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The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid: Great Idea, but Not Good Enough

Back in 2007, when oil was pushing $100 a barrel and the Toyota Prius hybrid had cemented itself as a driveway mainstay for every celebrity who wanted to feel like they were making a difference, General Motors took a good, hard look at two of the most inefficient vehicles in their lineup and decided to give them the hybrid treatment. That’s right: GM thought their best bet for making their big entrance into the hybrid market was to utilize the Chevy Tahoe, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Pre-bailout GM must have been one crazy place to work.

In order to create the Tahoe, Yukon and Escalade Hybrids, Chevy used a combination of a 6.0-liter V8 and two 80-horsepower electric motors with a 300-volt battery. These motors were managed by a 2-mode system (developed in concert with BMW) that constantly switched between electricity and gasoline to choose the best power source. Like most hybrids, the Tahoe and Escalade Hybrids utilize regenerative braking — but they can also use the engine to charge the battery. And unlike the Prius, the Tahoe, Yukon and Escalade Hybrids were able to run entirely on electric power up to 30 miles per hour. GM’s hybrid SUVs could even tow 6,200 pounds.

All this fuel-efficient technology came together to give GM’s hybrids a huge bump in gas mileage. The increase was almost 30 percent, from 16 miles per gallon around town in the conventional versions to 21 mpg in the hybrid models. In fact, that bump will save more gas annually than the bump from 30 to 39 mpg that you’d see by switching from a standard Camry to a Camry Hybrid. Take that, hippies!

So, why didn’t it sell?

For one, even though the fuel savings were significant, a Tahoe that gets 21 mpg doesn’t sound that great to most people. Anyone who’s lived with a Tahoe, an Escalade, a Yukon or a Suburban would take notice — but in a world where hybrids get 50 mpg, the rest of us just weren’t that impressed. It’s the same reason why 0-to-60 times are important: People care about numbers and not much about context. GM’s hybrid SUVs were also pricey. While a normal Tahoe LS started at $36,500, the Tahoe Hybrid started at $50,500, which didn’t help its case with a segment of the population that didn’t really care THAT much about fuel economy in the first place.

More importantly, GM’s hybrid SUVs came out at the worst possible time — right at the beginning of a recession (when people aren’t buying big SUVs) and just as gas prices started to sink (when people aren’t buying hybrid cars). At one point in early 2009, with the recession in full swing, average U.S. gas prices sunk below $1.60 a gallon. That’s not exactly the time to spend $50,000 on a full-size hybrid SUV.

Public opinion aside, GM’s hybrid SUVs were very impressive vehicles, but they came out at the wrong time. In the end, GM ended up discontinuing them after the 2013 model year. With that said, they’re easy to find on the used market, as you can choose from more than 300 currently listed on AutotraderFind a Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid for sale

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  1. GM has had worse. The 2004-2007 Silverado Hybrid is not even a hybrid. It has the standard 5.3 liter v8, 4L60E automatic, but it has a starter/generator in the bellhousing of the transmission, and a 42 volt battery bank under the rear seat. All this “hybrid” did was add a start-stop feature that shuts off the engine when stopped, and restarts it when you take your foot of the brake. It was not able to be powered by electric motors, all of the power going to the wheels came from the gas engine. Not exactly a hybrid if you ask me. 

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