A few years ago, General Motors sold hybrid versions of its Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. They weren't very good, using GM's old two-mode hybrid system that resulted in only negligible fuel economy gains. But GM's trying again, launching eAssist models of the 2016 Silverado and Sierra that are said to offer 2-mpg improvements in city, highway, and combined fuel economy ratings. Problem is, you probably won't be able to get one.

Only 700 eAssist trucks will be made for the 2016 model year – 500 Silverados and 200 Sierras. When you consider that GM moved 824,683 examples of its light-duty pickups in 2015, this small run represents 0.08-percent of all Silverado/Sierra production, and GM says it "will monitor the market closely ... and adjust as appropriate moving forward." But that's not the only limitation.

Chevy SilveradoThe eAssist trucks will only be sold through California dealers. For the Silverado, eAssist can only be optioned on the 1500 Crew Cab 1LT 2WD model, and for the Sierra, the fuel-saving technology is solely available on the 1500 SLT Crew Cab 2WD model with the SLT Premium Plus package. Granted, in terms of the Sierra, that means you get niceties like LED headlights and taillights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose premium audio, heated seats and steering wheel, lane keep assist, and more.

In the trucks, eAssist combines a small electric motor and 0.45-kWh battery pack with the pickups' 5.3-liter V8. GM estimates total output of 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque – no more horsepower than the non-eAssist trucks, but three more pound-feet of torque. GM says the eAssist trucks can tow up to 9,400 pounds, and the battery only adds 100 pounds to the trucks' weight.

The electric motor provides 13 hp and 44 lb-ft of torque for a boost of acceleration off the line, or during passing. It also allows the engine to run in four-cylinder mode for longer periods of time. eAssist uses regenerative braking to help power onboard electrical systems, and adds start/stop to the powertrain. Finally, the so-equipped trucks have a six-percent improvement in aerodynamics, thanks to a soft tonneau cover and active grille shutters in the front fascia.

Great news is, the eAssist option is relatively inexpensive, only costing $500. But good luck getting your hands on one.

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Technologically advanced premium truck offers greater efficiency, capability

DETROIT – Building on GMC Sierra's advanced powertrain technologies, new eAssist technology enhances its position as one of the industry's most innovative and capable trucks, helping it achieve up to 13 percent greater city fuel economy – and solidifying its segment-best ranking for V8 efficiency.

Starting this spring, the new eAssist system is exclusively available on the already well-equipped 2016 Sierra 1500 SLT crew cab 2WD model with the SLT Premium Plus package. For 2016, we will monitor the market closely, producing 200 Sierra eAssist models for California, and adjust as appropriate moving forward.

"Innovative technology that enhances capability is at the core of everything we do at GMC and the new Sierra with eAssist takes it to a higher level," said Duncan Aldred, vice president of GMC Sales and Marketing. "Its advantages are delivered in a compromise-free package that enables real-world fuel savings with premium content that provides a very high level of refinement, comfort and connectivity."

Compared to a comparable Sierra 1500 with a 5.3L/eight-speed powertrain, the Sierra with eAssist offers an EPA-estimated 18 mpg city – a 2-mpg improvement – while highway fuel economy improves 2 mpg to 24 mpg. The combined estimate improves 2 mpg to 20 mpg. The 5.3L eAssist V8 has a GM estimated 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque.

The new eAssist powertrain is available in the Sierra SLT crew cab with the up-level Premium Plus package, a package that is also available with the standard 5.3L non- eAssist engine and the 6.2L V8 engine. The SLT Premium Plus package includes an extensive list of premium technologies and features:

- High-performance LED headlamps, LED taillamps and thin-profile LED foglamps
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility (subject to their terms, privacy statements and data plan rates, as well as a compatible smartphone)
- IntelliLink with navigation and 8-inch-diagonal color touch screen
- Bose premium audio system
- Wireless phone charging
- Heated and vented leather-appointed seats
- Heated steering wheel
- Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision Alert
- IntelliBeam headlamps
- Front and Rear Park Assist
- Rear Vision camera.

The max trailering rating is 9,400 lbs. and the Eaton locking rear differential is standard, for sure-footed traction on slippery surfaces.

eAssist details

The Sierra's eAssist powertrain is a light electrification system leveraging General Motors' latest electrification technologies. It builds on the advanced technologies of the 5.3L V8 engine, including direct injection, variable valve timing and Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation), complementing them with a compact lithium-ion battery pack to enhance efficiency through:

Stop/Start capability: Additional fuel savings are achieved by turning off the engine when stopped at a stop light or heavy traffic and restarting the engine when the driver lifts his or her foot from the brake pedal

Electric power boost: The on-board electric motor provides a power boost during acceleration and passing, while enabling the engine to operate in four-cylinder mode for longer periods, for additional fuel savings

Regenerative braking: By using the on-board electric motor as a generator, the energy recovered while braking is converted to electricity to recharge the onboard battery system

Aero enhancements: A 6 percent improvement in aerodynamics contributes to fuel economy due to a standard soft tonneau cover and automatic grille shutters, which can close at speeds over 30 mph in order to further reduce drag and fuel consumption.

The eAssist system includes a 24-cell, air-cooled 0.45 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, located under the center console (or front bench seat). It adds only about 100 pounds to the vehicle's curb weight.

A compact induction motor, located on the accessory drive, provides 15 kW of peak regenerative capability, thanks to advanced software controls based on the Chevrolet Volt. It performs like an electric torque booster, providing up to 44 lb-ft (60 Nm) and up to 13 hp (9.7 kW) of additional boost in high load situations. There's also a liquid-cooled power inverter module located under the hood.

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