PUTC Q&A with Jeff Luke, GM Full-Size Truck Chief Engineer

PUTC Q&A with Jeff Luke, GM Full-Size Truck Chief Engineer
By Gary Witzenburg for PickupTrucks.com

It should be reassuring for Chevrolet and GMC full-size truck customers to know that the guy in charge of engineering those vehicles is a serious truck guy, not doing time in trucks on his way somewhere else. He’s owned, driven and loved them all his life.

Luke was born into a GM family in Oshawa, Ontario, where his father and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins worked in GM facilities. His career began in 1986 as a cooperative student at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint, Mich., with work assignments at the Scarborough, Ontario, full-size van plant, where he landed after graduating in 1991. He transferred to the Oshawa truck plant in 1993, then to GM Truck and Bus headquarters in Pontiac, Mich., in 1995.

Several jobs and promotions later, and after earning a master’s degree in business administration at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Luke was named vehicle chief engineer for full-size trucks in 2004. In 2008, he diverted to the other side as midsize car chief engineer, then bolted back to trucks a year later as global chief engineer for full-size trucks and vans.

“I’ve always had a strong pull toward trucks,” he said.

We caught up with Luke at the NTEA Work Truck Show in St. Louis to get his perspective on the future of full-size trucks.

Q: Where do you see full-size truck market going?
A: “I think there will always be a market for light- and heavy-duty pickups and full-size SUVs. Will it be as large as it was when the U.S. market was 17 million and trucks were a large part of that? Probably not. ... But there will always be a need.”

Q: Are there viable alternatives?
A: “In SUVs, you can go to a smaller SUV or a crossover. You see some customers going to crossovers for improved fuel economy, but it doesn’t have the same capabilities. ... When it comes to construction — pickups, specifically — there aren’t many alternatives. If you need to carry a certain amount, whether it be a certain load or a certain volume or geometry, you just need that capability. With a smaller pickup ... you’ll either have to pull a trailer or take two trips. ... People who use these things for work quickly do the math. They know what is the most effective way to do it.”

Q: One alternative is the crossover-based Honda Ridgeline. Will we see more like that?
A: “Our answer to the Ridgeline is the Avalanche, which gives you that configurability. We can provide that on a full-frame vehicle and, in most cases, the better fuel economy. ”

Q: What do people in other countries use?
A: “Smaller pickups, generally, and they use a lot of commercial, more cube-type vehicles, some bigger, some smaller, like Ford’s Transit Connect and a similar Opel model that we sell in Germany.”

Q: We understand how difficult it is to achieve even a 1-mpg improvement in truck fuel economy. Is there room for improvement, short of going to a hybrid, without losing capability?
A: “Absolutely. We’re looking at a number of ways and technologies to be able to raise the bar.

Q: It’s mostly about weight and aerodynamics, right?
A: “Those are the big factors. The big knobs we can turn are vehicle mass, aero, powertrain and tires.”

Q: How will full-size trucks meet fast-rising CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) requirements over the next several years?
A: “It continues to get more challenging. I think that a combination of [energy] sources, making sure you’re diversified, is the right thing to do. We have the most E85 capability of anybody right now, and we are very aggressively working on CNG and LPG. I wish that more people would use E85, but the economics of it don’t pencil today.”

Q: Looking out 10 years, what do you think the market mix of fuels will be?
A: “I think you will see more of each out there. You’ll see some hybrids, and you’ll see more E85, CNG and LPG usage. But a large percentage will still be gasoline. How much? Hard to say. It’ll change depending on conditions. There could be a big supply opportunity that lowers the price of oil, and demand for these types of vehicles could go up. Or it could go the other way. In heavier vehicles, you’ll see diesels. But I’m not sure about diesels in light-duty trucks, given the cost and all the aftertreatment that will have to go on them. The 2015-and-beyond emissions standards are half for NOx what they are for 2011. That is drastic.”

Q: And those ever-toughening requirements are accelerating up into all classes.
A: “Absolutely. Everybody’s being pulled in, as we see here in this show. We’ve got huge dump trucks here that require urea systems to meet their level of emissions. But that’s great for an engineer like me because it’s a constant challenge and a problem to solve. My job, as I see it today, is largely to make sure that I’m providing customers with the best possible balance of fuel economy, performance, payload and people carrying, plus quality, reliability, durability, appealing styling and increasing levels of comfort, all at the lowest possible price.”


The first MFG to put the time and money into light duty Diesel engine will win allot of pickup truck sales. These engines don't have to have huge power numbers as much as they need to be a well rounded engine that gets decent to great fuel economy numbers!!!

"The 2015-and-beyond emissions standards are half for NOx what they are for 2011. That is drastic.”

This is the number one reason the 1/2 ton diesels from all three domestic providers were on indefinite hold. They would become obsolete just a few years after introduction.

It sounds like small diesel engines are dead.

There is no reason for a small diesel to be dead! Yes the new emission requirements from the EPA are a farce, but as with anything with some time and money it can and will be conquered. Just look at the new rummered 6.7 Cummins diesel for Dodge that has over head cams no after exhaust treatment at all. Diesel will only be dead because of a political move not a MFGing issues/cost! The is a old saying that goes "If there is a will there is a way"!

What I don't understand is why the EPA is creating such strict standards on diesel engines at such a rapid pace, when gasoline engines are very slowly becoming more and more strict? gasoline engines take up the majority of the market and create equally significant pollution problems

You're right, that with time and money anything can be conquered. But that is also the problem. Money. Could GM, Ford, Dodge or anyone else produce a light-duty diesel pick-up? Absolutely. But if the cost is super high, the fuel economy benefit won't out wiegh the initial cost and people won't buy it. If you can buy a gas LD pickup for $25,000 and a similar diesel one is $33,000, you can buy a lot of gas with $8,000.

The $8K worth of fuel will be burned fast at $4/gal.

Especially if the average truck owner keeps their vehicle 8-12 years. 250K is a lot of fuel.

Gas isn't $4 a gallon.

Gas stations will advertise the price of gasoline by the quart if the Iran war isn't averted.
$10 a gallon for regular, $12 a gallon for diesel

What is the status of GM's 8 & 9 speed automatics?

If the fuel economy figures stated by GM and Ford are true - you'd probably see a break even point on fuel around 100,000 miles.

Hey Mike, did you ask him about the 4.5L Dmax? That's the big question.


"Gas isn't $4 a gallon."

True. For how long though? It's not a if gas will be $4 again, it's when.

Any comments about the rumored 7.0L gas engine?

Just so you all know where I am coming from... I currently have no need to pull more than 14,000 lbs. I would like an option of a smaller diesel with better mileage. I have no problem with people pulling there trailer at 85 MPH if there trailer is stable, but I don't normally need to pull something that fast. I think there should be options for both good torque/good MPG and high torque/OK MPG.

Why not pair electric motors with diesel motors, it's done in trains and mining equipment that need a lot of torque. Electric motors torque is better at low rpm's and diesels are peak torque at over 1000 rmp. If a pu had to the electric motor to help with torque that could save some fuel in some applications then the diesel could kick in when the electric motor's not needed.


The reason is price! Tho a great setup the cost of all the components would send the price of a vehicle skyrocketing!

So emissions will be stricter in the future. Well build what you can now with better fuel economy and meet the future guidelines in the future. Put the diesels in the smaller vehicles like Jeep did with the Liberty. Hey if the fines are small enough per vehicle, just pay them and pass along the cost. That is the whole problem right? If the Mfg. Company doesn't meet a certain level, they pay a fine till they can? I don't know for sure. But at some point the EPA has to stop and take a breath. I mean you can only choke of a vehicle to a certain point before we are all riding horses again. Lets see the EPA require EGR on a Clydesdale! Go Budweiser!

@Shawn V. - its funny that you mention horses - cattle produce massive amounts of methane which is a potent greenhouse gas. Some people state we should become vegetarians to reduce greenhouse gas. Perhaps the EPA will mandate "methane mufflers" on cows!

The comments to this entry are closed.