GM vans, pickups get down to business

DETROIT. Encouraged by its ongoing corporate turnaround and convinced that pent-up demand for light-duty trucks by businesses small and large is growing, GM is markedly increasing the commercial content of its cargo vans, cutaway vans and heavy-duty pickups for the 2011 model year

DETROIT. Encouraged by its ongoing corporate turnaround and convinced that pent-up demand for light-duty trucks by businesses small and large is growing, GM is markedly increasing the commercial content of its cargo vans, cutaway vans and heavy-duty pickups for the 2011 model year.

Key van upgrades include availability of CNG and LPG power, a new 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel, standard StabiliTrak electronic stability control and an optional telematics system. Heavy-duty pickups are gaining higher payload and trailering ratings

During a product preview held here this week on historic Belle Isle, GM’s Fleet & Commercial Operations (FCO) executives detailed a range of product developments coming to market within a few months.

Drawing the most immediate and loudest applause from fleet and commercial customers and dealers on hand was the announcement that GM will offer optional dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) power for its Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana full-size vans and dedicated liquefied petroleum gas (LPG or propane) engines for its Express/Savana cutaway models.

The CNG engine for cargo vans will hit the market this Fall and the LPG engine for cutaways will be out early next year, according to GM. The dedicated engine conversions will be completed by “second stage” upfitters, but all these engines will be covered by GM's limited new vehicle warranty, which includes a 5-year/100,000 mile transferable powertrain limited warranty.

“We’re listening to our fleet customers and dealers about offering options that help them achieve their business objectives”, said Brian Small, gm of FCO. “The industry commitment to expand the CNG and LPG infrastructure in key fleet markets was an enabler to allowing us to introduce these options now.”

The base engine for CNG and LPG conversion is GM’s Vortec 6.0-liter V8 engine. But GM pointed out that the basic engine receives hardened exhaust valves and intake and exhaust valve seats for improved wear resistance and durability for use with gaseous fuel systems. Along with dedicated gaseous fuel injection and fuel storage systems, both the CNG and LPG systems are fully integrated into the vehicle, and will be emissions-certified by both EPA and CARB.

“We’ve made choosing a CNG or LPG van easier for our customers,” said Joyce Mattman, director of GM FCO’s commercial products & specialty vehicles. “No other manufacturer offers a commercial CNG or LPG option that provides a solution with this level of support and availability.”

Though initially rolled out earlier this year, 2011 GMC Sierra heavy-duty pickups now boast increased towing and payload ratings, thanks to acting on the results of ongoing development and testing, noted Mattman. “These spec changes make them the most capable and powerful heavy-duty pickups in the segment.” The ratings have been increased to 21,700 lbs for towing and 6,635 lbs for payload.

A new telematics offering—dubbed Business Bridge—was developed by FCO specifically with fleet owners in mind. It integrates specific vehicle operational and maintenance data into a fleet’s own internal management systems for further analysis and action., according to GM. Business Bridge leverages the integrated Vehicle Communications Platform (VCP), factory installed in the vehicle, to monitor, store, transmit and receive data deemed essential to fleet vehicle monitoring.

“We created this technology with our fleet customers in mind after numerous one-on-one discussions with end-users and fleet management companies,” said FCO’s Mattman. “It became apparent that the smart thing was to provide raw data and allow our customers with existing systems, staffs and relationships to analyze the data in a meaningful way” for their operations.

Mattman said Business Bridge will initially be offered in a basic package starting in June. It will provide “raw data” about each vehicle in the fleet, including vehicle mileage, percent of oil life remaining, Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) from the engine and transmission modules, and tire pressures (both actual and recommended). An enhanced package will be available in the fall and will offer additional data.

“This is an exciting new territory to be working in,” added Mattman. “Today’s technology is allowing us to provide our customers with more services than ever before.”

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