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2006 Chevrolet Silverado

by Martha Hindes

Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid
Chevrolet Silverado Interior

If one plans to make a statement, it's best to do it in a big way, right? That could be GM's philosophy in bringing early hybrid vehicles to market. Among the biggest vehicle guns for the automaker are full-size pickups, specifically the Silverado half-ton that casts a giant shadow at GM. As its overall best seller, what better way to boost environmental responsibility in the rough and tumble world of pickups, and often times their equally rough and tumble pickup owners.

For 2006, GM has made hybrid extend-cab Chevy Silverados (and companion GMC Sierras) available nationwide. That followed launch two years ago in environmentally sensitive Alaska, California, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. For those dubious about whether such new technology will stand the test of time, GM includes an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty on all hybrid components of the system that combines a 14-kilowatt electric motor (that functions as a generator) mated to a 295 horsepower Vortec 5300 V-8 gasoline engine. Compared with more advanced hybrid systems, it seems a good match of insurance policy and reasonable options cost ($1,500) for a basic hybrid system in a high $20K base vehicle GM proclaims will boost fuel economy by 10 percent. EPA fuel economy estimates are 18/21 for two-wheel-drive models and 17/19 for 4X4s. Gains come in part from the engine's stop-restart function when the vehicle is coasting or idling at a light, and from braking that helps recharge a bank of batteries under second row seating.

Since a lot of pickup duty can be heavy duty, Chevy's hybrid Silverado had to haul and tow with the best of them. GM offers a heavy-duty suspension package and rates top towing capacity at 7,700 pounds. Those first steps into hybrid land have sometimes been dubbed hybrid-mild by critics. GM's also readying the launch of more sophisticated hybrid vehicles with 2007 models, the upcoming Saturn VUE Greenline Hybrid and Chevy Malibu hybrid. Also in the wings are "two-mode" hybrid versions of the redesigned Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, expected to increase fuel economy by 25 percent, with technology developed in a pre-competitive, cooperative agreement with DaimlerChrysler. That follows the idea that getting the biggest size and biggest selling vehicles into the hybrid fold can benefit both the owner and the environment. And for folks in the field who might need to run some power equipment, there are four AC outlets in the truck bed ready to provide the juice.