment. Turns out that "Boss" was just that. The Carnegie Mellon University Tartan Racing Team Tahoe earned First Prize (and $2 million) in the Urban Challenge, beating 10 other teams over the 60-mile course. The vehicles were required to operate entirely autonomously, without human intervention, as they obeyed California traffic laws and performed maneuvers such as merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, and avoiding obstacles.
Nine-year-old Cody Day is a cancer survivor whose father, Dave, helped to motivate his recovery with the promise of building a Jeep for a father/son trip on the Rubicon Trail. Cody's cancer is in remission now, and he and his father will take a little detour on their way to the Sierras this summer. They'll use their project Wrangler-built with help from ARB, Jeeps R Us, and others-to deliver wheelchairs and medical supplies to farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico, during Easter. The Jeep is the first Help-Encourage-Rescue-Organize (H.E.R.O.) vehicle program sponsored by the Motive Club, a group of automotive enthusiasts that donates its net profits to charities and other worthy causes. Dave and Cody's trip will be featured in the Motive Club's online magazine at www.motiveclub.com.
Many of you wrote to us wondering where to find the Michelin shoes we mentioned in our October column ("Michelins for your Feet"). According to a Michelin P.R. rep, "The process of breaking through the established brands in this category takes time, and initial projections for securing retail placement and distribution in  were aggressive and optimistic." In other words, they're still working to get them in stores. We'll let you know when that happens.
Many of you also took us to task for reporting in December that Honda was "first to market" with electric power steering (EPS) in its Foreman 500 4x4 ATV ("ATV Power Steering"). Yamaha was, in fact, the first to have EPS at dealerships on its Grizzly ATVs. But a Honda P.R. rep said Honda was the first to announce the innovation, so it laid claim to being the pioneer. Bottom line: We're just glad these companies are making it easier to muscle these big ATVs around.
* Prior To Making A Big splash at the L.A. Auto Show with a new hybrid version, Dodge's Durango was mentioned as one of several Chrysler products that could be axed in the coming years to reduce new-model overlap. Trade journal Automotive News reported that Jeep's Compass and Commander were also "on the bubble." Maybe the hybrid will keep Durango in the model mix for a while longer.
* Gale Banks Continues to make strides in diesel performance. His Duramax-powered Sidewinder Type-D drag-race S-10 recently made an 8.648-second quarter-mile pass at 150.06 mph, setting an NHRA record.
* Reader Robert Johns e-mailed us "with some positive news, for a change," for local Texas/Oklahoma("Texoma") four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. The city of Bridgeport, Texas, has donated 300 acres for use as an ORV and hiking trail park. The park was still under construction when Robert wrote us, but you can check in on its progress at www.torc4x4.org.
* The 9th u.s. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the fuel economy standards for '08-'11 light trucks need to be rewritten, as they aren't tough enough on carbon dioxide emissions. While the court is looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (and their effect on global warming), the automakers countered that changing the rules at this point could just delay progress on the emissions front, since their product planning-and efforts to meet the tightening fuel economy standards-is already well underway. We haven't heard the end of this
* Sema Informed Us That members of the House Natural Resources Committee met to consider legislation that would set aside an unprecedented 24 million acres of public lands in the Northern Rockies. This land would be designated as "wilderness" and by definition, motorized recreation would be strictly prohibited in these areas. While the bill has bipartisan support, the sponsors of the measure and a vast majority of the cosponsors are from eastern states. The breadth and magnitude of lands affected by this bill has turned this into an east-west debate. During the hearing, Congressional members representing the affected states expressed their vehement opposition to the bill. In addition, representatives from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management testified on the administration's opposition to the measure. While it is safe to assume that the bill, as written, will not become law under the current administration, this could change in the future depending on which party controls Congress and the White House.