Special Coverage

Greater LA Auto Show

General Motors Corp. unveils the ’09 Chevrolet Silverado 2-mode hybrid, a key model in the bow-tie division’s bid to become the world’s most fuel-efficient brand.

Bowing alongside the Silverado Hybrid at the Los Angeles International Auto Show today is the Chevrolet Aveo5 subcompact hatchback and the ’08 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid with a belt-alternator-starter system.

The previously revealed ’09 Cadillac Escalade 2-mode hybrid, ’08 Cadillac Escalade Platinum and ’09 Pontiac Vibe also share the stage.

GM additionally announces the delivery of 10 Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell cross/utility vehicles to Walt Disney Co., which will use the zero-emissions vehicles to shuttle visitors around its Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA. The auto maker also reveals pricing on the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon Hybrid fullsize SUVs.

But arguably the biggest news for GM in L.A. centers on the ’09 Silverado Hybrid, which will arrive at Chevrolet dealerships in late 2008.

“We’re letting customers choose the vehicle that best fits their needs,” says Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper during an advanced media briefing in Detroit. “(The Silverado 2-mode) will have everything people have come to expect – towing, hauling power – but with huge fuel savings.”

GM estimates the Silverado Hybrid will achieve 40% greater fuel economy during city driving and a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency overall. A comparable Silverado equipped with an internal combustion engine gets an estimated 15/19 mpg (15.7/12.4 L 100 km) in city/highway driving.

Like the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon Hybrids that will precede it to market later this year, the Silverado Hybrid uses an advanced electrically variable transmission and a 300-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery in combination with a 6.0L V-8 gasoline engine optimized with cylinder deactivation.

At low speeds, the Silverado Hybrid drives on electricity alone, while at higher speeds the V-8 can operate in 4-cyl. mode to conserve fuel. It can tow up to 6,100 lbs. (2,767 kg) and will only be available in Crew Cab configuration – although customers can choose either 2- or 4-wheel drive.

GM says it aims to put at least one Silverado Hybrid on the lot of each of its larger volume dealers and expects buyers will qualify for roughly the same $2,300 federal rebate that purchasers of its 2-mode SUVs receive.

Peper estimates the Silverado Hybrid could account for about 10% of the fullsize pickup’s annual volume, which last year stood at 636,069 units in the U.S., according to Ward’s data.

“There’s a portion of people that will want the 2-mode,” he says. “(But) it’s not for everyone.”

As such, GM isn’t banking on a windfall from the hybrids, says Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president-vehicle sales, service and marketing.

“With the first generation of our 2-mode, we won’t fully recover our costs,” he says during the briefing.

But the auto maker hopes the system will help it gain ground on Toyota Motor Corp., which, with its Prius hybrid, carries the mantle as the industry’s most fuel-economy conscious auto maker.

To showcase its new hybrid trucks, Malibu mild hybrid and Equinox fuel-cell test fleet, GM has launched an integrated advertising and marketing campaign.

Called “Gas-Friendly to Gas-Free,” the promotion highlights GM’s work in five key areas: overall fleet fuel efficiency; biofuels such as E85; hybrids; electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt concept car; and hydrogen fuel cells. Chevrolet was chosen to anchor the campaign because of its size, broad product portfolio and global reach.

Television advertising mainly focuses on morning shows and news broadcasts. Five of the six spots use children to help tell the story behind each alternative powertrain.

“It’s not a switch we’ll flip,” LaNeve says of Chevy’s plans, which include 16 hybrids in the next two years. “(But) you’ll see it more clearly in 2008.”

LaNeve admits GM’s efforts to reposition Chevrolet from a brand known mostly for its pickups and SUVs to one that epitomizes fuel efficiency is a difficult task.

But he notes the division now boasts seven models that achieve 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) or better, and fuel economy now is cited as the No.3 reason why people purchase a Chevrolet.

“Just three years ago, it probably wasn’t in the top 20 reasons,” LaNeve says. “So it’s beginning to resonate with people.”

Also at the L.A. show, GM unveils the ’09 Chevrolet Aveo5 subcompact hatchback for the first time on North American soil. Manufactured in Bupyong, South Korea, by GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co., the Aveo5 arrives at dealers early next year.

The subcompact features refreshed exterior and interior styling and a roomier interior. A 1.6L 4 cyl. engine replaces the 1.4L 4 cyl. mill found on previous models. However, fuel economy stays the same at 34 mpg (6.9 L/100 km) when mated to the standard manual transmission.

GM says the Tahoe Hybrid will start at $50,490 for a well-equipped, 2WD model and $53,295 for 4WD. Pricing on the GMC Yukon Hybrid begins at $50,945 for 2WD and $53,755 for 4WD. All prices include a $900 destination charge.

jamend@wardsauto.com