General Motors is again testing the waters to determine how strong demand might be for mild-hybrid versions of its 1500 Series of full-size pickup trucks. It plans to offer 700 of these units – 500 Chevrolet Silverado and 200 GMC Sierra rear-drive models -- with eAssist 5.3-liter V8 engines and 8-speed automatic transmissions, but only through dealers in the state of California. GM says the eAssist trucks are expected to achieve 13 percent better fuel economy in city driving and raise their overall EPA stats from 16 city/22 highway/18 combined to 18/22/20 mpg. 

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Offered on 1LT-trim Silverado Crew Cabs and Sierra SLT Crew Cabs with the Premium Plus package, the new eAssist system costs $500 and uses technology culled from the 2016 Malibu Hybrid and Volt. The system weighs just 100 pounds and consists of an electric motor fed by a 0.45kWh lithium-ion battery pack under the center console (or front bench seat) capable of adding an extra 13 horsepower and 44 lb-ft of torque for short periods to improve acceleration. The system includes Start/Stop technology and Active Fuel Management on the engine that shuts down four cylinders under light load and uses the motor as a generator to replenish the battery under braking. Both of these eAssist trucks also feature aero enhancements that include active grille shutters and a soft tonneau cover on the bed.

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This marks the third time that GM has attempted to bring some form of hybrid power to its full-size pickups. The first also was a “light-hybrid” setup available on the 2005-2007 Silverado/Sierra followed by a full Two-Mode Hybrid system offered on 2009-2013 models, but both were considerably more expensive than this new eAssist system and neither enjoyed much success. In addition to its far more attractive price, GM notes the latest iteration eAssist package also is far more modular than its predecessor and could easily be adapted to other non-truck applications in the future. As for what lies ahead on the Silverado/Sierra front, GM says it will monitor customer feedback to these initial eAssist trucks when the vehicles go on sale this summer and adjust 2017 production and distribution numbers based on that data.

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