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  • Roger Witherspoon

The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid: Thinking Small While Building Big

By Roger Witherspoon


There was nothing elegant about the roll through the woods.

The highway through Bear Mountain split, with the left fork headed through the

Seven Lakes region and the right meandering through the mountain to West Point. The

Honda barely entered the left fork when it was cut off by an errant motorist. The driver,

swerved sharply to avoid the collision, hit the curb, lost control, entered a ditch at about

50 miles per hour and the car rolled three times through the woods before its roof

slammed into a tree – with the tumbling accompanied by the sound of a racing engine,

breaking glass, and cracking tree limbs.

About 50 yards ahead of the Honda, two black SUVs pulled over and a squad of

West Point medics returning from a training mission, double timed back to the upended

vehicle. The doctor leading the squad barked out orders as the troops firmly but gently

pulled five people from the wreck.

While they worked, other motorists pulled over, frantically tapping their cell

phones in an effort to call for help. Finally, one woman yelled out “There is no cell

reception in these mountains. Does anyone have OnStar?”

I was driving a Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid SUV about 50 feet behind the Honda,

and immediately pulled onto the shoulder and pushed the Red Cross button over the rear

view mirror. Almost immediately, an OnStar emergency care voice came over the

Tahoe’s audio system inquiring as to the emergency. I told her about the crash and, using

her network’s satellite data, pinpointed the Tahoe’s location and set up a three-way patch

to the nearest New York State Police headquarters. The Police dispatcher then sent

officers and ambulances. In the meantime, the woman who had yelled for OnStar shuttled

between the West Point medics and the Tahoe, relaying the medical needs to the state

police who, in turn, informed the ambulance corps speeding through the mountain roads.

When the ambulances arrived the woman shook her head at her useless cell phone

and said to everyone in general and no one in particular, “Thank God for OnStar.”

OnStar is General Motor’s everything service which utilizes 24 Department of

Defense satellites to provide a stream of communication anywhere in the United States.

There is a booster built directly into the satellite radio receiver unit in the vehicle which

allows the OnStar system to work even in areas where cell phones cannot. For $199

annually, the system provides both cell phone service – using a computer voice – and

emergency response using live concierges. The system handles about 7,000 calls monthly

from motorists in trouble, and another 5,000 “Good Samaritan” calls from motorists

reporting accidents to other motorists. And every month, OnStar sends out electronic

unlock signals to some 65,000 motorists who left their keys in the car.

For an additional $100, OnStar provides “turn by turn” directions over the audio

system. This works well for lower priced cars, such as the HHR or Pontiac GT, which

lack navigation systems – though the computer voice sounds, well, mechanical.

As useful as OnStar is, one doesn’t buy a behemoth like the full sized Tahoe just

for the communications systems. This is a truck based SUV with three rows of seats, the

last one taking up most of the cargo area. Usually, a vehicle like this would have a

voracious V-8 engine and seemingly stop at every passing gas station. This Tahoe does

carry the big, 6.0-Liter V-8, but it is mated to an electric motor and GM fuel saving

technology which actually lets the company boast in its ads that its city mileage – at 21

MPG – is better than that of the regular, 2008 Camry SE sedan, which has an EPA rating

of 19 MPG in city traffic.

GM’s fuel economy for its gasoline engine is based on a system which cuts off

four of the cylinders when the Tahoe is cruising. In addition, the electric motor is strong

enough to drive the vehicle at speeds up to about 25 miles per hour. When cruising or

going down hill, the electric motor takes over entirely, thus reducing fuel consumption

further. Both the gas engine and electric motor work when the Tahoe is accelerating, thus

increasing its takeoff. The combined system carries an eight year, 100,000 mile


How efficiently the combined power system works depends on how well the

Tahoe trains the driver. The information LCD screen shows the flow of power between

the gasoline engine, the electric motor, and the axel on this front wheel drive SUV.

Flooring the accelerator pushes the mileage down to just 4 MPG, while taking off slowly

under the battery power sends the gauge shooting up to 99 MPG. At today’s gasoline

prices, drivers quickly learn to adjust their driving habits to the power flow on the screen

to maximize their gas mileage. It is not going to get the 40 miles per gallon achieved by a

Camry hybrid, but it is a significant step for a truck.

Inside, the Tahoe Hybrid and its sister truck, the GMC Yukon Hybrid, contain

most of the bells and whistles one would expect in a vehicle with a sticker price pushing

$53,000. It has three rows of leather padded seats, though getting to the back means

stepping over the folded second row. This can be awkward for the less mobile or very

young passengers, and it would be difficult to exit in a hurry. The 300-volt battery pack

for the electric motor is under the second row and, as a result, the passenger seats do not

fold into the floor and the cargo area is diminished accordingly. The third row can be

removed entirely – though it is big, bulky, weighs about 75 pounds and takes two to

handle easily.

But it is a comfortable ride, with AM/FM and XM satellite radio, as well as a

DVD player for entertainment. The battery pack for the electric motor also powers a 115-

volt electric outlet which can be used to plug in a laptop or video game.

If you have need for a large vehicle and hope to minimize the trips to the gas

station, the Tahoe Hybrid just might fit your needs.

2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid 2WD

MSRP: $52,780

EPA Mileage: 21 MPG City 22 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity: 6,200 Pounds

Performance/ Safety:

6.0-Liter, cast aluminum V-8 engine producing 332 horsepower and 367 pound/feet of

torque; two wheel drive; 2-mode hybrid; 300-volt electric motor; 18-inch aluminum

wheels; stability and traction control; 4-wheel disc brakes; dual frontal air bags; head

curtain, side air bags for all rows; rear view camera.

Interior/ Comfort:

AM/FM and XM satellite radio; CD and MP3 player with Bose speaker system; OnStar

communications system; Bluetooth communications; DVD player; touch screen

navigation system; 3 rows of seating. Leather padded bucket seats; heated front seats;


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