This past winter we got our first experience with the new Heavy Duty trucks from Ram. Spring brought a new Super Duty from Ford (along with more HD Rams) and finally, summer 2010 put us in the driver seat of the newest big rigs from General Motors, wearing Silverado and Sierra badging.
Along the way I noticed one thing different about the way marketing folks presented information from their colleagues pitching cars and SUVs – customer conquests. It seems truck buyers, especially heavy duty truck buyers, remain very brand loyal.
Three-quarter- and one-ton pickups account for about 30 percent of truck sales with the big three so keeping these loyalists happy is key to long-term success. Most of these sales are to buyers who will put the vehicles to work, whether towing, hauling or just overall general abuse.
The biggest news for all three heavy duty pickup manufacturers this year centered around new emissions and fuel economy regulations. What was interesting was the numbers war that raged during the powertrain rollouts. Ram, who still uses the Cummins inline six, never really was able to compete on paper but Ford and GM have been lobbing hand grenades back and forth since spring.
In the end, it appears the numbers don’t mean so much as the basics of business – provide a good product that gives consumers what they want and need. The big three are all doing that and doing it very well.
Diving a bit deeper into the GM heavy duty truck segment makeover we find the division celebrating a 10-year 60/40 partnership with Isuzu Motors in DMAX, the engine building company providing Duramax diesel engines to the Silverado and Sierra HD models and some fullsize vans.
About the time they were cutting the birthday cake they were receiving news that their engine was at the heart of two of the trucks selected as best-in-class in a shootout held by Pickuptrucks.com. The new Duramax 6.6-liter V-8 was under the hood of the Silverado 2500HD that won the three-quarter-ton diesel class and in the GMC Sierra 3500HD that took top one-ton honors.
The new engine not only has significantly more horsepower and torque (397 and 765 respectively) but improved fuel economy, cleaner emissions and runs much quieter than its predecessor. An all-new smart exhaust brake system was designed into the new motor to provide a greater feeling of control and reduced brake pad wear as well.
Upgrades for the 2011 model trucks from GM did not end with the powertrains (that also included a beefed-up Allison gearbox to handle the added torque loads of the new Duramax). The new trucks received an all-new fully-boxed frame underneath, but engineers did not just develop one frame to deal with all the various iterations of HD trucks offered – no, they developed 18.
Silverado HD and Sierra HD also ride on new independent front suspensions and new larger leaf spring setups under the rear. While ride and handling is greatly improved these trucks will also tow more and haul more than ever before.
Design departments were not given holidays during all these upgrades however. Interiors and exteriors received a bit of attention as well making the 2011 models some of the most attractive ever offered by the automaker.
To hammer home just how capable and competitive the new trucks are, marketing and media folks provided simple head-to-head matchups of their new rides against comparable Super Duty models from Ford.
We drag raced one-ton, single rear wheel trucks with a 9,000-lb. trailer in tow down a private airstrip and we zipped up and down Texas State Highway 16 in F-250 and 2500HD trucks laden down with about a half-ton of concrete bags in their beds.
Most amazing was how the GM with the Duramax engine beat the Ford not only off the line in the drag race but kept pulling away from it the entire length of the impromptu track.
Things were a bit closer in driving around with a load in the cargo boxes. Acceleration, ride, handling and braking were just too close to call. It is amazing though just how much more power the new Duramax has and how much quieter it is.
The new Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD both arrive in a host of variants and trim levels and the Sierra is even being offered in upscale Denali trim right from launch. The regular cab configuration is still available as is extended and crew variants, in two- and four-wheel drive and with standard and long box lengths.
As for pricing, the Silverado 2500HD base is $27,965 and the Duramax/Allison powertrain upgrade will run an additional $8,395. This is all the pricing information available from GM press sites and there are NO fuel economy figures offered for the Heavy Duty trucks.