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Friday
Dec142012

GM's Darwinian 2014 Silverado and Sierra 1500s

By Christopher A. Sawyer

This week GM introduced the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 pickups, and not a moment too soon. (The 2500 models were revised in 2011.) Plagued by a nearly 130-day supply of the 2012 models on dealer lots, GM stood to lose customers to the refreshed Ford F-150 and new Ram 1500. Now it has the opportunity to sell off the backlog of old trucks with sliding scale incentives, and keep fence sitters on the fence until the new trucks arrive.

Under the Hood

Central to any pickup launch these days is fuel efficiency, specifically the option of an efficient but capable V6 engine. Ford has seen its EcoBoost and naturally aspirated V6s take more than 40% of F-150 sales, and Chrysler has added its Pentastar V6 to the Ram. Chevy and GMC needed a modern motor to combat these threats, and took the opportunity to revise all its light-duty pickup engines and place them under the EcoTec3 banner.

All EcoTec3 engines feature direct injection, cylinder deactivation and continuously variable valve timing, and share only a handful of parts with their predecessors. The EcoTec3 family includes a 4.3-liter V6 and 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V8s, mated to six-speed transmissions with Auto Grade Braking. This causes the engine to downshift on downhill sections to reduce brake wear. GM claims the combustion chambers of the engines were iterated more than 100 times in computer-aided design and engineering software, with the combustion process taking 6 million of the 10 million hours of computational CPU time spent on the engines. output and EPA fuel economy ratings will be released early next year.

The new engines have a minimum 11.0:1 compression ratio, and can reduce the numbers of cylinders in use to four under low-load conditions. GM claims both greater efficiency, and less need to reduce spark advance under load to control detonation. In addition, hydrocarbon emissions are reduced by about 25% during cold starts. These engines also feature aluminum blocks with cast-in iron cylinder liners, aluminum heads, cross-bolted main bearing caps, a structural aluminum oil pan, variable displacement oil pump, piston cooling oil jets, an air induction humidity sensor, individual ignition coils, and greater oil capacity. The 4.3-liter V6 now uses six quarts of oil, while the V8s take eight. GM specifies its “Dexos” oil, with high-viscosity 0W/20 used in the V8s. Models with the 6.2L V-8 use active noise cancellation to reduce cabin noise during four-cylinder mode.

Body

The 2014 models look different yet familiar, boasting a lower drag coefficient and more sculpted body panels. There are tighter seals up front to improve engine cooling, a roof and tailgate spoiler for reduced drag, and inlaid doors that fit into recesses in the body to reduce wind noise. Two-thirds of the cab’s structure (A- and B-pillars, roof rails and rockers) is made from high-strength steel, and the main rails and some cross members of the redesigned frame are also made from this steel and, in some cases, hydroformed to cut mass while increasing strength. Extended and crew-cab models get a third set of hydraulic body mounts—in addition to the new shear-style mounts used across the lineup—to improve isolation from the frame.

Roll-formed steel makes up the pickup bed, and there is a step built into the corner of every bumper that combines with handholds built into the box rail protectors to ease entry into the bed. GM also is offering the option of upper tie-down hooks, an “EZ Lift and Lower” tailgate and LED under-rail bed lighting. In addition, the 1500 crew cab models are available with a six-foot six-inch bed, a full 10-in longer than the previous model’s longest pickup box.

Interior

According to GM, crew cabs account for more than two-thirds of all light-duty pickup sales as these vehicles are used by their owners for both work and family duties. This meant designing an interior that is better built, more luxurious, and still easy to use in a work setting. Somewhat surprisingly, it also resulted in an interior that is more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Current Silverado and Sierra owners will be familiar with the new models’ upright instrument panel, six-gauge instrument cluster, and column shifter with tap-up/tap-down and tow-haul functions. Most models also get a 4.2-in display for vehicle and infotainment information. Important controls are placed close to the driver, grouped functionally, and located within optimal “reach curves”. Knobs, buttons and screen interfaces have been enlarged to make it possible to use these controls with work gloves on.

Suspension, Steering, Brakes

Again, more evolution than revolution takes place here. The coil-over-shock front suspension gets aluminum upper and lower control arms on most models, and 30% stiffer springs. Two-stage multi-leaf springs, revised spring bushings and twin-tube shocks (used front and rear), round out the changes. Monotube Rancho shocks are part of the off-road suspension, as is Hill Descent Control. Electrically assisted power steering reduces steering effort at low speeds, and reduces fuel consumption and maintenance needs.

Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, and feature a hardened surface that resists rusting. Potentially, this can double the life of the rotors. Auto Grade Braking uses the powertrain controller to determine when the transmission needs to downshift in order to slow the truck on a long grade to reduce brake wear. Brake pedal feel also has been improved.

Safety

The new pickups’ electronic stability control system has integrated trailer sway control to keep towed items in line at speed. Hill Start Assist is standard on all models. The trucks also will offer Lane Departure Warning with two available modes of warning. Standard is an audible warning. Otherwise the buyer can order a Safety Alert Seat that, like in a Cadillac, vibrates the seat on the side toward which the truck is drifting. Front and rear park assist, a tailgate-mounted rear vision camera, a rearview mirror-mounted camera-based Forward Collision Alert system, and outside mirrors with blind spot inserts also are offered.

The Silverado and Sierra go into production in the first quarter of 2013, and should help shore up GM’s light truck sales. Unless, of course, this latest increase in car and truck sales is being driven by concerns about fiscal cliffs and rising tax rates. If that’s the case, the incentives GM has on its current light-duty trucks may have to be transferred to its new ones, and that could have a huge impact on its bottom line.

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