While SUVs have garnered most of the spotlight, pickups have been building momentum at a frantic pace over the last several years and, barring a complete economic meltdown or a surge past $4 a gallon for gas, few expect to see demand for those tough trucks taper off anytime soon.
So, General Motors’ timing could be particularly fortuitous as it prepares to roll out complete makeovers of its full-size pickup line-up. The process begins with the unveiling of the all-new, 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 at this week’s North American International Auto Show – and will continue when the Silverado HD and GMC Sierra pickups make their debut later this year.
“These are arguably the most important products in the Chevrolet portfolio,” said Global Chevrolet chief Alan Batey, as the new Silverado rolled onto the stage in front of a packed crowd at Detroit’s Eastern Market Saturday night.
“Products,” not “product,” as Chevy will bring eight different versions of the half-ton Silverado to market, from the basic Work Truck version to the heavily outfitted High Country edition.
“Trucks are a very complicated business,” noted Batey, adding that there is “no segment where buyers use them for more different purposes,” or expect more personalized choices.
(Chevrolet offered an early sneak peek at the new Silverado. Click Here for the story.)
Whichever model a buyer opts for, the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado has gone through a number of changes. The outgoing pickup was a solid and well-rated truck but often faulted for its lackluster design. Not so the new model which features a more stylish exterior, including a bold new grille, slit-like headlamps and more dynamic details like twin chromed exhaust pipes.
Aerodynamics played a critical role in the development process, as well, with such details as air curtains designed to reduce turbulence around the front wheels, and a spoiler at the back of the cab that keeps wind from swirling around the truck bed. All told, wind resistance is down 7%, according to Mike Simcoe, GM’s global design director, which translates into improved fuel economy and lower wind noise.
Mileage once was an afterthought for truck buyers but it has become a critical part of the buying equation today, studies show. And GM has addressed that in a number of ways.
For one thing, it has used a mix of materials, including lightweight aluminum, to slash 450 pounds off the weight of the 2019 Silverado. Aluminum is used for the doors, hood and a few other bits that don’t get much abuse, noted Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development. But the automaker opted for new, ultra-strong steel alloys for things like the truck bed, insisting it was tougher and less prone to dings and even tears or punctures.
GM has run a series of video spots blasting rival Ford’s decision to go with an “aluminum-intensive” truck with its latest F-Series. And Reuss took another shot during his Saturday night presentation, declaring, “I don’t think you’d get much work done with an aluminum hammer.”
GM also has taken steps to address the efficiency of the Silverado’s powertrain line-up. All told, there are six engine and transmission packages. That includes two updated V-8s, and the 5.3- and 6.2-liter engines not only are mated to fuel-sparing 10-speed automatics but they also get a breakthrough system that allows anywhere from one to seven cylinders to deactivate when power demands are light. According to one GM engineer, that could boost mileage by as much as 10%.
Ford is expected to announce it will add its first diesel package to the F-150 line during a Sunday news conference, with an anticipated EPA rating of 30 mpg on the highway. Chevy beat it to the punch by revealing plans to offer a 3.0-liter inline-six diesel for the 2019 Silverado. While Reuss declined to reveal specifications for the oil-burner, he hinted GM expects to top the 11,400-pound towing and 2,020-lb cargo capacity of the F-150. Whether it will also match the 30 mpg rating remains to be seen.
Overall, the new Silverado is bigger in almost all dimensions than the outgoing pickup. Its wheelbase is stretched 4 inches, its overall length growing 1.5 inches. It also sits about an inch higher. Those figures translate into better passenger space, front and back. The cargo bed, meanwhile, sees its maximum width grow a full 6.75 inches.
(Click Here for more about Chevy’s plans to return to the heavy-duty pickup segment.)
Chevy also has added a number of new storage compartments, including one under the back seats. And there are optional, new bins one can add over the wheel wells, a move meant to compete with the storage the Ram 1500 offers built into its back fenders.
To improve ride and handling, the bowtie brand has taken such steps as adding a secondary rear set of springs, but they’re composite, a technology borrowed, of all places, from the Chevy Corvette.
Along with adding more storage space, Chevy has upgraded the cabin of the new truck, though the basic layout of the instrument panel and center console is more of a tweak than a revolutionary upgrade, the automaker insisting owners wanted some of the rough edges polished. That includes the use of upgraded materials and improved infotainment and other technologies.
That’s especially apparent on the top-line models, like the Silverado High Country. And for good reason. Manufacturers have yet to discover the limits while pushing up-market, Ford recently adding the F-250 Limited model that starts around $94,000.
Chevy isn’t there yet. But it also hasn’t revealed the heavy-duty versions of the new truck. Those are due in March and the more upscale GMC Sierra models will follow. Few would be surprised to see GM push closer to the $100,000 mark, as well.
What’s clear is that Americans love pickups. The segment, overall, accounted for roughly 14% of the U.S. new vehicle market last year. And while that was well back from the roughly 50% share taken by utility vehicles, the country’s three best-sellers for 2017 were, in order, the Ford F-Series, the Chevrolet Silverado and Fiat Chrysler’s Ram truck. Pickups are also the most profitable products in the Big Three portfolio and the full-size models make up the last segment of the U.S. market overwhelmingly dominated by Detroit.
(To see more about Chevy’s centennial truck line-up, Click Here.)
What’s clear is that GM would love to knock down the king-of-the-hill, but few expect the Silverado to topple the F-Series anytime soon. That said, GM said it has cleared some production bottlenecks for the 2019 model and is hoping it can close the gap with Ford as it rolls out the new Silverado.