Chevy Silverado Hybrid
GM brought out its first-generation hybrid pickup truck in 2004, and like the early Toyota Prius, it sold in only small numbers. But unlike the Prius, it did not generate the same media coverage that has made the Prius the poster child of the retro-hippie set. Strange, that. But, like Toyota and Ford, GM is committed to hybrid propulsion and understands the need to keep building vehicles like this pickup, which in many ways is more important than a passenger car. Small cars abound, but trucks have to remain large -it's their function-so what better vehicle to be built as a hybrid?
Equipped with a standard 6.0L Vortec V-8, this truck also generates its own power by using gravity each time the truck slows-recharging the 300-volt batteries that will then feed the voltage back to the electric motors after the next stop. Of course there is a bit more to it than that, but the key idea is that this hybrid system recaptures energy that the truck produces anyway; energy that in other vehicles is wasted as the byproducts of combustion.
Backing the engine is GM's Electrically Variable Transmission (EVT), which uses a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride Energy Storage System (ESS) to save and provide power. This EVT is a unique setup of two 60kW electric motors, three planetary gear sets, and four traditional hydraulic wet clutches. This arrangement is continuously in variable operation, offering the greatest efficiencies at any given moment under any specific load.
From a standstill, the Silverado launches and drives up to 30 mph on electricity alone, then the 6.0L gas engine takes over; but this V8 engine also has Active Fuel Management (AFM) and late intake valve closing (LIVC) technology, which allows it operate in "V-4" mode once it's reached highway speeds. To help it stay in V-4 mode as long as possible, the EVT also offers the equivalent of a 30hp boost of electric power when needed at high speeds. Again, it's all about physics-minimize friction, use gravity to make electricity, and maintain motion using the least possible amount of energy.
Earlier this year, we drove this hybrid on a highway run to Ottawa from Brampton, Ontario. It was clear but cold at around 5 degrees (F); there were five riders in the truck, and the bed was stuffed with one university-bound passenger's belongings (including a brilliant red beanbag chair bungeed on top of the pile). I set the cruise at 75 mph and made the trip of 312 miles on 19.8 gallons of regular fuel-or 15.8 mpg. The return trip data was almost identical.
With some hybrids currently on the market, towing is an issue. Specifically, they can't. Not so with the GM system. This tranny will handle up to 5,900 pounds using the variable electric/gas operation and fixed-gear ratios in the transmission for heavier loads. Interestingly, much of this technology and build experience was gained from GM's development of hybrid bus drivetrains. Equipped with an optional engine block heater, our test unit priced out at $50,965.
Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie
In 1932, a sculptor named Avard Fairbanks met with Walter P. Chrysler and tried to sell him a bust of a bighorn ram as a Dodge symbol. Fairbanks explained that the animal was "King of the Trail" in his presentation, but Chrysler was unconvinced until Fairbanks added, "Besides, if you saw one on the trail in front of you, you'd think, 'Dodge!'" Chrysler immediately agreed. In 1981, the ram became more than a corporate symbol and the Dodge Ram pickup was born.
The most recent generation of the Ram debuted last year as a 2009 model, and we first had a chance to drive one in California, where, like many places, the Dodge Ram has serious fans. Like the guy who ran up to us in the Starbucks parking lot to show off his Ram logo tattoo, or the kid who on Christmas Day circled the two-tone Crew Cab Ram we were driving, finally commenting, "Man, that's pretty."