W-B gives top marks to experimental hybrid truck 

General Motors is hammering out the design of a line of parallel hybrid trucks they hope to introduce to the North American market, and loaned one of their prototypes for a GMC Silverado to their partners at Whistler-Blackcomb last week for a test drive.


The four-by-four version is still in development, so they couldn’t test the truck on the mountain, but the two-wheel drive truck showed that it was tough enough to work in the valley.

"It’s basically the same size engine, the same horsepower, everything," said Mark Peterson, the supervisor of fleet maintenance for Whistler-Blackcomb’s valley shop. "If the power is basically the same… and if we can get four-by-fours for work on the mountain, then I can’t see why we wouldn’t try these out.

"Across the company we’re committed to building a more fuel-efficient fleet, and this could be a part of it."

The parallel hybrid system in the GMC Silverardo is not a true hybrid design, where the batteries assist the powertrain to achieve fuel savings of up to 60 per cent, but that may be included in future models. Instead, it uses an idle-stop system that provides 10 to 12 per cent better fuel economy than conventional engines.

The design replaces the starter motor with a compact electric motor and torque converter that allows you to use the electricity stored in the batteries – a 12 Volt battery under the hood and a 42 Volt battery under the back seat, to start and engage the engine. As a result there’s no idle – when the truck is in park or the driver isn’t accelerating the gasoline engine stops running. For jobs that require frequent stops and starts, the fuel savings can be even better than 12 per cent.

"If you leave the car running, you’re not burning any fuel," said Peterson.

Not only does this feature add to the fuel efficiency, the more efficient engine and starter system also significantly reduces emissions.

Another advantage to the system is the fact that there are four 110 Volt outlets on the truck, two in the cab and two attached to the battery under the back seat, which can be used for power tools, lights and other standard appliances.

The batteries also assist the power steering and braking system, and are recharged as you drive. If you use up all of your stored power, you can jumpstart the truck like any other vehicle, and the engine will repower the batteries.

"It’s not all that different than a regular truck," said Peterson. "It’s a bit heavier because of the battery, but that doesn’t seem to affect the performance all that much. A few things that are actually better: the acceleration is really impressive, really smooth, and most people like the idea of being able to plug power tools right into the truck."

Whistler-Blackcomb received the prototype on June 30 and returned it to Vancouver on July 6.

There are no immediate plans to purchase any of the vehicles, which General Motors hopes to make available in the near future. The first hybrid vehicles will likely be released in late 2004, and a line of trucks and SUVs with conventional hybrid engines should be available in 2007.


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