Reports about GM's new pickup truck powertrain lineup and subsequent strategies are beginning to ramp up. We've seen and heard from several sources who can't help themselves from speculating what type of engines will be under the hoods of the new 2014 Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras.
GM North American President Mark Reuss has gone on record saying a diesel option is one of the powertrain choices being considered for the new full-size trucks. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if he's being this vague so late in the game, there probably won't be anything new in the new 1500 out of the gate. But the possibility exists that if one of the other competitors does something drastic, like offering a small diesel in a half-ton, GM will likely have something in the works to compete.
For now, at least from the various spy photos we've seen, the only truck maker close to having a small turbo-diesel to market is Ram, with its prototypes running around Michigan. The spy photographers have done a great job of following certain test trucks into the fuel stations and catching the drivers using diesel nozzles. Another telltale sign: There seems to be sooty particulate buildup around the bumpers and tailpipe.
Regardless of how close the Ram 1500 diesel engine is to reaching production — and with the 2013 model just around the corner, we're guessing not too likely for this next model year — the biggest hurdle with these more complicated and emissions-complex engine systems is cost. And nothing makes that point better than Ford's popular and powerful EcoBoost engine, which, in most cases, is about a $1,000 option — and in some cases even less. Now add the fact that diesel fuel is not always less expensive (and in some cases it still costs more than regular), and the tipping point for most buyers to invest the extra $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 for a diesel (and likely a new transmission) is not there.
Reuss has continued to say he likes GM's two-truck strategy, where the smaller, lighter and more nimble Chevy Colorado will be able to satisfy truck buyers who don't have half-ton-truck work needs and where fuel economy is a much higher priority, as well as having the larger half-ton option. Whether or not that means the little trucks will get a new set of small turbo-diesel or turbocharged engines — and it seems GM has access to some pretty good ones from around the globe — remains to be seen. As for the larger trucks, we're thinking GM is more likely to take a more balanced (just don't call it less risky) approach to its powertrains.
With all the attention the past several years paid to high-performance gasoline engine technology in order to squeeze out higher horsepower numbers and better fuel economy, we can't help but think that practically nothing has been done to GM's aging and often ignored Vortec 4.3-liter V-6. This engine has been in just about everything truck and SUV GM has offered over the past few decades, yet it suffers from a lot of old technology. What if you add direct injection, some overhead cams, some sophisticated intake and exhaust variable valve timing and, just to make it interesting, just maybe offer it with a turbo option?
Clearly, GM is comfortable with turbo technology on modern engines. (You could even offer a four-cylinder turbo version for a smaller truck.) Having a standard or (non-turbo) and performance (single or twin turbo) version of a new Vortec 4.3-liter V-6 could make a lot of sense for a truck-making company worried about the upcoming fuel economy regulation hurdles and still stay true to the company's performance heritage.
Of course, we wouldn't expect GM to show all its cards when the new truck powertrain lineup shows up, but we're guessing they will have a few surprises. Whether that includes turbos on smaller, more fuel-efficent gas or diesel engines would require us to do even more speculation (and there's a lot of speculation here). Still, any one of those choices would make Ford and Ram reconsider their decisions to dump their smaller pickups for the U.S. market, and that could put an entirely new set of options on the table for us down the road. We'll see.