With 100 years of production and the auto industry’s oldest continually used nameplate, the archetypal hero vehicle for General Motors’ biggest brand is a Chevrolet truck, and it’s celebrating a century on the market.
Bringing a new, full-size pickup truck from computer image to dealer showroom is an exercise in trade-offs, some of which seem impossible.
Make it bigger and brawny enough to climb Pikes Peak, but shed hundreds of pounds so it can maneuver through the skinny streets of Back Bay Boston.
Maximize the bed space, towing capacity and interior space, but make sure it is more fuel efficient.
Push out the front wheels closer to the front corners, but leave enough room for a large V8 engine to fit between the grille and the cab.
Pickup trucks are about the only segment in which the 21st Century team can still be true to GM patron saint Alfred Sloan’s mantra of delivering a vehicle “for every purse and purpose.”
See, truck owners are not a monolithic grou.
The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, unveiled Saturday night in Shed 3 of Detroit’s Eastern Market, is a family of trucks. There are eight distinct trim levels with performance options within most of those, each targeted to a different type of customer and use.
Richard Scheer, Chevy Trucks exterior design director, can explain in meticulous detail how an LT buyer is different from a Custom Trailboss buyer, or how the personality traits of LTZ owners are distinct from the uplevel High Country customer.
“Every time I would share creative concepts with customers they would always come back telling whether that would be good or bad for the type of truck they want,” Scheer said. “There isn’t just one truck customer. There are dozens.”
While trucks are arguably the most utilitarian of vehicles, their owners’ attachment is deeper than that found in most other segments. For the most part, truck owners hold onto their vehicles longer than sedan, SUV or crossover customers.
So the investment — the average new full-size pickup is selling for about $47,000 — is more like buying a house.
Bragging rights and profits
But for the Detroit Three, large pickups are the equivalent of our favorite college football teams. They are the source of bragging rights, not just for companies, but for dealers and customers.
They also are the financial linchpin for GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. Trucks generate robust profits that allow the manufacturers to invest in the artificial intelligence and sensors of the future, and acquire autonomous technology startups.
So what’s so special about the Silverado?
In contrast to Ford, which launched an all-aluminum F-150 in 2015, then broadened that application into its larger brethren, the F-250 Super Duty, GM has taken a different path to losing weight.
The Silverado embodies what GM calls its mixed materials strategy. Rather than wholesale conversion to aluminum, Silverado engineers deployed a variety of metals and methods, including hydroforming, roll forming and tailor-rolled blanking to create a truck that, on average, weighs 450 pounds less than its predecessor.
Panels that swing open — doors, hood and tailgate — are aluminum. Fixed panels such as fenders, roof and bed are conventional steel. The underlying safety cage blends seven grades of steel alloys.
The tailgate can be raised or dropped automatically.
The front suspension’s independent arms features forged aluminum. The rear suspension incorporates carbon-composite springs that cut about 12 pounds from the suspension on the 2018 model.
Neither Scheer nor other product development team members would comment on media reports that the truck might feature a carbon-fiber truck bed floor at some point. Initially, the floor of the bed will be made of a roll-formed, high-strength steel.
One clear difference from the current generation is found in the wheel wells. They are rounder and sculpted more subtly.
There are new angles that continue along the fenders into the front door panels that project a leaner look and probably improve aerodynamics.
“The styling is clearly more muscular with more free-flowing forms and lines than the typical straight-edge lines we’ve come to expect on Chevrolet pickups,” said Sam Haymart, editor of TestDrivenTV, who got a look at the truck last month at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Silverado production will begin this summer in Fort Wayne, Ind. and Silao, Mexico. The latter plant will produce the most popular Crew Cab body configuration, which accounts for about 60% of 2017 sales of Silverado and GMC Sierra.
Workers in Fort Wayne will produce the regular and double-cab versions. GM has invested about $3 billion to retool Fort Wayne, Silao and a third assembly plant in Flint, where is makes the larger 2500 version of Silverado and Sierra.
Sandor Piszar, Chevy Truck marketing director, said six engine and transmission combinations will be available for the new truck. Those include both a 6.2-liter V8 and a new Duramax 3.0-liter inline 6 diesel that will be mated with a new 10-speed transmission. There will also be a 5.3-liter V8. Both V8s will come with GM’s Dynamic Fuel Management that shuts off cylinders that aren’t needed in certain conditions in order to improve fuel economy.
The truck has grown. The driver sits about 1 inch higher than in the 2018 Silverado. The wheelbase on the Crew Cab is nearly 4 inches longer The bumper to bumper length has been extended 1.6 inches.
Serious truckers may want to measure their garages to make sure this truck will fit.
“I certainly haven’t heard anybody give us feedback that ‘I wish my full-size truck was a little bit smaller,'” Scheer said.
While final fuel economy numbers have not been released, Scheer said his team improved aerodynamics by reducing the angle of the windshield. The back of the new Crew Cab has a small spoiler. A few other subtle touches add up to less drag that combine with the lighter weight to pick up an extra mile or two per gallon.Grille character
Grilles are so integral to defining a truck’s character, much like a man’s facial hair or a football helmet’s face mask.
The WT single cab, the Custom and the Custom Trailboss all feature a more work truck visage with the “Chevrolet” etched across the middle with a smaller rendition of the brand’s bowtie emblem tucked in the left corner.
The LT, RST, LT Trailboss, LTZ and High Country all have a variety of chrome accents one the front bumper and grille, with a black or gold bowtie prominently centered.
“Chrome has become more polarizing and personal than any other aspect of truck design,” Scheer said. “Some customers want no chrome at all and only body-color or blackened trim. Others fee a truck isn’t a truck without a chrome bumper.”
The high feature packages are the LTZ and High Country add such bells and whistles as heated outside rear-view mirrors, chrome accents on the door handles and standard leather interiors. The luxury High Country comes with two-tone chrome and bronze touches on the grille and chrome assist steps along the base of the Crew Cab doors on both sides.
The head lamps on the up-market trim levels are notably thinner and more angular than what is found on the 2018 Silverado.
Connectivity includes the latest iteration of GM’s 4G LTE wireless capability. The new Marketplace app will be available. That feature allows drivers to buy coffee, donuts, make restaurant and hotel reservations from the road using a dashboard touchscreen.
Silverado’s most attractive feature may simply be that it, along with Fiat Chrysler’s new Ram, reminds us that our hearts will always respond to the emotional tug and utilitarian heft we draw from these Clydesdales of mobility.
Self-driving robo-taxis may be on the horizon, but for the moment just climb into the mammoth cabin, throw your toolbox in back and go to work.
Contact Greg Gardner: 313-222-8848 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregGardner12
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