By on December 19, 2012

One of the most conspicuous absences from GM’s full-size truck reveal was the lack of any hybrid variants. The highly-touted but slow selling hybrid full-size trucks and SUVs were never intended to be the darlings of America’s truck space, but they played an important behind the scenes role for the company.

A hybrid truck may have been as appealing to the average truck buyer as a camouflage tutu, but under the arcane CAFE rules, there were plenty of credits to be had by producing a hybrid truck or large SUV. For the nitty gritty details, a longer summary is available here. For those with an aversion to long, complex explanations of government regulations, let’s just say that the “credits” applied to every hybrid truck or large SUV produced would help a given auto maker reach its CAFE target, because the credits can not only be applied to the trucks themselves, but to other “underperforming vehicles” – or retained for use in later years.

But with GM cutting its R&D budgets, the “two-mode hybrid” system is set to die. In its place is a new Gen V small-block V8 with direct injection, variable valve timing and cylinder-deactivation. Final fuel economy numbers aren’t available yet, but we do know that GM is going at it alone with their “two truck” strategy, offering the large trucks alongside a smaller pickup with superior fuel economy. Unlike Ford and Chrysler, the V6 Silverado/Sierra won’t play such an important role for the General.

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66 Comments on “What Happened To GM’s Hybrid Pickups?...”


  • avatar
    86er

    I sense coming an almost-useless turbo 4 going into the Colorados, and GM selling a boatload of them to the UAP-NAPAs, etc. as parts runners and to the exterminator companies, etc. (many are using trucks already as a substitute for a van ever since the Safari and Astro went away).

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      If they build a little truck, the size of the 82-94 S10, then the 1.4t/138 will be about the ideal engine for it.

      Keep it dinky, use lots of Sonic and Cruze parts, put a low 48″x96″ bed on it, and keep the price around $18,000, and they could re-establish the volume of the old small-truck segment and have it all to themselves.

      I wonder if they could even go FWD with it to keep development costs down. Use the front half of a Sonic…

  • avatar
    d524zoom-zoom

    If GM has it’s hopes set on the Canyon and the other one helping out there CAFE #’s they better get ALOT better mileage than the previous gen.

    I say this cause I used to own a 93 S-10 4.3 and it got the same ass mileage as my brother’s fullsize P/U and it obviously would not haul as much shit. That being said as we all know the previous versions did not sell well based on their MPG & Price compared to the Fullsizer’s

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    GM was hoping to spread the development and production costs of the 2-mode with Chrysler and BMW, both of whom took a look at it, laughed, built a piddling handful, and then ignored it. GM, in its usual dolt-for-brains fashion, made the system an expensive and unpopular standalone option, rather than making it standard on the Denalis and Escalades to get the production volume up. The lack of further development was probably quashed by the bankruptcy (which killed the CUV version) and the Volt sucking up any leftover resources.

    • 0 avatar
      sunridge place

      Make the Hybrid System standard on Denali’s and Escalades?

      Uhh…no.

      I think GM knows the full size SUV market better than most…and that would have been a terrible idea.

      Even worse than the original idea of developing a two-mode for trucks and full size SUV’s.

    • 0 avatar
      BrianL

      The partnership was around for 4 years. Chrysler and BMW put a good amount of development cash into the program. The end result was something that was too expensive to sell into already expensive vehicles.

      Also, having been in a 2 mode hybrid vehicle, I don’t like it. You hear far too much noise from the electrical components when you accelerate and decelerate. People don’t want to pay extra for more noise.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      Believe that Mercedes interest in the two-mode was thier heavy truck division (wasn’t the design purchased by a bus maker?), that’s were the application could be practical, thats the only reason it was ever used in large trucks.

      Chrysler just needed something, anything hybrid (I always wondered how as part of the clinton 100mpg car program, each of the 3 were given the same amount of R&D $, how is it that only Ford came up with a synergy drive system, just was mated to a super-high compression, small turbo diesel, with a car built from aluminum alloys, from the space frame, body, wheels, axels, transmission, etc, maybe if the goal would have been 40 mpg it would have had a much higher return on investment) next slow day at work and I’m going to look up what the other two built and why they couldn’t carry it forward (unless the volt is based on the EV1 electric car with a small engine.)

  • avatar
    tikki50

    I think GM realizes that truck people want big engines and definitely NOT Hybrids. We’re talking trucks here people not cars, it is a different market. I mean what prius owner would even drive a truck, ever, none that’s who. I’m surprised that GM is at all trying to get it, and it seems that they are finally catching on. Now they need to look at the F150 and its 3.6 turbo, which seems to be an anomaly of success in the truck market, where Bigger is better. Besides all of that, the 2 mode hybrid with GM has been so on and off, just kill it and be done with it for the sake of sanity. How many times have the tried with this technology only to pull it year after year, geez.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I’m a Prius driver who owns/uses pickup trucks. You’ve gotta use the right tool for the right job.

      I won’t be using a $40k cowboy Cadillac for a daily driver, though. But when I need to move heavy objects, a pickup truck is often a good tool for the job.

      You’re right that I don’t represent the average pickup truck buyer. I really wanted to stick up for my Prius people and point out that some of us are very practical. It just so happens that the Prius is better for getting my wife and I from our house on the paved road to our office chairs than any badass monster truck ever could be. :-)

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        I’m far more likely to own a used beater-truck for occasional use, than a new/expensive truck. That’s pretty much a certainty in the next few years, as soon as I gain the space to park it.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Good friend of mine has a Prius as a daily driver/commuter. And an F250 diesel to tow the horse trailer. Got any more ridiculous biases to trot out?

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …but we do know that GM is going at it alone with their “two truck” strategy, offering the large trucks alongside a smaller pickup with superior fuel economy…

    Ummmm, doesn’t Toyota offer a Tundra and a Tacoma?

    Doesn’t Nissan offer a Titan and a Frontier? (at least for now)

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I think he means strategy for meeting CAFE. Toyota doesn’t build Tacomas to balance out Tundra sales. Nor does Nissan with the Titan and Frontier. Both companies sell far more than enough fuel efficient cars to offset their meager truck sales. That’s why the latest CAFE revisions were written as they were, to make allowances for the Detroit companies that are completely reliant on selling gas guzzling trucks.

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        No they build tacomas to try and utilize a multi-billion $ investment that didn’t quite work out like thier lexus projet did.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Toyota has been selling little trucks here since 1964. You’d think they’d have amortized their mistake by now.

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        The mistake I’m referring to was the massive Tundra investment and the assumption that it would do to the domestic truck market share what lexus did the caddy and lincoln. Those over built trucks, combined with an under-utilized new factory, along with inverse exchange rates (compared to asumptions when planned) (=’s) amplified mis-calculation (one of several toyota made in its quest to go from making the best to being the largest)

    • 0 avatar

      Going at it alone in the context of the other domestic truck makers, my apologies for not clarifying.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      What about Ford. They have a 2 truck strategy…Full Size and Huge. Perhaps that is why the next gen F150 looks to be doing away with some of the macho sillyness and incorporating all that aluminum. The Super Duty will become the contractor grade truck.

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        The truck will weigh less, but unless they can figure out a way to lower it and keep the cab floor flat, its not going to be lower (that is one of its major selling points, no tunnel (=’) FWD car like interior space in the four door crew cabs. Would imagine that as much as possible the underside will be inclosed and probably some rounding of the front end of the fenders and under the bumper will do just as much for areo as lowering it (the old air-shock lowering/raising tricks that they used to use on the Mk VII & VIII can’t be done with truck suspensions (well I imagine they could figure out a way to do it and would be popular, but to get spring loaded suspensions to lower would require memory alloys).

        Remember seeing somewhere long time ago (may have been in popular mechanics) were they (nasa maybe) was testing routing un-needed airflow coming in through the grill through the hollows of the ladder frame and out the back to increase efficiency.

  • avatar
    Easton

    I was really disappointed by GM’s approach to their next generation of trucks. The “two-truck method” has already proven a failure since so few people buy the Canyon/Colorado that dealers don’t even keep them stocked on their lots. I had expected a new series of engines in the full-sizers with competitive fuel economy and horsepower, of which the current engines have neither. The 3.6L, with about 300-310hp, seemed the logical choice for a base motor instead of the ancient 4.3L that can barely muster enough power to move itself.

    I know “official” hp and fuel economy numbers have yet to be anounced, but I just can’t see 20-30 year-old engine designs being competitive.

    • 0 avatar
      jjster6

      The Canyon/Colorado don’t sell because they are crap… not a failed two truck strategy. From their mouse fur seats to their lousy gas mileage the Canyon/Colorado have never been competitive.

      GM has shown it can build a competitive car and a full sized truck. Hopefully they can re-ignite the mid-sized truck market.

    • 0 avatar
      parabellum2000

      The 4.3 is a new design with all the modern features of the larger engines. GM isn’t putting out any specific power/torque numbers. I can’t imagine they would be stupid enough to bring out a new V-6 with less than 300 horse power. If they can make 315 horsepower, with a torque boost over the 3.6, it will make a sense.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    If I had to drive one I’d spurge for the two-mode Tahoe/Denali/Escalade. The drivers of the Silverado version are pushing just under 30 mpg on flat ground. Having the ability to tow almost 5 tons is a plus. Most hybrids are not rated to tow anything.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      All GM’s two-mode drivetrains are limited to towing 6100lbs.

      The Lexus RX hybrid and the Toyota Highlander hybrid are rated to tow, too. Considerably less, at 3500lbs, but still plenty for a family boat or tent trailer.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      “O” with Toyota Hybrid cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        True!

        However, the Highlander Hybrid is rated to tow.

        There are people who tow with the Prius, and they report that the hybrid drivetrain computer is really good at defending the health of the drivetrain components — the computer will reduce power long before any component overheats or overtorques.

        Alas, the Prius’ suspension and braking aren’t set up for towing, you so you need to be experienced with balancing trailers and towing before attempting a damn fool stunt like towing with a Prius.

        But I find it super-interesting that the issues aren’t what most people think they are. It’s the brakes and suspension that aren’t up to the task.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        Norm,

        Most regular cars have so little tow capacity that it’s practically meaningless, anyway. You *can* build a hybrid drivetrain that *will* tow. And 3500lbs is enough for a lot of purposes.

        Luke42,

        Yep. We bought a Prius and fully realized it wouldn’t tow. There are tradeoffs. We have a different tool for dealing with our small boat.

        I also saw your comment further down about running the A/C without running the engine. That is one of my favorite features of the Prius.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    The drivers of the Silverado version are pushing just under 30 mpg on flat ground or about 25-30% improvement in fuel economy over non-hybrids V8 trucks. If I had to drive one I’d spurge for the two-mode Tahoe/Denali/Escalade. Having the ability to tow almost 5 tons is a plus. Most hybrids are not rated to tow anything.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    If the purpose is to be as CJ harps on, meeting the deadly CAFE standards, why doesn’t the General (and other marks) market a Hybrid Mini-Van? Seems to me to make the most sense.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I like it. For compliance why not a hybrid work van? Some businesses may not need to tow a large load to move their stuff around but do drive on a daily basis.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        Not a bad idea at all.

        And just license it from Toyota or Ford and be done with it.

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        I’m still waiting for the transit flat bed (hell if it cheap enough for them to pull the taxi part out and make a van, can’t imagine making it into a truck would be much more), think that thing would sell like crazy, especially with the small EB in it.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        The Transit Connect is a unibody vehicle. Unibody vehicles are fine for towing, but the roof and sides are part of the structure. Re-engineering that seems trickier than turning a BOF van into a flatbed.

        I just bought a Sienna, and the only thing that isn’t a hybrid. It’s as much for the MPG as it is for the ability to park with the A/C and accessories running on a roadtrip, like I can in the Prius.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        @Luke

        I’m not an expert on the engineering merits and drawbacks of BOF vs Unibody but if Ford really wanted to make the Transit versatile wouldn’t have made more sense to go BOF in the first place?

        @KickStart

        I thought I read the hybrid technology Ford already uses is licensed from Toyota, you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to adapt it for Transit duty.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @28-car-later:

        I don’t think Ford wanted to make the Transit Connect particularly versatile. I think they wanted to make a cheap and efficient can that’s good for van stuff.

        The Ford Transit vans in Europe are a far more conventional van, and I think THOSE are supposed to be versatile — as far as I understand it, it’s a direct competitor to the Sprinter. I’ve seen several Sprinters with flatbeds on them.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        @28,

        My understanding is that Toyota and Ford were on parallel development but Toyota got to the patent office first. The two cross-license Toyota hybrid and Ford diesel tech to avoid wasting time in lawsuits. I think Nissan licensed HSD from Toyota for the Altima hybrid, so I do think Toyota has the keys.

        But that was some years ago now. I’m not sure who GM would have to pay to license it but… GM should stop screwing around, license *something* and get on with it. They have a good relationship with LG for batteries, they could maybe get a bit ahead of Toyota by using Li-Ion in a competitive midsize format vehicle (Toyota still uses NiMH, which is heavier and doesn’t pack quite the punch).

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        Ford owned a ton of patents that Toyota was stepping on related to Clinton’s 100 MPG car program, the system Ford developed was very much like toyota’s synergy drive system, Ford didn’t license, steal or borrow any tech from toyota, designs are seperate, just cross-licensing of patents to stay out of court (and apparently Ford has gotten good enough in there development path that toyota decided they wanted to develop together, that should tell you something). the meme, that Japan is great, Detroit sucks (may apply in alot of ways to GM and Chryco, but Ford (since almost dying in 79/80′) has been a different company (heck look around, the original taurus has had more influence on exerior and interior design than any of TTAC’s list of most influencial cars combined). Ford (the Ford Family) screwed up and threw out Peterson and his team and paid a hefty price, learned thier lesson and brought in Mulally (who’s made a lot of calls that people (even inside Ford) thought were crazy and he was spot on, his boeing mentallity of having to plan and innovate for 15-20 years into the future will probably end up being his greatest change/implementation at Ford in the long run.

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        As to the Unibody issue, would integrating a space frame type bed into the rear part of the (chopped) unibody solve the structural issues? I’ve wondered why no-one has tried it yet, would do wonders for Honda (along with maybe adding electric motors to the rear-wheels, would allow for the benefits of both.) Would lose alot of towing and payload, but we are looking at small work trucklets, not HD versions.

  • avatar

    the ones I sold were very well liked by their owners.

  • avatar
    BrianL

    I really don’t see this as a surprise that GM isn’t going forward with hybrid trucks. They tried it, it didn’t sell well and was very expensive. The market spoke on the issue.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    “I think GM realizes that truck people want big engines and definitely NOT Hybrids. We’re talking trucks here people not cars, it is a different market. I mean what Prius owner would even drive a truck, ever, none that’s who.”

    You are absolutely correct Tikki50 when we consider PUs – those clumsy, silly, and awkward to load and unload things like the Silverados and F150s. But you are forgetting at least 2 other kind of truck buyers beyond the pretend cowboys.

    Fleet buyers are looking closely at medium size trucks with Volt type hybrid systems for around the city deliveries.

    And everybody from mechanics to cake decorators are buying Ford Transit Connects. As a bicycle experimenter I would be happy to trade in my Prius for a Transit Connect when Ford decides to build them with far better drive systems.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      Someone who lives near me (I see at grocery store now and then) has a fully carisized TC (4 bench seats, looks great (not modified 70′s van type look), interior has quality of a late model fusion or so, I would love to have one. Have never had a chance to talk to him to see if he bought it that way, or had interior installed aftermarket.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Probably the taxi version minus the graphics. Ford is making a proper passenger TC for the next generation model.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        Transit Connect has been available from the beginning in a 5-seat passenger version. If fact, they’re all imported that way, and then the “commercial” ones are stripped and modified before delivery.

        I’ve only ever seen a few on the street though.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    They didn’t sell well, at least in part, because they were expensive. If GM fixed that, some sales might result.

    Camry hybrids seem to be running > 10% of Camry sales, at least partly because Toyota has driven the cost of the option down and doesn’t package it into a nearly XLE-level trim any more.

    Not so with GM, the hybrid option is crew cab only and expensive.

    El Lutzbo pointed out, reasonably enough, that improving the fuel economy of a 16mpg beast could result in more significant fuel savings than in improving the fuel economy of a 35mpg car.

    But GM entirely missed the market… people who buy fancy trucks aren’t driven by fuel economy, certainly not enough to spend an extra $13K, and people who buy SUVs (remember the hybrid SUVs?) but decide they want better fuel economy have other options (Traverse, anyone?).

    GM apparently thought that “green cred” was like some magic potion and everybody would want some (remember the foot-high “hybrid” stickers on the SUVs?).

    Total marketing failure.

    Lynn E, above, is on to something, though. Fleet operators, especially with urban routes where hybrids really shine, might take a closer look at these if they were packaged as “economical as possible” fleet vehicles. Of course, developing a less expensive system would be a big help, too.

  • avatar
    Herm

    The Two Mode transmission is just too fancy and expensive, GM needs to trade it for a simpler eAssist type system ($800) or a single-pancake-motor-in-the-torque-converter system like Hyundai, some Hondas and VW use.. eAssist is nothing to sneeze at, 80 ft-lbs of torque available from idle all the way to 2100 rpms (increase it if you have to), plus it replaces the starter and alternator while providing regen and start-stop.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The price premium for a 20 mpg hybrid truck wasn’t worth it to the consumer, and the support costs to GM aren’t worth it to them.

    Finally, some companies are mustering the courage to march independently. Chrysler killed its hybrids a while ago. The most insane ‘me too’ hybrid developers are Ferrari and Lamborghini.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I don’t think the Hybrids come with 4×4 which is now nearly standard on personal trucks. This is a big turn-off for many buyers.

  • avatar
    RatherhaveaBuick

    Wait…GM plans on continuing to sell Canyons and Colorados? They should just call it the PUP for shits and giggles.

    I think considering the technology, any Hybrid vehicle that’s actually worth owning right now would be a truck or SUV. Getting 25 or even 20mpg pulling a trailer in a good ol’ Bowtied pickup would be pretty satisfying if I was a truck person.

  • avatar
    jaje

    I thought the plug in AC outlet option was a cool idea. However Hybrid system never made sense in a pickup as it only provides assistance for short periods of time and with a pickup the expectation is it will be used to tow/haul. Instead if GM put a light duty diesel option instead of the Hybrid it would have been much more successful as diesel is at its most efficient when run under heavy load where hybrid’s only advantage relies on stop / go. You see diesel highway mileage just better than their hybrid counterparts (also note that all locomotives have diesel generators and not gas powered ones either).

  • avatar
    sckid213

    Several here have mentioned that people looking for a more fuel efficient work vehicle are turning to Transit Connect. That’s certainly true, but I do have to say that the TC’s I’m seeing that have been in service for a while look beat to HELL. I doubt they have the long-term longevity of a true truck. They look like a normal car that has been put into heavy use for which it wasn’t designed…which I guess is essentially what’s happening.

  • avatar
    Hoser

    The only person I knew who had a hybrid GM truck had the generator/starter(something like that?) fail, and whatever company had made the part went out of business, no replacements were available, so it ended up getting bought back. I can’t imagine many people lining up for that again.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      GM’s first foray into “hybrids” was a 2005-or-so Sierra/Silverado that has a BAS (Belt-Alternator-Starter) system. They weren’t widely available and barely sold. They didn’t actually improve fuel eocnomy much, if at all, but the AC power outlet was, as I recall, standard on it and it was a pretty good idea. I think they tried pitching the truck to contractors based on having power available.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    A hybrid truck would be good for those who live in ‘burbs and drive their crewcabs to the cubicle canyons. Leather seats and a moonroof? It might tow the boat, but not that often.

  • avatar
    axual

    Maximum Bob Lutz and Via Motors will do a better job than GM … and they are using GM architecture.

    http://www.viamotors.com

    GM should stick to making a profit off the American taxpayer. They seem to be most successful at that activity.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      They might be using a GM truck and engine but they’re not using GM hybrid architecture. It’s a pure series hybrid.

      Bob Lutz didn’t have anything to do with development, they signed him on late in the game because they felt they needed a face to get business and cred. I’d bet a quarter they paid him mostly in stock.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Unlike Ford and Chrysler, the V6 Silverado/Sierra won’t play such an important role for the General.”

    Final fuel and power figures aren’t out yet on the 4.3l, but I think GM is planning on it being at least as popular as the Pentastar RAM. The press release GM sent out claimed the V6 would be available in all configurations.


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