Look at side views of Chevrolet pickups for the past 40 years. Notice how they share a low, wide profile?
Not so with the Cheyenne pickup concept that debuted at the Detroit auto show in January. The hood is not as long - it's higher. In fact, the truck's entire height is more than 4 inches taller than the 2003 Chevrolet Silverado.
With its swept roofline, the Cheyenne's cab is thrust forward, giving it a commanding presence. And the wheels have been repositioned at the corners to signal stability and cargo capability.
While a lot of attention was focused on the new Nissan Titan and redesigned Ford F-150, the Cheyenne crew cab also was intended to shake things up by showing the world The General is heading for a radical redesign for its full-sized pickups in the 2008 model year.
"We thought a cleaner, more integrated shape would draw a younger, more educated buyer," says the man who drew the Cheyenne's exterior, Jeff Angeleri. That, and touches such as side access doors to the rear bed.
"There are two ways to look at a pickup truck today," he says. "You can say, 'I have a basic surface vehicle,' then I add things on to it to make it look like a four-wheel drive. Or I take things off of it to make it look like a sport truck. Or I paint the bumpers, or I don't paint the bumpers. Or I add a brush guard to make it look tough. But my philosophy on the DNA is that it had to look tough from the underneath."
It's what GM calls "rugged elegance."
GM was so serious about the Cheyenne that for about three months it had designers study the history of pickups and the lifestyles of those who drive them before they were asked for drawings.
"There is no question that we were sketching the whole time," says Angeleri, 31, a tall, slender New Jersey native with dark hair and glasses. "But you held back. Whatever doodles you were doing as you were trying to understand, it was like a back-and-forth."
While the Cheyenne is as much about protecting turf as it is breaking with convention, it has something in common with the import brands. Angeleri understands how the competition approaches design. He should. He used to work for Honda. His first project as a designer was in 1995 as an assistant on the Acura MDX sport wagon.
"When Jeff came here from the big H (Honda), he brought a sense of integration and simplicity that wasn't embraced here by certain leaders," says Clay Dean, who works with Angeleri at GM's design center. "To them it had a blandness to it. To us in the studio, it had a sense of purity and straightforwardness."
Fortunately for Angeleri, one key GM executive didn't think that way. And fortunately that executive was product czar Robert Lutz.
Angeleri recalls Lutz's reaction when he submitted what became the sketch that became the Cheyenne:
"When he first saw it, he compared it to the Harley Earl era of GM design: voluptuous, simple, and with a refinement of form and shape not seen in recent years. Wow, what a compliment."
Lutz approved the concept based on the sketch.