TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Customer complaints about General Motors' pickups led the automaker to develop its first composite plastic pickup box.
GM announced plans this month to build a composite pickup box. The all-plastic rear cargo area will be an option on the Chevrolet Silverado extended-cab Fleetside truck for the 2001 model year.
Tom Davis, group executive for the GM Truck Group, said GM conducted consumer research more than three years ago to determine the level of satisfaction with its pickups.
The results surprised the automaker, Davis said. Customers wanted a pickup cargo bed that was more durable, dent-resistant and corrosion-proof.
'A lot of the work started with our customers,' Davis said. 'They thought we could improve our pickups. So we got to work on it.'
At the same time, the automaker was developing new composite materials.
The work paralleled a joint research effort by the Automotive Composite Consortium, a group backed by the U.S. automakers.
But GM felt it was ahead of the competition, said a company source. So the automaker withdrew from the consortium three years ago to focus on in-house development.
GM is considering using the composite material for the Silverado pickup box on other niche pickups coming early in the next century, Davis said. The automaker also is considering other uses for the structural parts, he added.
'We're looking at how best to take advantages of it,' Davis said. 'We're hoping to use it in new types of applications.'
The 6.5-foot composite pickup box weighs 250 pounds, about 50 pounds less than steel boxes. It includes rear fenders, quarter panels, the cargo bed and the liftgate.
Impact tests showed the flexible material to be stronger than steel, Davis said.