Confused by pickup claims? That's the idea

Automotive News | April 8, 2013 - 3:01 pm EST

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DETROIT -- The five automakers that build full-sized light-duty pickups must hate tree-grown fruit because they sure go out of their way to avoid apples-to-apples comparisons.

The fuel economy ratings for General Motors' redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra light-duty pickups highlight the confusing claims that dominate one of the industry's most competitive segments.

Last week, GM said the twin pickups received EPA mpg ratings of 16 city/23 highway for two-wheel-drive models and 16 city/22 highway for four-wheel-drive versions. The ratings were for crew cab versions of the 1500-model pickups powered by GM's optional 5.3-liter V-8 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The 5.3-liter's fuel economy ratings were higher than the ratings for V-8 powered base pickups from Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group's Ram brand but lower than the ratings for V-6 powered pickups from those rival brands.

Just as the EcoBoost isn't Ford's highest mpg engine in the F-150, GM's 5.3-liter V-8 isn't likely to be its most fuel-efficient engine offering in the 1500 Silverado and Sierra. But it doesn't matter because the marketing machine associated with each automaker has claimed its own Island of Truth and vows to defend it to the death -- whether somebody else makes a competing claim or not.

It is the same Greek tragedy that continues to play out in the segment with towing claims. Last month, Toyota's Bob Carter called out the Detroit 3 -- and Nissan, by extension -- for not following their mutually-agreed-upon standard to measure towing capacity safely.

Pickups represent an outsized profit center for the Detroit 3, which zealously guard the segment they dominate and their respective market shares within it.

But because of the wide variety of vehicles within the segment -- from stripped-down 2wd regular cab pickups that cost less than $20,000 to diesel-powered dually 4x4s at almost four times the price -- there is plenty of room for automakers to make competing claims.

Jeff Luke, chief engineer for the Silverado, said the V-8 mileage claims GM is touting represent "a new bar for mainstream pickups," which he said were the "backbone" of the American economy.

"These aren't just claim trucks," Luke said, in a not-so-subtle jab at the common practice of building special versions of pickups specifically to make outsized marketing claims. "These are trucks that most customers will actually buy and drive."

But it also shows that GM -- and by extension, its dealers -- have been stung by Ford's success with its Ecoboost turbocharged V-6 engine and the 25 mpg highway rating some Ram 1500s received after adding an eight-speed transmission.

Both the Silverado and Sierra lost market share last month among full-sized pickups compared with March 2012, with the Ram picking up the lion's share of that loss and Ford also edging up. It is the continuation of a trend that has been ongoing for several months.

GM's stated strategy of pushing fuel-conscious pickup customers toward its compact -- and presumably lower margin -- Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups is markedly different from the pickup strategies at Ford and Chrysler. Ultimately, its success is likely to hinge on the brand loyalties of GM's traditional pickup customers.

GM said the 2014 Chevy Silverado (pictured) and its GMC Sierra twin received EPA mpg ratings of 16 city/23 highway for two-wheel-drive models and 16 city/22 highway for four-wheel-drive versions.

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