It was only a matter of time, but they’re now a reality… again. Depending on who you ask, hybrid full-size pickup trucks will either be the wave of the future or another unwanted step in the march on progress. GM offered a Hybrid GMC Sierra and Chevy Suburban from 2010 to to 2013, but they were heavy(ier), expensive, and completely failed to catch on. Since then, Chevy’s had no problem selling its gas-powered trucks, but with fuel economy standards continuing to rise, GM is ready to give hybrid trucks another go. Though instead of diving in, this time it’s just dipping a toe in the water.
Remember your friend in middle school who supposedly had a gorgeous girlfriend, but no one could meet her because she lived in Canada? GM’s new hybrid pickup program is kind of like that. For 2016, the General is building just 500 Silverados and 200 Sierras with the new eAssist assist system, which going by its 2015 truck sales numbers (and as AutoBlog points out), will likely represent about 0.08% of its total truck sales. What’s more, they’ll only be sold in California.
But GM is hoping that the small run of trucks will be enough to pique customers interest in hybrids. After all, Americans have come a long way in accepting hybrid and EV cars and crossovers over the past five years. Plus, this move really isn’t much of a gamble. According to Chevy:
The new mild-hybrid electrical system leverages many of the technologies and components from Chevrolet’s lineup of innovative electric vehicles – including battery cells from the Malibu Hybrid and software controls developed for the Volt. As a result, Chevrolet can deliver a low-volume, affordably priced hybrid pickup that delivers uncompromised capability and up to 13 percent better fuel economy in city driving.
In this case, “up to 13%” means a difference of just two miles per gallon both city and highway, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
It’s important to point out that the eAssist trucks are mild-hybrid vehicles, meaning they won’t have an all-electric range like a Toyota Prius. Instead, the eAssist lives up to its name, using its single elecric motor and 0.45-kilowatt-hour battery pack to take some of strain off the 5.3 liter V8 found in the trucks. The system adds about 100 pounds to the truck, but it also frees up 13 horsepower and 44 pound-feet of torque, which should be enough to feel a difference.
The eAssisted Silverado and Sierra won’t be stripped-down work trucks either. The system will be available as a $500 option only on the rear-wheel drive V8-powered 1500 Silverado 1LT (starting at around $35k) and the rear-wheel drive Sierra 1500 crew cab with SLT Premium Plus package (from $45k).
In the end, GM’s eAssist system poses little if any existential threat to the full-size V8-powered pickup. Think of it as a more robust electrical system, or an alternative to a jump to the 48 volt electrical system automakers pushed for back in the ’90s. Plus, $500 for a fuel economy-boosting hybrid system is a steal at a time when “22-inch 6-spoke premium Silver ultra-bright machined wheels” from GMC will set you back a cool $2,995. We don’t expect these hybrids to hang around California dealerships too long. Hell, we don’t expect them to be isolated in California for very long either.