By Gary Witzenburg
(Editor's note: In honor of the fact that GM will be coming to market with an all-new light-duty pickup truck next year, we thought we'd take a look back at the two most recent versions of the Chevrolet Silverado model: the GMT800 and GMT900.)
When Jeff Luke was promoted to chief engineer for the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra in 2004, GM’s engineering program for the next-generation GMT900 pickups was just ramping up. We recently asked him what needed to be done to keep those trucks ahead of – or at least fully competitive with -- the fast-improving competition from Ford, Dodge, Toyota and Nissan.
“We continued to be extremely mindful of mass,” he says, “and we were thinking about fuel economy. We came up with Active Fuel Management, which at the time we called “cylinder deactivation,” a big fuel economy enabler. We believed that was a very important purchase consideration even though fuel was maybe $1.50 a gallon.”
What was at the top of his team’s priority list in designing and developing those trucks? “Fuel efficiency was important,” he says. “Aerodynamics, mechanical losses, tire rolling resistance -- without giving up any stopping or handling capability in wet and snow. Also great styling. Those were among the fundamentals in my book.”
When those new trucks came out, what was significantly better about them compared to their predecessors, and the competition? “I think the value proposition,” Luke says. “The balance of ensuring great QRD [quality, reliability and durability], styling, performance, fuel economy, safety, ride, handling, towing, hauling and payload capabilities, NVH [noise, vibration and harshness] and the technologies we employed. We met that balance very well. Also important were the two new interior designs.”
The Best Yet
When the new 2007 Silverados arrived in fall 2006 (the heavy-duty models followed in early 2007), one of the most significant features was two different interiors. A rugged, functional “work truck” cabin was standard, and top-line LTZs got a plush, upscale version like the one in Chevy’s most luxurious Tahoe and Suburban SUVs.
“Silverado has always been the most dependable, longest-lasting pickup truck, and the 2007 lineup extends that legacy with industry-leading advancements in capability, quality, safety and fuel economy,” said Chevrolet general manager Ed Peper at the Silverado's press introduction in 2007. “Our guiding philosophy during the development of the new truck was delivering the confidence that comes with driving the strongest, most dependable and longest-lasting trucks on the road.”
With a base V-6 and a range of six "Gen IV" small-block V-8 engines, Chevrolet said its "strongest Silverado yet" offered segment-best power, capability and fuel economy. Towing capacity was a segment-best 10,500 pounds, while maximum payload was 2,160 pounds. Three cab styles (regular, extended and crew), three box lengths (5-foot-8-inch short, 6-foot-6-inch standard and 8-foot long beds) and three trim levels (WT, LT and LTZ), plus an optional LS exterior styling package were offered with two- or four-wheel drive.
The backbone of GM's new full-size truck platform was a new fully boxed frame riding on all-new coil-over-shock front suspension with rack-and-pinion steering and a revised Hotchkiss-type (live axle, leaf spring) rear suspension. The front tracks were about three inches wider and the rear tracks an inch wider than before for enhanced handling and stability, and the rear shocks were newly splayed for improved axle control.
Five suspension options -- Z83, Z85, Z71, Z60 and NHT -- were tailored to specific tastes and needs. The Z85 was best for on-road handling and trailer towing, the Z71 for off-road, the Z60 (with 20-inch wheels) for maximum street performance and the NHT (with off-road tires on 17-inch wheels) for maximum towing. High-capacity four-channel antilock brakes were standard on all models, and GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability control was standard (and a segment exclusive) on crew cabs and available on extended-cab models.
Engine choices included the base 195-horsepower V-6; a 295-hp, 4.8-liter V-8; four different 5.3-liter V-8s (two iron block, two aluminum, one of each E85 flex-fuel compatible), all with Active Fuel Management and all rated at the same 315 hp and 338 pounds-feet of torque; and the L76 6.0-liter aluminum V-8 with variable valve timing and AFM. The latter, good for 367 hp and 375 pounds-feet of torque, was available on LT and LTZ extended- and crew-cab models as part of a maximum trailering package. All but the L76 drove the rear (or all four) wheels through a Hydramatic 4L60 electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, while the L76 was teamed with a 4L70 high-capacity version and a 9.5-inch heavy-duty (4.10:1) rear axle.
Exterior and Interior
Chevy said the new 900's look featured "a broad, chiseled face, which accents a broad-shouldered stance and gives the Silverado a powerful, muscular presence." There was more differentiation from its GMC Sierra cousin, from its large, wide new grille, front fenders, vertically stacked headlamps, bumpers and power-dome hood to its taillamps, box design and flared rear fenders. Its windshield was "faster" for improved aerodynamics, and its door handles were robust grab-handle types for easy use with gloves.
The new cabin was more spacious and functional, with increased storage capacity and (both) instrument panels placed lower and farther forward for better visibility. Basic work truck (WT) and midrange LT models got the "pure pickup" interior with larger controls and door handles, a double glove box and a lockable in-seat storage bin in the center of the 40/20/40-split bench large enough to hold a laptop computer. Leather seating with a six-way power driver's seat was optional with the LT trim level.
LTZ models offered a completely different luxury interior with its own instrument panel and door panels, a heated 12-way power driver's seat, a large 20.1-liter center console box, premium audio with Bose speakers and heated windshield washers. LTZ crew cabs added rain-sensing automatic wipers, a rear-seat audio system and a bigger (5-liter) glove box.
Rear seats in extended and crew cabs were improved (the former with more rear legroom), a new 60/40-split "stadium style" back seat -- standard in crew cabs, available in extended cabs -- could be folded up with one hand (both sides, or just one or the other) and new rear doors on extended cabs opened a full 170 degrees for easier access.
In addition to StabiliTrak, all models came with an improved tire pressure monitoring system, segment-first safety-belt pretensioners that activated during a rear-end crash and Generation 7 GM OnStar with Advanced Automatic Crash Notification and a one-year Safe and Sound subscription. Also available were remote vehicle starting and safety-oriented features such as Autotrac active transfer case for slick-surface grip, Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist and, on LT and LTZ models, side curtain airbags.
Like the 1500s, the 2007 2500HD and 3500HD pickups offered three trim levels with two interiors, three cab styles and three box lengths, plus a choice of five different wheelbases and two different powertrains. Standard was a 353-hp, 6.0-liter Vortec gas engine making a class-leading 373 pounds-feet of torque and driving through a new Hydramatic 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission. Optional was a cleaner, more powerful Duramax turbo-diesel capable of pumping a segment-leading 365 hp and 660 pounds-feet of torque through its Allison 1000 heavy-duty six-speed automatic. All HD models were available with an integrated trailer brake controller, and maximum towing capabilities were a segment-best 13,000 pounds with conventional trailers and 16,700 pounds with fifth-wheel hitches.
These new Silverados not only boosted sales over their predecessors, they also earned a series of accolades, including 2007 North American Truck of the Year (from a jury of 50 veteran auto journalists), Motor Trend Truck of the Year and Car and Driver's Best Pickup for 2007. Minor changes for 2008 included standard XM satellite radio and the optional integrated trailer brake controller that was previously offered only on HD models.
New for 2009 was a E85-capable 403-hp 6.2-liter V-8 for crew-cab models, a six-speed automatic available with 5.3-liter, 6.0-liter and the new 6.2-liter gas V-8s, new 18- and 20-inch chrome-clad wheels, OnStar 8.0 with turn-by-turn navigation and destination download, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, a new NavTraffic feature for the XM satellite radio and a backup camera available on extended- and crew-cab models.
GM's expensive but highly effective two-mode hybrid system was offered on Silverado pickups for 2009. It integrated two electric motors into a four-speed automatic transmission to deliver an impressive 21/22 mpg city/highway from a 6.0-liter V-8-powered two-wheel-drive pickup with a 6,100-pound towing capability -- a 40 percent boost in EPA city fuel economy and a 25 percent improvement overall. With four-wheel drive, it was rated 20 mpg in city and highway driving.
Unfortunately, 2009 was also the year of the Great Recession, plummeting auto sales and GM's government-guided bankruptcy. Few two-mode hybrid pickups were sold that year or the next, yet GM stuck with them through its darkest times and eventual sales and financial recovery. "Yes, the two-modes are more expensive," Luke says. "That technology costs more, but its fuel economy is pretty impressive. Fleets like them, so we sell a good number of two-mode hybrid pickups to fleets."
As gas prices soared and as sales plummeted in 2008-09, changes to the Silverado for 2010 were aimed at improving fuel economy. A fuel-saver mode and a tall 3.08:1 axle with the 5.3-liter V-8 improved efficiency in both two- and four-wheel-drive Silverados to 15/21 mpg, and a special XFE model delivered 22 mpg highway. Availability of the more fuel-efficient six-speed automatic expanded, the 4.8-liter and 5.3-liter V-8s got variable valve timing, and E85 capability was offered on 4.8-, 5.3- and 6.2-liter engines. Other upgrades included revised interior door trim, standard StabiliTrak, side curtain and seat-mounted side airbags on all models and USB connectivity on all except the base radio.
Changes for 2011 were mostly wind noise reductions and a new 9.0 version of OnStar, but 2012 brought a freshened face with a new chrome mesh grille, chrome front bumpers and 20-inch chromed aluminum wheels. LTZs got a hard-drive navigation radio, available heated and cooled front seats, trailer-sway control and hill start assist along with StabiliTrak, and base work trucks added standard cruise control and a spare tire lock.
As of this writing, we expect little change to 2013 Silverados as GM's full-size truck team puts the final touches on its all-new 2014 models. Luke -- now executive director, vehicle line executive (VLE) and vehicle chief engineer over all GM trucks, vans and crossovers -- will not drop any hints, but it's safe to say that his team's key priorities will begin with substantially higher fuel efficiency balanced with class-leading capabilities, along with fresh new styling and state-of-the-art entertainment, convenience and safety features.
He says his philosophy is "to be the No. 1 truck in the marketplace. From a value perspective, to deliver all of those elements of the value proposition at an affordable price so that the customer feels that he has received great value. Each brand has a brand promise, and my job is to deliver every truck in accordance with its performance expectations.”