DETROIT -- General Motors has clothed its re-engineered heavy-duty pickups in fresh sheet metal and provided nicer interiors in an effort to capitalize on surging demand for big workhorse trucks.
The 2015 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500 models keep the same powertrain lineup they have had since a major overhaul for the 2011 model year: a 6.0-liter V-8 and a 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel. But a new exterior and cab design adds several features found on GM's light-duty Silverado and Sierra 1500 released this summer.
Improvements include a more aerodynamic front end and doors that are inlaid into the body recesses to reduce wind noise; a torsion bar that allows for a gently opening rear tailgate; and steps built into each corner of the rear bumper for easier access to the bed.
The cab is quieter and more refined, GM says, partly because of triple-sealed doors, sound-deadening material in the floor and a third hydraulic body mount that was added to increase isolation of the cab from the frame.
Chevy MyLink or GMC IntelliLink infotainment systems come standard on most models.
U.S. pickup sales, including light-duty and heavy duty models, rose 22 percent through August to 1.27 million, helped by a strengthening economy and a rebounding housing sector. Heavy-duty versions represent about one-quarter of overall pickup sales, GM estimates, or about 435,000 units in 2012.
Ford has a 38 percent share of the heavy-duty market. Chevy and GMC combined have 36 percent, and Ram has 26 percent, GM estimates.
GM executives believe that Chevy and GMC's combined market share can overtake Ford with the enhancements to the 2015 models.
"Our expectation is we're going to change the rank order of those numbers by brand with our new truck," says John Schwegman, executive director for U.S. product and pricing on GM trucks. The heavy-duty segment is "a really important part of our business, with significant volume and high transaction prices."
The highly profitable trucks attract an especially loyal customer base, which is more affluent and includes a higher percentage of business owners than GM's light-duty buyers, Schwegman says. The big pickups also are a mainstay for fleet buyers.
The 2015 heavy-duties, unveiled today at the State Fair of Texas, are scheduled to go on sale early next year. The trucks will continue to be built in Flint, Mich.
All models will get a combination of trailer-sway control, integrated cruise control, automatic braking on steeper grades and diesel exhaust braking for increased confidence in difficult towing conditions, GM says.
"The customer sets the desired speed and the truck will do the rest -- increasing or decreasing power, downshifting to increase engine braking and engaging the exhaust brake on the diesel engine," says Jeff Luke, executive chief engineer for GM trucks.
GM claims "segment-leading" payload, at 7,374 pounds, and conventional trailering, with a 19,600-pound rating.
Pricing hasn't been announced. Sticker prices on the 2014 models range widely, from around $30,000 for base models to more than $50,000 for a Sierra 3500 crew cab in GMC's high-end Denali package.
While GM re-engineered its heavy duty pickups for the 2011 model year, the redesign of its light-duty trucks didn't arrive until this summer as 2014 models.
Dave Sullivan, a product analyst at AutoPacific Inc., says merging the heavy-duty exterior and cabin setup with those of the smaller truck makes the big trucks more competitive.
"It already had a really good powertrain," Sullivan says. "This seems to address any of the shortcomings it might have had."