So, Chevrolet has given us an early glimpse of the redesigned Silverado pickup ahead of its official debut next month at the North American International Auto Show. Technical details are few, but the photos released Saturday actually do reveal a lot.
Let's start with the fenders and sides of the truck. See those deep curves, especially on the lower flanks just above the rocker panels, and the deep accent lines in the upper part of the fenders that start at the headlights and flow back? These are good hints as to what the fenders, doors and bed are made of.
These parts are very likely steel.
It's very difficult to stamp such deep draws in aluminum without the metal tearing. Aluminum suppliers Novelis and Alcoa have been developing new grades of aluminum that can support these styling cues, and it possible that the Silverado does have aluminum outer body panels. But I think it is unlikely.
Using high strength steel for the outer panels is very much in keeping with Chevrolet's belief that it isn't smart to use soft metal in vulnerable places on a vehicle designed for work -- a point driven home in a series of commercials that poked holes, literally, in the Ford F-150's bed. Also, today's high strength steel can be nearly as light as aluminum. For now, Chevy is confirming only that the truck's bed floor is made of steel.
Let's assume the new Silverado's outer body is high strength steel. That would give Chevrolet some powerful ammunition in its upcoming marketing battle with Ford.
Despite what Ford claims, aluminum-bodied vehicles are more expensive to repair than steel. Most body shops have two labor rates, one for steel and a higher one for aluminum. It could very well be that the tool box Chevy dropped into the bed of the aluminum F-150 to show the softness of the metal is only the opening salvo in a more aggressive effort marketing effort by Chevy to gain market share.
The new Silverado can still trump the F-150 on weight. GM has finally confirmed that is using the mixed material manufacturing system developed for the Cadillac CT6 on the Silverado's body in white. That means the Silverado uses bonded, riveted and possibly even welded aluminum, cast parts and magnesium for the cab.
Ford pretty much stuck to a traditional steel frame for the F-150. GM might have some interesting weight-saving frame technologies to showcase underneath. Details on the Silverado's specific weight savings will come Jan. 13th just ahead of the Detroit auto show.
The surprising success of Ford's Raptor off-road high-performance truck caught Chevrolet and everyone else off guard. It may have influenced Chevy designers to toughen up the new Silverado. The next-gen truck has squinty, mean-looking Clint Eastwood eyes for headlights. The black bumpers and chrome tipped dual exhaust also inject an air of seriousness to the Silverado.
My sources tell me there will be some major surprises under the hood. GM needs a state of the art overhead-cam V-6 engine to compete with Ford and Ram trucks. And it would not surprise me if some version of the 3.6-liter engine currently used in various Cadillacs becomes the base engine for the new Silverado.
It currently makes a commendable 335-horsepower, and with some minor tuning, can deliver plenty more torque. There should also be room under the hood to turbocharge or supercharge this engine -- giving GM a true competitor to Ford's EcoBoost engines.
We haven't seen the interior yet, but it is crucial that Chevrolet introduce all-new styling, switchgear and dramatically upgrade the quality of materials. It's time to retire the 1990s influenced interior and bring the Silverado into the connected-vehicle age. For now, Chevy is saying only that the new truck will have a "significant reduction in total vehicle weight and improved performance in many measures."
To have a chance to top the F-150 in U.S. sales, the new Silverado will have to post industry best numbers in many areas -- fuel economy, towing, hauling, stopping, and performance. And it will need some smart marketing.
While self-driving vehicles, BMW beating Cadillacs and mid-engined Corvettes generate huge headlines, it's the high-volume, high-profit working man's Silverado that is the most important vehicle GM sells.
This one has to be nearly perfect if it is going to gain ground on the F-150.