Those anticipating revolution need to look back at history.
December 17, 2012
By: Nick Saporito
Late last week General Motors took the wraps off of their 2014 full-size trucks. While not every detail was divulged during the reveal, the overall picture of the competitiveness of the company’s profit centers is coming into focus. For those diehards expecting something revolutionary from GM’s new trucks, you may want to level your expectations, because evolution was clearly the recipe here.
The fact that these trucks are largely evolutionary isn’t much of a surprise. Evolution has been the formula utilized by General Motors and others for decades when it comes to the all-important truck segment. From the GMT-400’s to the GMT-800’s and from the GMT-800’s to today’s GMT-900’s, every generation of GM truck has been a stepping stone forward – not a leap. One could argue that GM’s mentality for truck changes seems to be along the lines of, “slow and steady wins the race.”
GM’s argument for this incremental approach is one that deserves consideration. The company alleges that truck buyers aren’t looking for dramatic changes, but rather meaningful improvements across the board. Instead of whiz-bang features like push-button start, the truck buyer wants better fuel economy and bigger buttons on the dash.
So that’s exactly what GM did with these trucks.
On the outside both Silverado and Sierra have entirely need sheet metal resting atop a revised frame. Throughout development speculation circulated that the two trucks would be highly differentiated from a style perspective, but that has turned out to not be the case. Instead, Silverado and Sierra remain just as close style wise as they are today, but that’s an argument for another day.
In person both trucks look far more significant than today’s versions. The new hood is higher, almost as high as today’s heavy-duty trucks, and the quarter panels serve as a canvas for far more pronounced creases and flares. The awkwardness that plagues certain angles of the 900’s, such as the front clip and plain cab design are gone.
The front graphic of both trucks is an improvement from today’s, however the Silverado design looks as if it’s evolution started with the GMT-800 Silverado and entirely forgot today’s truck – which isn’t particularly a bad thing. From a ¾ view of the front clip, the Silverado has a striking similarity to the timeless appeal of the GMT-400 Silverado from the late 1990’s with its squared angles and stacked lamps.
While not a design decision, the 2014 trucks have also switched to in-laid doors like the rest of the truck segment. The structural change pays mostly functional dividends, but also gives the cab a tougher look than the slab-sided doors on today’s versions.
The interior of GM trucks has always been a sensitive issue, and reaction to the 2014 interior has seen no less drama. GM says that during owner clinics it became obvious to them that truck buyers don’t want a luxury car like interior, which is counter-intuitive to what the competition from Ford and Ram appear to be learning. In an era where F-150 Platinum and Ram Laramie sell in relatively high volumes (exact figures not available), it would seem having a luxury interior is a requirement in the segment.
In GM’s defense, the new interior is a huge step forward from both flavors of the current trucks’ interior. Both Silverado and Sierra have seen sizable upgrades in material quality, with the Sierra in particular utilizing a wrapped dash with semi-soft material that will likely end up as best in the segment. Seams and switchgear have also been stepped up on the quality front, with seat fabric being in the realm of a huge leap from today’s chintzy stuff.
With trucks, what really matters is capability. GM is pushing very hard to make the 2014 trucks the most capable half tons on the market. Specifically the company is expecting to have best in class V-6 torque, best in class V-6 towing and the most capable V-8 in the segment with the 6.2-liter V-8.
All three of those goals are likely feasible, at least until the competition one-up’s them. GM is rolling out an entire new line of engines in the trucks: a 4.3-liter V-6, 5.3-liter V-8 and a 6.2-liter V-8. While the displacements are the same as today, these new engines share only a handful of part numbers with today’s engine lineup. For all intents and purposes, these are all-new powertrains.
GMI recently drove engineering test trucks with the 4.3-liter V-6 and 5.3-liter V-8. While we cannot discuss our driving impressions because the trucks were engineering testers, we can confirm that the 4.3-liter V-6 feels nothing like todays. In fact, we’d slot it up there with today’s 4.8-liter V-8 in terms of how it “feels.”
As for the new 5.3-liter, well, we’ll just say that it feels more powerful than today’s version. Both engines also go into V-4 mode more than today’s Vortec engines.
All three engines will be mated to GM’s six-speed automatic transmissions. Many were expecting eight-speed units to rival what Ram is already doing, but the bottom line is fairly straightforward…GM’s eight-speeds simply are not ready. GMI fully expects eights to arrive in the trucks in the near future, however.
So, GM gave their latest trucks a new design, all-new engines, a revised chassis and a fairly decent list of new features. In the words of Jeff Luke, executive engineer for GM trucks, “there are improvements across the board, with several significant improvements.”
GM applied the formula we’ve seen a dozen times in the truck segment: evolution. We saw this level of change between the 2008 and 2009 F-150, and between the last two iterations of the Ram 1500. We’re now seeing it between the 2013 and 2014 GM trucks.
Is it enough? We’ll have to wait until we spend more time driving them (and can report back), but its probably fair to say that the 2014 Silverado and Sierra will be the leaders of the pack for the first few months. The key for GM will be to keep improving the trucks because the competition is not sitting still and the bar is constantly rising.
More 2014 Truck Information