Let me say right at the top that I applaud the American automakers for the way they’ve scrambled over the past year or so to turn around lagging sales and deliver cars that buyers want. Just a few short years ago GM, Ford and to a lesser degree Chrysler were sitting on top of the world, turning out gas-guzzling behemoths with big profit margins. But then the fuel crunch kicked in and all of a sudden buyers saw the light. Good-bye, huge SUVs — hello, sensible fuel-efficient sedans, crossovers and boxy little specialty cars like the Scion and Element.
But then again, this is still America, and many Americans still like their cars big. (There’s a side question here — can a big vehicle truly be efficient and eco-friendly? But we’ll set that aside for the moment.) So it makes perfect sense that Detroit would figure out a way to design fuel-efficient SUVs. Case in point: The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, which goes on sale later this year as a 2008 model.
There’s no doubt that the Tahoe Hybrid is a big vehicle, but it manages to achieve a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy, when compared to the standard Tahoe, thanks to a two-mode full hybrid propulsion system, which GM designed in collaboration with BMW and DaimlerChrysler. As the engine’s description indicates, the Tahoe Hybrid can operate in two modes. The first mode is low speed, at which the Tahoe can operate with an electric motor only or in a combination of the electric motor and a Vortec V8 gas-powered engine. For the second mode, at highway speeds or when towing, passing or climbing a hill, the SUV switches to a primarily gas-engine operation. The second mode adds Active Fuel Management and other systems to further improve fuel efficiency. A controller shifts between the two modes depending on driving conditions.
The electric motor operates on a 300-volt battery pack, which is somewhat larger than a traditional battery. The battery pack is charged by the Tahoe’s gas engine, so there’s no need to plug it in.
The Tahoe achieves additional fuel effiency thanks to its aerodynamic styling and the fact that it’s lowered 10 millimeters, as well as its aero-efficient wheels (and no, we’re not making any of this up). Special badging will clearly identify the Tahoe as a hybrid. No pricing has been set yet.