Thanks to new fuel-efficiency standards enacted by Congress at the end of last year and scheduled to take affect during the next decade or so, automakers have started to drastically rethink their future fleets. General Motors, for instance, has cancelled its plans for a new double-overhead-cam V8 engine that was originally intended to replace the Northstar, which currently powers some of the automaker’s Cadillacs. Other automakers have taken similar steps, turning to turbocharged V6 engines in place of V8s for some future models.
At the same time, many automakers, including GM, have been fast-forwarding their hybrid engine programs. Hybrids made a big splash at the Detroit Auto Show, which just completed its run, and more will debut at the Chicago Auto Show, which kicks off later this week (public show dates for the Chicago show are Feb. 8-17). GM in particular will unveil two new hybrid trucks – the 2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid and the GMC Denali XT, a car/truck combo (think the old El Camino) based on the Australian Holden Ute, the stylish utility vehicle from Down Under.
The 2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid (above) follows in the tire tracks of its hybrid stablemates, the Chevy Tahoe and Silverado and the GMC Yukon Hybrids. Like those trucks, the Sierra Hybrid comes equipped with GM’s two-mode hybrid system (introduced in the 2008 Yukon), which includes an electric motor and a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery (located beneath the rear seat). The electric motor alone can power the Sierra up to 30 miles per hour, even when the truck is towing a trailer. Beyond 30 miles per hour, the truck’s 6.0-liter Vortec V8 engine takes over. Together, the hybrid combo results in a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency in the city and 25 percent improvement overall, when compared to non-hybrid models, according to GM.
The Sierra Hybrid also comes with a number of components designed to improve aerodynamics, reduce drag, and ensure quiet performance, including a chin spoiler, tonneau cover, low-resistance tires, new exhaust system, electrically driven air-conditioning compressor, and electrically driven power steering. The Sierra Hybrid will be manufactured in Canada and available in both two- and four-wheel-drive trims when it goes on sale later this year.
The GMC Denali XT will be an all-new beast when it hits North American shores, and there’s no doubt that it’s a good-looking one at that. It certainly fills a hole in the market, but fits right in during this age of crossover vehicles and retro PT Cruisers. GM has owned Australian automaker Holden since the early 1930s, and has started to draw more and more on Holden’s sporty designs (the Pontiac G8, which debuts this year, is actually a rebadged Holden Commodore).
The rear-wheel-drive Denali XT features unibody architecture and comes with the two-mode hybrid engine, which includes a 4.9-liter V8 gas engine that can run on E85 fuel (a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline). The result is a sleek sport utility truck (or SUT, as GM calls it) that offers a 50 percent increase in fuel economy when compared to a standard gas-powered small truck. The Denali XT will also come with a height-adjustable suspension and a Midgate behind the rear seats that can be lowered to increase cargo capacity. The Denali XT is still in the concept vehicle stage, but we can only hope we see it on North American roads sooner rather than later.