Bill Long is a typical Midwestern hunter with a passion for the outdoors, a family of four, a modest home in a suburban neighborhood and a job that takes a 20-minute commute. Weekend activities are varied as they are with any active family—chauffeuring their two boys to soccer and baseball games, doing a little fishing or spending a lot of time hunting upland birds, turkeys and deer as the seasons dictate. With all this driving time, Long, like a good many others of us who face tight household budgets, has to address the issue of fuel economy and the rising costs of fuel.
His '98 four-wheel-drive pickup is a fuel hog and the miles are getting up there. And his wife's mid-size SUV is just as road weary and almost as fuel thirsty. Because they need to get a new vehicle that will accommodate their growing family, work well for their outdoor/hunting lifestyle and be friendly at the gas pump, they're setting their sights on a hybrid SUV.
Stepping up to one of the 2008 hybrid SUVs is a smart move for those who want to help the environment while cutting down the size of the annual fuel bills. Hybrid technology has finally come to the point where a few of the SUVs can now tow a decent amount and have enough power so you don't feel like you're anchored in the slow lane when you hit an interstate.
New GM Full-Size Hybrids
My favorite hybrids at the moment are the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. Both are full-size SUVs that utilize an innovative "two-mode" hybrid powertrain, combining electric power with GM's fuel-efficient 5.3L V8 so you get the best of both worlds when they're needed.
"We have taken the brand-new, next-generation full-size truck platform, which already had segment-leading fuel economy and world-class aerodynamics, to the next level," said Mark Cieslak, assistant vehicle chief engineer for the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid. "This is in addition to maintaining important performance attributes of full-size trucks, such as off-road capability, towing at 6,000 pounds, great 0-60 mph times and much more. It was understood from the start that we would deliver the goods on fuel economy, with typical full-size truck performance."
Hybrid systems vary among manufacturers. Most put in the smallest engine they have and couple it with an electric motor that provides electric power only at the lower vehicle speeds, say below 30 mph. This is called a single-mode hybrid system. These provide very good city EPA numbers, but get them out on the open road where most of us drive and highway fuel economy is dismal as the little gas motor struggles to keep pace. Forget towing a boat or small trailer with such a vehicle—they're usually limited to less than 1,500 pounds of trailer weight.
GM, on the other hand, has come up with an innovative two-mode hybrid system that utilizes the vehicle's powerful computer and new automatic transmission technology so the electric motor can be utilized even at highway speeds. This gives the '08 Tahoe/Yukon Hybrid a 20/20 mpg fuel economy rating—or more than 5 mpg gain in "city" use and a 25 percent improvement on the road. It's by far the most fuel-efficient full-size SUV on the market.
In the first mode, at low speed and light loads, the Tahoe/Yukon can operate in three ways: electric power only, engine power only, or in any combination of engine and electric power.
When operating with electric power only, it provides all the fuel-saving benefits of a full hybrid system. Leaving the gas engine shut off for extended periods of time and moving under electric power at low speed is key to reducing fuel consumption in heavy stop-and-go traffic.
The second mode is used primarily at highway speeds. In addition to electric assist, the second mode provides full eight-cylinder engine power when conditions demand it, such as when passing, pulling a trailer or climbing a steep grade. The second mode also integrates sophisticated electronic controls, such as Active Fuel Management, cam phasing and late-intake valve closure, allowing even more efficient engine operation.
I'd expect to see a $3,500-$4,000 premium for the hybrid technology added to the price of a standard Tahoe/ Yukon, regardless of the trim level. So that means you should be able to get into one for around $38,000.
Other Cool Hybrids
There are a few other hybrids I believe are worthy of a hunter's consideration. For instance, the new 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, a mid-size SUV with a good amount of room for gear, delivers a combined city/hwy EPA rating of 26/26 mpg.
The Highlander's single-mode hybrid system—a 3.3L V6 combined with a pair of electric motors adding another 62 hp —isn't as strong on towing or pulling power as the Tahoe/Yukon. But the 3,500-pound towing capacity is plenty for pulling a couple ATVs, snowmobiles or a small, pop-up hard-sided camp trailer.
Another plus for the new Highlander Hybrid, which will command a premium around $2,000 over the regular model's price, is it comes standard with a full-time four-wheel-drive system that utilizes the rear electric motor when the computer senses additional traction is needed. This system isn't designed for true off-road use, but is ideal for driving over paved and gravel roads when road conditions are less than optimal.
Then there's the Sierra/Silverado 1500 Hybrid Classic ($1,500 upgrade) that automatically stops and restarts the engine under different operating circumstances. It's what I call a "light" hybrid.
The 5.3L V8 4x4 model is rated for 15 mpg city/18 mpg highway, while the 2WD version gets 16/19 mpg—not impressive numbers seeing how the standard revamped 2008 non-hybrid models with the Active Fuel Management System get about 1 mpg better on the highway.
Instead of a conventional starter motor and alternator, the current GM hybrid pickups use a compact, 14 kW starter-generator integrated in a patented, space-efficient manner between the engine and transmission. The starter-generator provides fast, quiet starting power and allows automatic engine stops/starts to conserve fuel. The system also smoothes out any driveline surges.
Hunters will find the really neat part is that this hybrid 5.3L V8 package also acts as a mobile power-generating station. You can operate power equipment by simply plugging in to any of the four 120-volt/20-amp electrical auxiliary power outlets located under the rear seat of the cab and in the pickup bed.
More Hybrids Coming
If the automotive rumor mill is correct, hunters will be able to find a lot more hybrids hitting the roads during the next 2-3 years. Ones I'd be on the lookout for include: Acura MDX Hybrid, Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, Dodge Durango Hybrid, Ford Explorer Hybrid/Expedition Hybrid, Honda Pilot Hybrid, Hummer H2 Hybrid, Lexus LX Hybrid, Lincoln Navigator Hybrid, Jeep Commander Hybrid and a Toyota Sequoia Hybrid.
With all these models to choose from, you should have no problem "being green" while keeping fuel costs lean when the time comes to shop for a new family friendly hunting vehicle.