Watching GM Build's 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 V-6

Watching GM Build's 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 V-6
Words by Kelsey Mays, Pictures by Ian Merritt

Astute readers may have seen the writing on the Facebook wall, but we’ll make it official:’s next Shootout will pit two-wheel-drive, short-bed V-6 work trucks against each other. On hand we’ll have a 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 4.3-liter, a 2011 Toyota Tundra 4.0-liter, a 2010 or 2011 Ram 1500 3.7-liter and a 2011 Ford F-150 3.7-liter.

Weeks ahead of the ruckus, General Motors invited us to its Fort Wayne Assembly plant to witness our Sierra’s assembly. A 20-minute drive southwest of downtown Fort Wayne, Ind., the plant sits on 716 acres just uphill of Interstate 69. Separated from the highway by a strip of underbrush and a few bunched trees, the plant’s 2.85 million square feet of facilities produce most of the Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado trucks GM sells in America. Parking is to the west and south; the paint shop is on the east, with the lengthy general assembly building smack dab in the center.

Fort Wayne added a third shift last spring to accommodate the heavy-duty pickups from GM’s shuttered plant in Pontiac, Mich. Fort Wayne Assembly runs nearly 24 hours a day, five days a week. By the time we showed up – 8 a.m. on Sept. 29 – our Sierra was already through the paint shop. It’s a cherry-red single cab, easy to pick out in General Assembly among the silver and white extended cabs to each side. The chassis and drivetrain proved harder to track down, but plant planning administrator Carmen Mangrum pointed us toward the manifest sheets tagged to each. Ours was truck 1660. With a line-side seat as the components made their way toward a finished product, we chatted with Mangrum and plant spokeswoman Stephanie Jentgen. Check out photos of the Sierra, and stay tuned for the Shootout results in November.


Our Sierra’s 4.3-liter V-6 moves along the motor line, stopping at dozens of stations for exactly 57 seconds each, Mangrum said. Shipped from GM’s powertrain facility in Romulus, Mich., the engine comes stripped down but essentially assembled. Line workers at Fort Wayne add an array of accessories, from wiring harnesses and hoses to air filters and airflow manifolds.


The chassis — with axles, brakes and suspension members installed — makes its way down the line. Should something run awry, a line worker can pull a yellow cord, and his or her station number shows up on an overhead display – Mangrum calls them “bingo boards” – for a team leader to assist.

Like in other assembly plants we’ve visited, an overhead musical tone alerts team leaders that someone in the section needs help. The songs periodically chime overhead, themes to “Star Wars,” “The Addams Family” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” among them.


The drivetrain, including the four-speed automatic transmission, is hoisted onto the chassis, which has been traveling along a separate line. Sequencing the two is critical. There are a dozen separate frames for the Silverado and Sierra, Mangrum said, as each one carries unique motor mounts and suspension arrangements, among myriad other components.


With the engine and transmission mounted, the Sierra’s chassis gets wheels. The wheels and tires arrive from separate conveyors; they’re joined by machine, filled with an automated air compressor to 35 psi and balanced. Each tire then gets a thumb-sized spot of paint to signal it’s been balanced. Among Mangrum’s many duties is managing the sequencing order – and wheels can be particularly frustrating: “That’s one of the things marketing likes to do that drives us nuts: changing the grille, changing the wheels,” he said.


The cab and box arrive from separate carriers to a line that’s parallel to the chassis. The box has already been accessorized with Sierra and GMC emblems, a tailgate and taillights in the paint shop – steps that normally occur on the general assembly floor, were it not so full. Between base coats, clear coats and a final bake oven, the truck spends eight to 10 hours in paint, Mangrum said.


An orange hoist picks up the cab and box, transferring them to the chassis. At this point, it’s made its way through four major areas on the trim line – “kind of like four different blocks in a horseshoe shape,” Mangrum said – and is ready for final assembly.


The hoist marries the bed and the box, beginning to lower them onto the ladder chassis.


Line workers attach the bed and box to the chassis as the hoist redeploys to the next truck. If a line worker inadvertently bumps something out of alignment, the worker needs to throw on an indicator sticker, Mangrum said. The truck completes assembly but then gets pulled so any potential issues can be addressed.


The finished cabin has no shortage of plastic wrappings. Through the trim line it’s been outfitted with seats, windows, a dashboard and much more; it’s effectively complete. Many components – seats, for instance – come sequenced from suppliers, Jentgen said, arriving at the plant in the order they’ll be installed.


Line workers fill the tank with just three gallons of gas, enough to get through a quarter-mile test track and off to the dealer with a gallon or so to spare, Jentgen said.


The fenders and hood, traveling along a separate line, are attached. Shortly after this, workers take a soft mallet to the door close-outs to ensure a proper fit. If the door alignment is so bad a worker can’t fix it, he or she will mark it so it goes off the line, Mangrum said. Typically that indicates more serious issues to address, he added.


With the hood and fenders installed, line workers mount the headlights, grille and front bumper ...


... and attach the Sierra’s logo.


Assembly complete; No. 1660 heads off the line. Federal law requires the odometer to document all driving, even on the factory floor, Mangrum said. That’s why you’ll seldom find a new truck on a dealer lot with zero miles on it.

Next time we see this 2011 GMC Sierra 1500, it will be ready and waiting for the start of the 2010 V-6 Shootout.


very cool report, interesting to see how it all goes down, and esp on the vehicle you know you will be using. wonder if GM will work on breaking it in somewhat before the test?

I'm gonna go way out on a limb and predict that Ford will win this. If they don't, some people at Ford should be standing in line at the unemployment office.

@Mike Levine, Can the public take a factory tour there in Ft. Wayne?

I think this is a great idea, about time we test the real work trucks. I think the only competion ford will have in this test is toyota.
Chevy 195hp 260tq 4 speed auto
Dodge 210hp 235tq 4 speed auto
Toyota 270hp 278tq 5 speed auto
Ford 302hp 276tq 6 speed auto

By the numbers chevy and dodge don't really have much of a chance, but gearing is everything in these trucks.

ford all the way! seriously though, ford's interior and toughness are higher than any of the others, and the only engine that has the same amount of tq. is the toyota, but not the same amount of horsepower.

I think that machine that marries the cab and bed to the frame was off a little when I got my 2004 Chevy Silverado RCLB 4x4 because the cab and the bed were misaligned the dealer had to realign it a few months after I took delivery , and my prediction is ford will spank GM and Toyota in the shootout , I love my 4.3 liter V6 but its underpowered .

Yeah the V-6 shootout should be interesting, nice to see that ford thought to update not only the engine but also the transmission for these models.

It is interesting to see an assembly line. It's a very complex process. it is amazing that the overall QC of vehicles is good.
The pictures do not show many workers. Is that just the way the pictures were taken?

'a line worker can pull a yellow cord, and his or her station number shows up on an overhead display – Mangrum calls them “bingo boards”'

It's called an Andon cord...

This is a Toyota developed system where the worker can stop the line. Read into the world famous TPS system, Toyota Production System that everyone has copied.

I saw it in person at Toyota's massive Georgetown, KY plant and even in use at GM's now closed Janesville, WI plant.

I really do not like line workers wearing shorts. Are they even wearing steel toes?

Shorts is a safety concern!

When I took a tour of Toyota's Georgetown, KY plant, shorts were not alloweed even on the tour, had to wear pants. Too may sharp edges out there to get cut on or scrapes...

The UAW must not care as much...


Thanks so much for doing this V6 comparison! I have an old 4.3L and I love driving the V6 trucks. I like to take it easy when I drive, so V8s don't appeal to me.

Really excited for this shootout!

Mike -

Any word on if/when GM is going to a 6 speed automatic? That is one big reason I may move to Ford next time - that and the 4.3 is the weakest of the group now. Will GM wait for the next re-design? It would be great if GM would match Ford and offer their 3.6 V6 with a six speed. Then we would have a contest.

Whats the point of this shootout? ford has a new powertrain and clearly will win, i'd rather see if at least two different trucks get new powertrain and then see who wins.

What happens to road testing. Feds want to claim every single mile, but GM does not disclose actual outdoor tests. How can you prove quality without a road test?

I've toured the Tundra factory in Texas, and I see a few key differences here.

There are a lot of places where "worker error" come into play. Like when attaching the body if something comes out of alignment or if the doors don't fit they can be sent for re-work.

What makes Toyota (or what did make Toyota) so reliable (before the 2008+ Camry) was that there were few places a worker touched a car where a mistake was possible to make. Every step of the process was engineered so that the worker had the least amount of influence on the end product as possible. The specification for adding a part was so exact that you couldn't screw it up. The process was what built the cars, the people there were practically machines themselves.

It seems its the opposite at GM plants.

@Mike Levine, will these trucks have any options on them? will they have vinyl seats?

@Fred: Either cloth or vinyl.

@ Fred - how do you know who will win the shootout based on powertrain alone?
The F150 had the smallest "premium" engine out of all the truck makers.
Did it loose all of the truck shootouts?
It still won every shootout because everything else was superior.
Don't rule out the competition because one truck has a stronger motor.

Anyone know if that 4.3 is to be replaced in the near future?

the weak 3.7 magnum will get spanked by the ford 3.7 cant wait for the new pentastar v6 but about the article good for gm I wouldnt get one til its proven reliable and not super underpowered but I think more decent powered v6 full sizes are the future

Thanks for doing this Mike. It's not all about the winner. There will be certain features that each truck has as an advantage over the others and this will point them out. Regardless of who wins, most truck buyers will stay brand loyal and will like to see the benefits of their brand no matter where it places.

That is really neat, good photography too Mike!. Nice to see the truck you will be driving being constructed.

The only thing I like about the V6 of Gm is the simplicity, that's about it. 4.3L engines are good workhorses, but of course they do fall short of the competition in power anf fuel economy. But for someone looking for a cheaper truck that the shade tree mechanic can work (due to the least complex design of them all) on after warranty expires, this is definitely it! Looking forward to the shootout of the true work trucks.

Since midsize trucks are becoming extinct, this shoot out interests me. I am looking forward to the F150 vs the dodge though. I am curious about MPG ratings and capacities of them.


Can this test focus on efficiency. These trucks are already outclassed by their V8 Brethern. So lets focus on the utilty and efficiency of what these trucks can do hauling a load and towing (with in their limits).

I say throw in a ringer too so you can provide a real comparison like a v8 Dodge or Toyota. What ever you can get a hold of it doesn't matter.

Just don't make it like the HD shootout I could care less about a drag race; doesn't get the work done any faster.

The 4.3L engine is a design that has been in use for over 20 years and has not had a major refresh since '96. So while the power numbers are not sexy you cannot deny that their are a whole lot more miles on this tried and tested 4.3L design than any other engine in this competition.

Yes the 4.3L is long in the tooth, no doubt. Hopefully Chevy one day will drop the 3.6L V6 that is in the Camaro into the Silverado, but until that happens, I think Ford will be king of the V6 competition for work trucks for the time being.

@ Mike - you guys should include a Chevy. Guys say they are the same truck under the skin but I recall from the 1/2 ton test that the 2 nameplates were decidedly different.
JD Power also gave the 2 nameplates different quality and reliability ratings.

mike, i dont say much on here because too many people hate with no facts, just bull....

I would like to ask if you guys would include the things that make these trucks last a long time, i.e. the tundra has 2 fluid to fluid heat exchangers, one on oil and one for transmission. these work to warm the fluid and then act as a cooler. or how the 4.0 sprays cooled oil on all of the cam journals, crank journals, and sprays the inside of the piston with cooled oil! maybe talk about the 4 piston fixed position calipers that noone but toyota uses with stainless steal pistons (ford uses a plastic composite), maybe the fact that even in a basic half ton v6 work truck's brakes are BIGGER than an F350. give us some GOOD facts and not some chumped up BS that we got from the 08 shootout. I'm tired of all the FALSE advertisement by the detroit 3. they position a 1% build so they can say "best fuel economy" or "heaviest towing capacity" but you dont really find these models, EVER. Also, please make sure its known that only one company has complied with SAE's J2807 tow rating methods so everyone is on FAIR ground. THANKS, i do look forward to reading about it. ;)

could not have said it better myself! my monte carlo has the 4.3 lol its an 85 this thing is over 25 years old

all this means is that is PROVEN

dont get me wrong the new ford v6 gets my mouth watering big time but I wanna wait a year or two see how they hold up 100k 200k etc.

FWIW my monte has 189xxx with just the usual stuff

shut up not everything has to do with toyota your annoying enjoy your beige truck

"shut up not everything has to do with toyota your annoying enjoy your beige truck"

The yellow cord they can pull is a Toyota developed process called the Andon Cord. So even GM operates parts of the Toyota Production System!

This is fact bud. If you have never heard of the TPS system, you do not know anything about the automotive industry.

Toyota revolutionized the modern auto industry to what you see today from Andon Cords, Kaizan, and many more including brining the JIT (Just In Time) process to the industry.

Learn before you speak!

The Ram is getting a more powerful Pentastar V-6 soon..with more lower end torque and should be best gas mileage in its class,at least rumors are saying..

The Ram Cummins Diesel is getting a power boost and an 8 speed automatic..

Unfortunately, the new more powerful Dodge Pentastar V-6 wont be ready in the Ram for this shootout...

I just hope the rear axle ratio's in all the trucks are as close as posible....

Hey Mike, You should do this will all the trucks in the upcomming test. Ford, Toyota, and Ram. It would be intresting to see how they are all built and if different methods go into assembly of each truck.

Should be an interesting shootout, Ford deffinatly has the best powertrain, although the 4.3 is a good motor, it did a decent job towing when I had an Astro years ago.

Notice how nobody smiles in this plant?

yea it seems its pretty much a battle for second place lol i really wish the pentastar was ready :/

it seems that for everything you praise toyota
so if toyota stopped making anything and ceased to exist you would find a way to compliment them for it

On the plant tour - where there any obvious reasons why the Sierra and Siverado have different quality and reliability ratings? (since they are made in the same plant)
Perhaps it depends on which crew the stoners are on?
Maybe Night shift when there are no tours?


They are not all smiling,because its not set up as a photo op !! Though one guy has a smile on his face and he is not looking straight in the camera !!

Do you continuously smile when you are working ? I know I dont and I love my job !!!

At a Toyota plant they are forced to smile when tours are happening,if not they are fired !!

Notice Toyota vehicles are lemons,poor build quality,blowing up engines,trans,rear ends smiling doesnt improve quality....

Final conclusion,forced to smile while working doesnt improve quality ,as Toyota's are seriously lacking in quality and reliability.. Proven fact,you have to be living in a dream world to think Toyota's are good !!!

@gooey bum - they are not smiling because there has been a clamp down on drugs and booze in the workplace since the Chrysler fiasco ;)


ha ha ha! good comment :)

One thing I do notice is how they dress, and in an industrial environment like that. I work as an operator in a chemical plant, and I would have been written up/repremanded for coming to work in shorts.

FRC's, Hard hats, Safety glasses, steel toe boots are the standard for everywhere here except the plant control room. I would think these folks would have to adhere to a dress code at minimum, with PPE lat least consisting of safety glasses and steel toe boots in the process areas (assembly floor in their situation), maybe not a requirement for a UAW member?

Toyota does in fact make their employees where uniforms and PPE, which I applaud them for. Safety and appearance do matter when customers tour the plant IMHO, does at my job anyway. Many a brooms hitting the floor when a customer visit coming in the near future.

GMC already has an replacement for the 4.3L V-6. THIS IS FROM WIKIPEDIA. The LL8 (or Vortec 4200), is a straight-6 truck engine. It was the first Atlas engine, and was designed for GM's new SUV line. It displaces 4.2 L (4160 cc, 254 cu in)[1], with a 93 mm (3.7 in) bore and 102 mm (4.0 in) stroke. When introduced, this engine's power was 270 hp (205 kW) at 6000 rpm and torque was 275 ft·lbf (373 N·m) at 3600 RPM. 2003 saw a slight bump in power to 275 hp (205 kW), while torque was unchanged. For 2006, power was increased to 291 hp (217 kW) at 6000 rpm and torque to 277 ft·lbf

@Gooey Bum

'At a Toyota plant they are forced to smile when tours are happening,if not they are fired !!'

And I supposed you used to work at a Toyota plant to make such a comment like that and toured one of their plants?

Again blind hatred, you sound like a child that is jealous...

'Notice Toyota vehicles are lemons,poor build quality,blowing up engines,trans,rear ends smiling doesnt improve quality....'

Your a good sheep and poster boy for the owners of GM! Have you owned a Toyota pickup? Been to one of their stealerships lately?

If you have owned one before, do you know what routine maintenance is?

If you bought one used, did the previous owner know what maintanence was?

Your personal opinion is not fact. You are just another sheep that has a blind hatred for Toyota! Never owned one most likely, never toured a Toyota plant before or visited one of their stealerships before.

And we are supposed to listen to your personal OPINION?


And were supposed to listen to your personal opinion oxi? Chill everyone haas their own opinion and I don't go ape crap when someone insults a Ram people like what they like just ignore idiots state your opinion and discuss like humans w/ the more logical people

Holy crap, all you cry babies on here arguing about which V6 is the fastest, these are econo trucks not made for racing or towing. Who give a crap which is faster. Bunch of boneheads on this site

Wish Dodge would hurry with the Pentastar. Some more power and mileage. Not that power is everything, especially a V-6 full size truck....if most folks that wanna pull a heavy trailer they just get a v-8. Not everybody wants a stiff riding truck either. And if you only gonna tow 3,500 or so max, the Rams rotors will slow it just fine, no need for the BIGGER THAN F-250 rotors. The Ram would suit alot more peoples needs if the V6 actually got better mileage than the V-8s.


With God as my witness, I speak from experiance and do not fabricate and make up things like most.

I have close to 20 years experiance driving Toyota pickups. I know more about Toyota pickups than the media will ever know.

You learn quite a bit running a production based pickup down in Baja or running an X-Runner on Road America and off-roading your daily driver.

None of what the media has stated, the DOT, NHTSA or loser Ray LaHood has said have I seen and I log many miles with my Toyota pickups and small winter beaters. And I know many Toyota owners and have yet to find one with any issues.


dude chill out yea he gets annoying but at least post on topic

just about every 1980's compact truck is unbreakable but every manufacter has lemons my grandpa had a 06 taco that was in the shop SIX times in TWO months, i dont doubt what you say about your truck but just get off toyotas tip be a fan not a troll, they didnt event everything

i thought that was only in the GMT360 platform?

@4.3 monte

Does your grandpa know how to drive properly? Is he redlining when he shifts, oh wait society is stupid and lazy here so he probably drives a handicap tranny...

Does he slam on the brakes everytime, accelerate like a rabbit all the time, takes corners hard, jumps curbs, puts the wrong fuel in, does not change lubricants or belts or spark plugs...

Society is dumb, so I have to ask...

Toyota lemons are born from incompetant drivers that do not take care of them!

oxi, youre joking right? You have got to be the most blindly loyal person i have ever seen. You are really going to say that a lemon is a result of poor driving? ANY car that needs 6 shop trips in 2 months is a piece. I dont care what brand it is. You are not a representative sample of all toyota owners, just because you have never had an issue with the 4 or 5 trucks you have owned doesnt mean that every single truck toyota has ever made is perfect.

nope he is a retired army mechanic and got rid of his ranger because the toyota was more "reliable" you gonna cut on the army now too?
he now owns a colorado and it has had no problems :)
now before oxi goes around saying the colorado somehow has some toyota tech behind it let me say it doesnt lol

point is that is a good looking truck in the pics and i just wish it still had a standard transmission :(
cant wait for the article!

Oxi - stop before you make yourself look even worse. Man. You do not know when to stop. I'm starting to feel like a dipsh-t for standing up for you!
Toyota makes lemons, everyone does.
Leave it at that.

Oxi - listen to "4.3 monte's advice


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