Monday, March 30, 2009

2009 GMC Yukon Hybrid: $50K?

GMC is definitely missing the point with its new hybrid, but it's a car that almost needed to be made. I'm surprised this monster wasn't advertised in Big Love or something (photos at end of post).

First, the basics, with my thoughts tacked on:

  • 4-speed automatic (CVT). I'm not a fan of this: one more gear in the tranny to make this smoother and save fuel while shifting wouldn't have killed GMC in such a large vehicle.
  • 6.0-liter V8. Expected.
  • Towing capacity: 1733 lbs (4x4 option, and why wouldn't you get the 4x4 if you're getting a truck this large?). Acceptable, and with a hybrid power train, maybe you're not doing as much towing as the next Yukon owner.

  • Standard leather & navigation. For $50K? It better have leather seats and navi!

  • Fuel economy: 20-22 mpg. Surprised? I wasn't. For the price, I would have expected a little better, but remember, this IS a Yukon.

The official reason given for putting hybrid technology - co-developed by BMW, DaimlerChrysler, AND GM (surprised?) - into a monster SUV is that GMC wants to "highlight our commitment to save as much fuel as possible by applying our best technology to the highest fuel-consuming vehicles first" (cited from this Motor Trend review).

What about the unofficial reasons? Well, for one, I understand putting hybrid tech into larger vehicles to save fuel, as follows:
  • tiny hybrid cars cannot take the kind of impact offered by a car such as - oh, I dunno, a GMC Yukon? - while keeping the driver and passengers safe. The Prius can get all the praise and government crash test ratings it wants, but the fact of the matter is, I'd rather drive my Benz around and pay more per gallon AND per tank to keep my family safe in the event of a collision. When it's time for a new car, I'll go with a BlueTec or a Benz E-class hybrid (doesn't exist yet).

  • there's plenty of need for commercial vehicles like the Yukon, so we can't simply ignore them and hope businesses start using Prius' for towing and at construction sites. It's simply not going to happen.

  • say you're a taxi or livery service and someone wants an SUV to take a family to the airport? Our entire family did this last year when we went to Aruba and had a large Cadillac Escalade (extended) take us. Imagine driving that thing around every day in Boston traffic to and from the airport? That electric power train to save gas in city driving is going to be a godsend for you and may allow you to keep prices on your service reasonable.
However, I still think when looking at the big picture, General Motors is missing out on a great opportunity. It's easier to test this technology out in a relatively low-volume car. When I say low volume, I mean for families who are staying away from these behemoths; commercial fleets will be backed by the warranty, and the potential bad press if liability is bad won't be as harsh coming from loyal commercial fleet buyers. However, GM should be using this same hybrid technology in a bunch of cars, and soon. The US has a huge image problem when it comes to Ford, GM, and Chrysler. They simply are unwilling to give up the truck-and-SUV push. One recent commercial comparing the Chevy Silverado to the Toyota Tundra touts the former's gas mileage over the Tundra and then has the audacity to call Chevy the "greenest" truck on the road (can't find the ad online just yet). It's still a pickup truck, and my opinion of pickups is that they simply shouldn't be allowed on the road unless you have a commercial license plate (i.e.; you'd have to show a need to own a truck like that, such as a contracting company or construction worker, to own such a vehicle).

For $50,000+, and it's not even an Escalade, I think this is a niche market to say the least. If it's as smooth and comfortable as expected, I'm sure plenty of folks - more the further West you go in the States - will find this suitable if they can afford it (with GM in desperation mode it's likely you'd be able to get a good deal on one). But for most, we can only hope US returns to car-making glory by doing something to trump Japanese and Germany automakers instead of sitting in reaction mode as they have for decades.

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