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GM wants to be rated X -- for extra fuel economy

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When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.

That’s the approach General Motors is taking as it tries to squeeze a few more miles per gallon — and hopefully a few more sales — out of its beleaguered lineup of big pickup trucks and SUVs.

This fall, GM will introduce XFE versions (as in “xtra fuel economy”) of its full-size Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks and the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon sport utility vehicles. Using a combination of improved aerodynamics and mass-reducing aluminum parts, GM has upped the vehicles’ fuel economy ratings by one mile per gallon, to 15 MPG/city and 21 MPG/highway.

Over 100,000 miles of city driving, the difference would save 476 gallons of gasoline, or about $1,900 based on $4-a-gallon gas.

GM’s truck and SUV sales — a source of immense profits in the days of $1.50 gasoline — are down by one-fourth this year, and whether such incremental improvements will juice sales of the once-popular models is debatable.

“The effort is admirable, but I just don’t see it making a tremendous difference,” said analyst Erich Merkle of the consulting firm Crowe, Chizek and Co. “Even 21 miles per gallon/highway isn’t enough for consumers. They’re looking for something approaching 30.”

GM can boast of having the best MPG ratings in a vehicle segment not known for fuel economy. Rivals such as the Toyota Tundra and Ford F-150 pickups and the Nissan Armada and Jeep Commander SUVs get mileage in the range of 12-14 MPG/city and 17-19 MPG/highway.

With consumers clamoring for better mileage, GM apparently decided small improvements were better than none.

“We fast-tracked the XFE models to get them into dealer showrooms as quickly as possible,” said Gary White, head of GM’s full-size truck line.

GM hasn’t released pricing info on the XFE models, but a spokesman for the automaker said the difference compared with non-XFE versions will be “minimal.”

— Martin Zimmerman

Photo: The 2009 Chevy Silverado XFE. Credit: General Motors

 
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