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GM Touts Reduced Fuel Consumption

Written by Nickel - 18 Comments

General Motors recently announced that they expect a 40% mileage boost for city driving for the hybrid versions of their big SUVs. Sounds great, but guess what? This would bring their city mpg estimates of the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon up to just 19 or 20 miles per gallon (these same vehicles will get a projected 20-21 mpg in highway driving).

While other brands are boasting 50-80% gains for their largest SUVs, GM doesn’t want to sacrifice towing capacity or off-road performance. Thus, they’re using a conventional four wheel drive system with low-range gears that will give soccer moms across the country the ability to tow up to 6200 pounds as well as the freedom to drive in mud or sand.

The downside for GM is that they’re projecting a lost on the sale of each hybrid, with the hybrid hardware adding $10,000 to the cost of each vehicle produced. While they’ll almost certainly add some of that back to the sticker price, they won’t be able to tack it all on and still sell vehicles. If these new hybrids catch on, however, GM will be able to push down the component costs and (hopefully) turn a profit.

My take: While I’m a huge fan of energy conservation, I hardly think that hybrid mega-SUVs are the way to do it. It’s better than nothing, but simply buying a smaller car would do way more to reduce your fuel consumption. Yes, I realize that there are circumstances in which such vehicles are necessary, but the vast majority of people don’t really need a monstrous vehicle. Okay, I’ll get of my soapbox now.

[Source: USA Today]

Published on July 25th, 2007 - 18 Comments
Filed under: Automotive, Energy

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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18 Responses to “GM Touts Reduced Fuel Consumption”

  1. 1
    Blaine Moore Says:

    I have a pickup truck, and it is certainly handy when I need to haul something. However, it gets 28-32 miles per gallon and I don’t owe a dime on it, so I figure its worth keeping.

    I’m hoping that I can hold out for an affordable and effective electric car, but I don’t see that happening.

  2. 2
    Patrick Says:

    It’s unfortunate that these companies produce so many cars with xxx towing capability, xxx horsepower, and extreme off-road capability when the majority of people who buy them use them to haul around their kids and their groceries. If the manufacturers truly cared about increasing efficiency, they would still make the large cars people desire, but make the towing, horsepower, and off-road capabilities options instead of standard.

    Then again, half the people who buy that type vehicle do it so they can brag about its features, even when they know they will never use them!

  3. 3
    MITBeta Says:

    I have tried to talk a number of people out of buying pickup trucks over the years arguing that it’s far more cost effective to buy a relatively efficient car and then put a trailer hitch on it and buy a utility trailer. A $600 trailer from a popular home improvement store has a larger bed than most pickups and can haul more weight than a typical pickup. This takes care of the 1% of the time you need to go to the dump, hardware store, nursery, etc.

    I have a VW diesel that gets 45-55 miles per gallon and can tow one of these trailers with ease and is far cheaper to buy and operate than a pickup.

    I will confess that last year I bought a Sprinter van since I have 2 Great Danes and a growing family. The van is also a diesel and gets 22-25 miles per gallon. It seats 10 and has twice the cubic volume of a minivan. The operating costs are exceptionally low.

    Clearly if you have a boat or something, you’ll need a bigger vehicle.

    Most of these other off road capable vehicles will never actually be driven off road.

    I have essentially found that vehicle buying is just as emotional as personal finance…

  4. 4
    JamesW Says:

    Most people don’t need huge SUV’s. Think about it. The people carrying capacity is normally 5 or 6 if you try to squeeze in. It is the same for a saloon car. If you need people carrying capacity, a van is a better choice. A van will off course spoil your image.

    All the 4×4 geartrain makes a vehicle heavy and in-efficient. I drive a car with a Vtec engine but in the four years I had it, it never reached rpms that would activate the higher rev cams. It ’s all marketing.

  5. 5
    Scott Says:

    GM is getting out of the minivan business, replacing those lines with a unibody SUV (Saturn Outlook/GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave). These new vehicles look better, get better mileage, are cheaper, and have more interior room than the truck-based Yukon/Tahoe.

    These vehicles are exactly what some of you have already mentioned – large vehicles without much of the unnecessary towing and off-road capabilities of trucks.

  6. 6
    Hieronymus Says:

    Articl yesterday pointing out how Honda CRV is now the top-selling SUV in America. Ford Explorer, the former champ, has imploded.

    It concerns me that non-US companies (even formerly goofy Subarus–anyonre remember the SVX? The XT?) have a better sense of US consumer tastes than supposedly American firms.

    By aiming to exploit current desires, GM always ends up playing catch-up. Other firms are always positioning themselves for the *next* big thing.

    I would *love* to buy American (really!), but there is simply no vehicle made by a nominally US manufacturer that meets my needs better than (or even as well as) something offered elsewhere.

    I knew it was over for US carmakers when Hyundai + Kia bypassed US firms entirely, shooting to “benchmark” Honda + Toyota.

    Aside: I now see Camrys around town–as taxis.

  7. 7
    anonymous Says:

    “While I’m a huge fan of energy conservation, I hardly think that hybrid mega-SUVs are the way to do it. It’s better than nothing, but simply buying a smaller car would do way more to reduce your fuel consumption.”

    It’s true that buying a smaller car would do the trick. But the consumers have spoken.

    Let’s say you drive 12,000 miles per year. A 45 mpg Jetta TDI will use about 266 gallons of fuel. An otherwise similar 55 mpg Prius will use about 218 gallons of fuel. That hybrid system saved you a mere 48 gallons.

    Now let’s say you buy a non-hybrid Yukon at 13mpg. You’re using 923 gallons of fuel. The hybrid, at 20mpg, uses 600 gallons of fuel. *That* hybrid system just saved you 323 gallons of fuel.

    I think any hybrid system is stupid. But if your goal is to save gas, hybrids on large vehicles save a lot more than hybrids on small vehicles.

    And I get annoyed by the “nobody needs a larger car than what I drive” attitude. Particularly coupled with a “we can’t let gas stations raise gas prices” attitude. (I’m not saying either of these positions was expressed by this posting, just that they are common attitudes)

    We have two choices:

    1) Let the cost of fuel drive the decision to buy more fuel efficient vehicles (allowing people to *choose* to sacrifice in one area, to afford to fuel their large SUVs), or

    2) Move to a command economy in which the government tells us that we are simply not allowed to buy the vehicles we want to buy.

  8. 8
    anony2 Says:

    Anonymous,

    The 45 MPG for the diesel Jetta is highway rating. It won’t get that in city driving. The Prius will top 50MPG in any kind of driving. Also, you don’t have any of the issues with diesel — smell, finding it, etc. The Prius is substantially more versatile and can carry a lot more cargo. Finally, look at Consumer Reports for the Jetta vs. the Prius — the Prius pretty much thumps it in all categories. I know this is talking more about the specific cars but that is the example you mentioned. One of the interesting things about the Prius is that aside from its hybrid/high MPG status it also is unique in that it’s kind of a cross between a normal 4/5 passenger car and a mini SUV. It’s hard to find a traditional gasoline car to compare directly against.

  9. 9
    Hieronymus Says:

    Prius is subsidized; once the tax incentives are removed, the cost/mile is less favorable.

    Also, I continue to be concerned about long-term battery issues (cost of replacement; hazards during an accident/fire, etc.) and other hidden costs.

    Lastly, low-sulfur diesel, only recently introduced into the U.S., does not stink in modern motors. Oh, and, seriously, it’s pretty easy to find.

    I am still taking a “wait and see”; diesel is a proven technology, and the motors last a long, long time. Prius, currently, strikes me more as a “Hey Look At Me, I’m CONSERVATIN’” statement more than anything else (borne out by anemic sales of non-bling hybrids such as Accord and Camry).

    I am really looking forward to Honda’s new diesel; and I dream of a Japanese-market diesel Honda Odyssey (or Honda Latitude!) in my driveway.

  10. 10
    MITBeta Says:

    @anony2 said:

    “The 45 MPG for the diesel Jetta is highway rating. It won’t get that in city driving. The Prius will top 50MPG in any kind of driving. Also, you don’t have any of the issues with diesel — smell, finding it, etc. The Prius is substantially more versatile and can carry a lot more cargo”

    I disagree with you on all of these points.

    – The 45 MPG rating is for the city. It’s more like 50 on the highway. I personally have never returned city mileage below 45 in mine. I’ve seen a lot of complaints online from Prius owners who get in the 30s for fuel economy.

    – Diesel smell is subjected. I think it smells like roses compared to gasoline. And it’s not difficult to find once you start looking for it. Even if it was difficult to find, I can drive 100 miles between the time the fuel light comes on and when the car runs out of fuel.

    – My Jetta sedan has carried all manner of cargo. The same chassis/engine combo also comes in Golf, New Beetle, and Jetta Wagon shapes — arguably more versatile than the Prius depending on what you want to do with the car.

    I recognize that this argument is not about which high mileage car is better, but I couldn’t let you get away with those claims.

    @anonymous said:

    “Let’s say you drive 12,000 miles per year. A 45 mpg Jetta TDI will use about 266 gallons of fuel. An otherwise similar 55 mpg Prius will use about 218 gallons of fuel. That hybrid system saved you a mere 48 gallons.”

    The basis for comparison for a Prius or other high mileage car is not typically another high mileage car. It is usually a low to mid mileage car. In other words, most people who buy hybrids are trading up from poor performers that get in the 20s to low 30s, therefore your math on fuel savings is a bit off.

    I get annoyed when people complain about the cost of fuel for two reasons:

    1. They can do something about it by buying a more efficient vehicle. I don’t usually hear people with very fuel efficient vehicles complaining about fuel prices — usually because it’s tough to get that big, stupid grin off of their faces.

    2. The cost of fuel is a large factor but not typically the dominating one when it comes to the overall cost of vehicle ownership. But it’s the only factor that’s variable after the purchase is negotiated. How can a person who pays $600/month in principle, interest, insurance, maintenance, and registration combined complain when fuel prices rise such that their cost goes from $133/month to $200? If they really wanted to save money, there’s a lot more low hanging fruit in the cost of the car itself than there is in the cost of fuel.

  11. 11
    Ron Says:

    “Yes, I realize that there are circumstances in which such vehicles are necessary, but the vast majority of people don’t really need a monstrous vehicle.”

    But what if they want that monstrous vehicle?

    Environmentalism has become the new religion in this country. Some commenter’s to the parent post act guilty because they have owned a truck or vehicle that is not quite as fuel efficient as the latest “electric” car. Please.

    When these new idols that are being worshiped can tow my 10,000 payload and truly save me money I’ll take a look at them. Until then I will continue to drive my legally purchased truck and I won’t feel one bit guilty that I haven’t joined the church.

    Ron

  12. 12
    Cliff Says:

    Wow, I bought a 2000 Jetta TDI with 134K miles on it a month ago. I run 650 miles on a tank at 40% city, 60% highway. I’ve filled three times and my mileage has been 50.0, 49, and 51 mpg. The guy I bought it from purchased a brand new Prius and has YET to break 45 mpg.
    hahahahahaha…..

  13. 13
    Leroy Brown Says:

    Cliff – congrats on your Jetta. Though I have to say, laugh now while you can, because the Prius owner may be laughing soon when your Jetta decides it’s time to become a normal Volkswagen – horribly unreliable. The Prius, of course, is likely to follow the Toyota trend of never having a major issue.

    And FWIW, I can’t imagine getting

  14. 14
    Leroy Brown Says:

    continued from above comment..

    And FWIW, I can’t imagine getting less than 45 mpg in a Prius ( though I know some do ). I am a new Civic Hybrid owner, and am currently averaging in the high 40’s in Southern Texas, where A/C is rarely a choice so much as it is a need.

    The Prius is far superior to the Civic Hybrid in a technological sense, and is capable of mid-high 50’s with little effort. Perhaps this guy is just a serious lead-foot?

  15. 15
    paul foxcroft Says:

    I have read several long term Prius tests in automotive journals and the best overall fuel consumption was 41.3 mpg. I would be pleased to see figures showing they are wrong . Have you noticrd the 2008 Prius mpg figures have not been released. The false 2007 claims have cost a lot of U S autoworkers their jobs. I have seen the Camry hybrid has been cut from 39 mpg to 34 mpg combined. I suspect the Prius highway no. will be 45mpg.

  16. 16
    Leroy Brown Says:

    False claims? Not so much. The EPA ratings on the 2007 and previous Prius were exactly that – EPA ratings. Ratings based on an antiquated test, to be sure, but not false in any sense. With careful driving, EPA estimates are not only possible to hit, but beat.

    It’s not just hybrids that are having their EPA ratings cut – it’s every car & truck. It simply looks worse for hybrids because they get exceptionally high mileage already.

    FWIW I regularly exceed, by a wide margin, the new 2008 EPA estimates for the Civic Hybrid. During the week ( including my commute to work ), I exceed by a wide margin the 2007 EPA estimates. It’s all in how you drive… the blame does not lay in the car or the technology.

  17. 17
    Megan Says:

    If we had it in the budget, I would buy one of those new hybrid Tahoes in a heartbeat. We’re going to trade my old, powerless Camry (over 200k miles) for a SUV or truck with over 5k lb. towing capacity for our Renaissance faire business. (No, my husband’s Corolla won’t pull that trailer either, nor would a Prius or a Highlander hybrid…). I will go on the record as saying that I hate SUVs. Primarily because they’re gas-guzzlers, and at least in my area, seem to be driven exclusively by solitary, balding, business-suited jerks who want to run you off the road. But now, I find myself in the disagreeable position of actually needing that type of brute…

    However, once we’re over the initial startup costs, we should have the financial room to get a Prius (or the most ecologically friendly small car out there at the time) like I really want, and reserve the SUV for the occasional trip when my husband does installs or we need to tow stuff. His mother has a Prius, and let us borrow it while she was on vacation- even my notoriously lead-footed husband averaged 50+ mpg.

  18. 18
    Neil Johnson Says:

    funny thing is I had a 1995 Neon, base model, rack and pinion steering,1st year had a very high overdrive. Paid $2500. Never any problems. Only sold it because every site complained about reliability, had 3 since no problems with any of them. Any way the 1995 got 42 mpg all day long and I flogged the car. Never should have sold it, that was a true economy car, brakes $40 disc and rotors, even if the head gasket went it was only a $400 repair at the dealer.

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