With fuel prices likely to remain at less than $40 per barrel for a while, the advancement of full electric, hydrogen and mild-hybrid technology for automobiles could see a slowdown. However, improved fuel economy for pickup trucks remains a key demand of consumers. To that end, GM seems to be making a push.
GMC fired the first shot with the return of its mild-hybrid Sierra 1500 for the 2016 model year, but this time with a less complicated and less expensive powertrain improvement that provides better results, called eAssist.
The technology has worked with limited success in the last several years in Chevy and Buick cars (Malibu, Impala, Regal and LaCrosse). Now it's migrating to larger, heavier vehicles like the 2016 Silverado and Sierra 1500 pickups, providing as much as a 13 percent mpg improvement (according to EPA estimates) when combined with the new stop-start capability and regenerative braking.
The Chevy that gets the mild-hybrid powertrain will be the Silverado 1500 1LT crew-cab two-wheel-drive half-ton and will be sold only in California for this first model year, limited to approximately 500 units. The eAssist power-boost system uses a 24-cell, air-cooled lithium-ion battery pack located under the center console that provide an additional 13 horsepower and 44 pounds-feet of torque as needed. The system will be paired only with the 5.3-liter V-8 and eight-speed transmission, and will deliver an EPA rating of 18/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined. The system will provide a short-term power boost during off-the-line and passing situations, but is likely to be most effective during loaded or towing situations.
Chevrolet currently is signing up interested dealerships to sell the mild-hybrid trucks, and dealers should be ready to take orders by early April. Chevrolet says it will adjust 2017 availability numbers of eAssist models based on 2016 demand.
Official pricing has not been announced but given some of the local and national allowances available for standard Silverado 1500s with similar configurations, we're guessing the price of the eAssist models will be around $42,000. We'll have to wait and see if consumers are willing to pay the small premium for the small bump in fuel efficiency.