Piecing together the pickup-truck puzzle

Piecing together the pickup-truck puzzle

ROCKY GAP, MD. When it comes to pickups, all the world-class engineering in the world will only matter to buyers if these vehicles can deliver the right “feeling” to the driver at the wheel—especially since these users demand more capability than ever from these work trucks

Click the photo to visit a photo gallery from the GM Ride and Drive event.

ROCKY GAP, MD. When it comes to pickups, all the world-class engineering in the world will only matter to buyers if these vehicles can deliver the right “feeling” to the driver at the wheel—especially since these users demand more capability than ever from these work trucks.

“At the end of the day, all that really matters is the customer’s perception,” Brent Deep, a Development Engineer, Full-size HD Pickups, told FleetOwner at a media ride-and-drive event held here to showcase the OEM’s new 2011 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup truck lines.

( See a photo gallery of the event)

“For example, you can have the numbers in terms of where the [automatic] transmission shifts for the best fuel economy or performance, but if the customer doesn’t like the ‘feeling’ he or she gets from those shift points, none of those numbers matter – they won’t like the truck,” he stressed.

It’s those little details, added Deep, that make all the difference in the world. “We’re talking about small changes in the software to alter vehicle parameters,” he said. “Take our exhaust brake. Having the turbocharger cycle on and off during exhaust braking is annoying, so instead we leave it on through the braking cycle. We’re constantly tweaking little things like this all of the time, to keep fuel economy, performance, and drivability in the best possible balance.”

Getting all the components on a pickup to work smoothly, in harmony, isn’t easy. For instance, Gary Arvan, chief engineer for GM’s Duramax diesel engine, told FleetOwner that 25,000 different calibrations are now loaded into the Duramax’s electronic control module (ECU) to provide the best fuel economy, horsepower and torque covering a wide range of vehicle operation modes.

(Watch Gary Arvan discuss the Duramax diesel engine)

“You can’t have compromises,” he explained. “We’re offering greater durability and reliability – aiming for at least 200,000 miles of original engine life – along with more horsepower, torque, and an 11% improvement in highway fuel mileage. This is an evolution in our product because the customer demands more capability from their trucks today.”

Tony Truelove, Chevrolet Silverado Marketing Manager, said that much of the extra functionality being packed into heavy-duty pickups these days – from trailer sway control, hill start assist, automatic grade braking and intelligent brake assist to Wi Fi that turns the vehicle into a mobile live Internet connection – is there because pickup customers are demanding more “purposeful technology” to make their jobs easier.

He also noted that “heavy-duty” pickups, which include ¾ and 1-ton models, account for roughly 25% to 30% of all pickup truck sales. “Heavy-duty sales have been a little slower to recover than lighter-duty pickups,” he said. “Large numbers of heavy-duty owners tend to be self-employed in markets such as construction, so they are keeping their current trucks longer as they wait for the economy to recover more fully.”

Truelove said GM believes its market share in ¾ ton pickups is around 45%, with its 1-ton share hovering near 28% – a figure the company hopes will increase as the new 2011 models roll out.

The trick to doing that, of course, is not only delivering a better product but one that is affordable as well – despite the extra costs required by 2010 diesel engine emission mandates.

(Watch video of the GM HD pickup frames)

Base pricing for Chevrolet’s 2011 Silverado HD – offered in Work Truck, LT and LTZ trim levels starts at $27,965, which excludes a $995 destination charge. An upgrade to the Duramax diesel engine and Allison 1000 six-speed transmission combination runs $8,395 – the same amount as in 2010, GM stressed. Silverado HD production delivery to dealers is expected in early June.

The GMC 2011 Sierra HD will also begin arriving to dealerships in June. Its base price is set at $27,965, excluding a $995 destination charge for the 2500 regular cab 2WD model. The same $8,395 fee applies for the Duramax engine/Allison transmission option. The luxury-trim Sierra Denali HD, however, will start at $45,865, excluding destination fee.
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