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Why the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid must exist, by GM

Published: 18 March 2008

We have one question as Dave Schiavone, product manager for Escalade takes CAR for exclusive drive in the new Escalade Hybrid. Why? In fact, why oh why? Surely anyone who cares about the environment or wants improved mpg will simply buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient car?

'I wouldn’t start from there if I were you,' explains Schiavone. 'The person who buys this car wants an Escalade. They want the size, the presence, the bling, the sheer pleasure of owning an Escalade, but now they can do it guilt-free.'

The biggest, baddest Caddy is the best-seller in the range in countries including China, Russia and the Middle East. It’s also proving popular in France and Spain. Schiavone says: 'Sales outside the States are going crazy.'  They also continue to climb in the States: just 20,000 were sold in 2000, in 2007 that figure was 61,000.

Schiavone says: 'When I see one, I love to cruise up and see who’s in it. It can be a suburban Mom, a rapper, a footballer, a contractor. The average age for the ESV (a stretched Escalade!) is 46.' 

The Hybrid version uses the same Two-mode Hybrid system as the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Suburban. These giants are favored by the many Americans who tow trailers and boats and moms who take turns to shift three families’ worth of kids and kit to football. Down-sizing is simply not regarded as an option.

The ‘Two-mode’ name confuses us, because it seems to have at least four or five modes. Up to 30mph it’s driven by an electric motor, then the 6.0-litre petrol V8 kicks in and the two work in tandem; but the engine’s active fuel management system also shuts down half its cylinders whenever it doesn’t need the full team. If you’re making a high-speed overtaking manoeuvre, then all eight cylinders and the electric motor pull together to give maximum acceleration. If you’re hauling uphill, or driving at high speed for a long time, though, the electric motor has to bow out because you’re not doing enough braking and decelerating to charge the battery.

The technology is impressive. The sat-nav screen has an option to show you the power switching constantly from one source to another without the driver feeling or hearing a thing. The only time you know you’re in a hybrid is when you come to a stoplight and everything goes quiet.

The hybrid system adds 400lbs (181kg) in weight, mainly from the battery beneath the second row of seats. So, in the Yukon and Suburban, some electric conveniences have been stripped out to keep them within their existing weight categories. The words Cadillac and sacrifice don’t go well in the same sentence, though, so the Escalade keeps everything, including its power tailgate and running boards. It just gets even lardier at two and a half tonnes.

Despite this, the 2WD model has 50 percent better fuel consumption in the city and around 25% percent combined. We were given the impression it wasn’t much improved on fast roads, however, and the saving isn’t as good in the 4WD. During our 25-mile test drive, our two-wheel drive car returned 21.8mpg and Schiavone seemed pleased. He says: 'People want to point a gun at SUVs, but we at GM have put hybrids on the vehicles that use the most fuel.'

Would diesel be a better idea? Not in the near future it seems. Schiavone says: 'GM believes in electrically driven vehicles and ‘range-extended electric vehicles’ (such as the Volt).' He reckons there may be a diesel hybrid eventually.

Cadillac will also offer customers the chance to downsize. Schiavone confirms there will be another 3-series saloon to replace the BLS, and eventually an SUV of between X5 and X3 size.