GM announces plan to improve mileage on truck fleet

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

PONTIAC, Mich. -- In a direct response to Ford Motor Co.'s claim of being the environmentally friendly automaker, General Motors Corp. said Wednesday it would offer pickups and buses that will burn up to 50 percent less fuel than current models.

While GM said its trucks would use technologies like gas-electric hybrid power and engine cylinder shut-off to improve mileage, it declined to say how much mileage its truck fleet would gain. Ford said last week it would increase the fuel economy of its SUVs from an average of 18 miles per gallon now to 23 mpg in 2005.

GM Vice Chairman Harry Pearce, saying he was ''seriously annoyed'' with Ford's claim of environmental leadership and the news coverage it generated, said GM's light trucks had 4 percent better fuel economy than Ford's fleet, and bested Ford in a model-by-model comparison.

According to preliminary federal mileage figures for 2000 model year vehicles, which are weighted by sales, Ford's truck fleet had an average fuel economy of 20.8 mpg, while GM's averaged 21 mpg.

''GM will be the leader in five years, or for 15 years or 20 years,'' Pearce said. ''We have spent years achieving this leadership position. And I think it's extremely important that when we talk about fuel economy, we talk about deeds, not words.''

Ford did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Environmental groups applauded GM's announcement as a sign that automakers now believe consumers care about the impact their cars and trucks have on the environment. But they were also wary of GM's lack of specific targets for its mileage gains.

''The good news here is that fuel economy and global warming are important to Americans,'' said Daniel Becker, the Sierra Club's director of global warming and energy programs. ''Obviously we need to kick the tires a little more to see if they're serious about dramatically improving the efficiency of these vehicles.''

GM said it will begin building a version of its Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra full-size pickups in 2004 that are powered by a gas-electric hybrid system. The system uses an electric motor placed between a gas-powered V8 engine and the transmission, and links it to a battery pack -- stored under the rear seats in a test vehicle on display Wednesday. It will improve the fuel economy of the truck by 15 percent with the same performance of today's V8s, Pearce said.

Pearce and other GM officials declined to say how much the hybrid pickup might cost or in what volume GM would produce it. Thomas Stevens, GM's director of truck engineering, said the hybrid system would likely be bundled with options not available on other models, and any extra cost could be offset with fuel savings.

Later this year, GM will also build a gas-electric hybrid system for buses used in public transportation. Pearce said by improving fuel economy on buses and other commercial vehicles, fuel consumption could be reduced far faster than by making changes to other kinds of vehicles.

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