What's the best way to give the moribund truck market a little pick-me-up? Diesel? Hybrid? V-6? How about a six-speed automatic and better aerodynamics?
Hold off on the diesel for now. Motor Trend readers' favorite post-$4-gas solution is coming, and yet automakers are hedging their bets with other fuel-economy improvements because they're not sure how many average buyers are willing to pay $2000 extra per pickup and 60 cents more per gallon for the privilege of sharing refueling pumps with surly truck drivers.
The hybrids are here early next year, with the same two-mode system used in General Motors and Chrysler sport/utilities going into the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. Like the GM/Chrysler utilities, the pickups suffer a bit of the engine on-off jolts that make it clear to the driver that he's driving a truck that gets 21/22 city/highway EPA mpg for the two-wheel drive and 20/20 for the four-wheel drive. The Silverado/Sierra Hybrid is offered only in the crew cab body style. Even if the hybrid badging is too subtle, next to the distinctive shape of a Toyota Prius, to convince other motorists and pedestrians that you're driving anything but a gas hog.Oh, well. At least you can sneak up on pedestrians; only to 10 mph or so on level roads, as in a loop less than eight miles long on which I sampled a Silverado hybrid, but up to 25 mph or so on a long downhill. With a tailwind.
These hybrid pickups, combined with GM's venerable 6.0L V-8, shine on the highway, where the two-mode system helps aid cylinder deactivation more quickly. See the table below to see my indicated fuel mileage for that short, in-town-only (including hills) sub-eight-mile loop.
And what of the V-6? Leave that to Ford's coming EcoBoost F-150, for now (and maybe a four-cylinder EcoBoost F-150, as cash-strapped Ford has "suspended" development of the F-100, much like Hillary Clinton has suspended her presidential bid). GM says about 200,000 of its pickup buyers choose the 4.3L engine, mostly for construction crews and other fleets. Coupled with a four-speed automatic, however, the V-6 doesn't get the mileage of, say, an efficient, aluminum-block V-8 and six-speed automatic. Which brings us to our final short-term solution, the Silverado/Sierra XFE models. Available only as 2WD crew cab models, fuel economy is up 1/1 mpg city/highway, to 15/21 mpg. Like the Chevy Cobalt XFE, they were quickly designed from the parts bin.
"We fast-tracked the XFE models to get them into dealer showrooms as quickly as possible," says Gary White, GM's North American full-size-truck chief. Along with a similar line of XFE SUVs, the pickups go on sale in the second half of this year.