DETROIT - General Motors says it will rely on hardware, not promises, to boost light-truck fuel economy.
The company said last week that it will offer an optional gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain for its top-selling full-sized pickups in 2004.
The powertrain will boost fuel economy of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups 15 percent, the automaker said.
That was just one of four announcements GM made last week as it tried to steal the fuel-economy spotlight from Ford Motor Co. Ford made headlines two weeks ago with its promise to improve the fuel economy of its sport-utilities 25 percent in the next five years.
GM said it will:
Build a $500 million engine plant in Tonawanda, N.Y., to build a family of high-efficiency inline aluminum engines. The engines will be available in undisclosed GM vehicles by the 2004 model year.
Begin selling a new diesel-electric hybrid powertrain in October for transit buses. The powertrain, developed by GM's Allison Transmission division, is 50 percent more fuel-efficient than conventional diesel engines used in buses.
GM will produce a displacement-on-demand V-8 engine by the 2005 model year that runs on just four cylinders in low-load situations. GM did not say which vehicles would get the engine, but has been testing it in the Chevrolet Corvette.
While Ford has said it will have a hybrid version of its new Ford Escape small sport-utility for the 2003 model year, GM Vice Chairman Harry Pearce said GM wants to introduce a hybrid powertrain in the vehicle segment that will have the greatest impact: full-sized pickups.
GM's top-selling vehicle is the Silverado pickup. Through July, GM sold 382,885 Silverados and 115,488 Sierras. In the United States, the Silverado is the No. 2-selling vehicle behind Ford's F-series full-sized pickup.
At the press conference, GM displayed a Silverado half-ton pickup with a prototype parallel hybrid powertrain. The powertrain consists of GM's 5.3-liter V-8 engine and an electric motor and automatic transmission.
By using the electric motor, GM is able shut down the V-8 engine at stops and optimize the engine's performance, said Stephen Poulos, chief engineer for parallel hybrid propulsion systems at GM Powertrain.
Today's average fuel economy rating for the identical truck without the hybrid powertrain is 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. Poulos said the hybrid powertrain would improve those numbers by 15 percent even though it adds 200 pounds to the vehicle.
Although GM has not decided which gasoline engine it will use when it begins producing hybrid-electric pickups, Poulos said the 5.3-liter V-8 is the most likely candidate.