GM Workers Prepare to Build Hybrid Pickups
ers at General Motors Corp.'s Fort Wayne Assembly Plant will get hands-on experience making the company's first hybrid vehicle next month as they prepare for its production in October.
The plant employs about 3,000 workers making Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups.
The company plans to break into the hybrid vehicle business with Flex Power models of the Silverado Fleetside and Sierra Wideside.
In September, the plant will make a pilot version of the pickups to train workers who will be assembling it and to "look at the overall build process," said spokesman Gerry King.
"It runs down the same assembly line as all the other vehicles. It's just different components that go in at the various stations," he said.
New components that go into the Flex Power models will be assembled "in the middle of the process that happens on our chassis line."
During the last year, four bays totaling 8,100 square feet were added to the north side of the plant's general assembly building. The plant also rearranged its trim line and final line to prepare for Flex Power model production.
Next month's work on the pilot will provide an opportunity to check and adjust "how the new equipment fits in, how it gets attached, how things go together," King said.
For competitive reasons, GM won't disclose full production volume projections for the hybrid trucks.
Production volumes will be low during the first months the plant is assembling the hybrid trucks, so it will not require many additional employees at first, King said.
The first hybrid trucks off the assembly line will be sold to fleet customers, and GM has not priced the vehicles. The Flex Power models will appear in dealerships in 2005.
The hybrid trucks will be up to 12 percent more fuel efficient without sacrificing performance or towing or hauling capability, said Sharon Basel, a product communications manager for full-size trucks at GM.
"The engine shuts off when you come to a stop, and when you take your foot off the break, it starts back up again," she said. "Fuel efficiency is going to be more pronounced if you do a lot of city driving."
A new, engine-independent, electro-hydraulic power steering system provides power steering in Flex Power pickups even when the engine shuts off to conserve fuel.
Fast, quiet engine starts in the hybrid trucks are provided by a direct drive electric motor, without any gears. The new starter generator replaces a conventional starter motor and alternator.
The starter generator smooths out any driveline surges; generates electrical current to charge batteries and run auxiliary power outlets; and provides coast-down regenerative breaking to aid fuel economy.
The regenerative breaking capability allows energy to be recovered from the vehicle's inertia when a driver lifts off the accelerator pedal while coasting or breaking.
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