The Colorado's maximum tow rating is 6,700 pounds -- about twice as much weight as the average boat or camper that gets hauled to the lake on weekends.

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RICHARD TRUETT

A weighty matter: Chevy Colorado vs. Ford F-150

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Richard Truett covers engineering for Automotive News.
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DETROIT -- In the race to get the weight out of pickups, General Motors -- not Ford -- may actually be the biggest loser.

Ford rolled out the long awaited 2015 aluminum-bodied F-150 this week, and claimed the curb weight will be 550 to 700 pounds less than the 2014 version forged with steel sheet metal. Hats off to Ford. That's huge.

Because the F-150 is the nation's top-selling vehicle -- car or truck – a redesigned model is a major event. The introduction at the Detroit auto show sucked the oxygen out of the building; few auto writers paid more attention to anything else.

Lost in the F-150 hoopla is that GM is also in the lightweight game.

GM stayed with steel in redesigning the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra for 2014. Instead of embracing aluminum, GM this fall will offer a slightly smaller truck, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

The new Colorado is actually also full-sized -- if you compare its length, width and other specs to the full-sized trucks GM built in the 1960s to early '90s. In fact, many of the dimensions overlap.

In the 1970s, GM trucks ranged in length from 186 inches to 216 inches. The 2015 Colorado ranges from 208 inches to 224.5 inches, depending on cab style and bed length. Those old trucks were 78 inches wide, while the 2015 Colorado is 74 inches and change.

But here's an interesting Colorado tech spec: Every variant of the Colorado weighs about 900 pounds less than the 2014 Silverado. It also weighs within 100 pounds or so of the full-sized Chevy trucks of the '70s and '80s.

The Colorado will offer an array of engines -- including a new diesel. We don't yet know about fuel economy, but Chevy seems to have made it a priority. A four-cylinder with a six-speed manual transmission will be available. It's possible the Colorado could see close to the 30 mpg that Ford is aiming for with the 2015 F-150.

We do know Chevy's new truck can be put to work. Chevrolet spokesman Tom Wilkinson says the Colorado's maximum tow rating is 6,700 pounds -- about twice as much weight as the average boat or camper that gets hauled to the lake on weekends.

Yes, the new F-150 will clobber the Colorado in towing -- today's top-spec F-150 can drag 11,300 pounds down the road. But Chevrolet may be on to something with Colorado.

Pickups have ballooned in size in the last 20 years, while smaller trucks have withered and died to the point they are almost extinct.

It makes no sense to develop a small truck, such as those sold by Datsun, Toyota, and Mazda in the '70s and '80s, because few other vehicles could be built off the same architecture. And once all the required safety and comfort features are added, that small truck would probably be too expensive to sell profitably.

GM's strategy of offering two sizes of light-duty trucks may just work. But pricing -- to be announced later this year -- is crucial.

The first-generation Colorado showed that if the two trucks are separated by only a few hundred dollars, most consumers will choose the bigger truck.

If Colorado costs thousands less than Silverado, it'll find an audience. Either way, come this fall, consumers looking for a fuel-efficient, lightweight truck will have more than just the F-150 from which to choose.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.

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