By MARK RICHARDSON
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, January 19, 2018
DETROIT -- It's the year of the truck here at the North American International Auto Show, with the main product debuts from the Detroit Three all being pickups.
General Motors officially launched its all-new Chevrolet Silverado at the annual Detroit show, which opened to the public on Saturday and runs through Jan. 28. FCA pulled the covers off its allnew Ram 1500, while Ford debuted its mid-size Ranger truck after a seven-year absence from the North American market.
Both the Chevy and Ram are significantly lighter and have much improved aerodynamics and engine management for greater efficiency. They're also stronger.
Pickups are by far the biggest-selling segment for auto makers - and among the most profitable, as most half-tonne pickups earn around $10,000 each for their makers.
"This is arguably the most important product in the Chevrolet portfolio," said Alan Batey, president of GM North America. "Trucks are a very complicated business. No segment has a wider range of buyers, with each person using their truck for a different purpose."
Sales of pickups and SUVs have steadily risen over the past decade, while sales of passenger cars have declined.
"Certainly, the money has shifted toward SUVs and pickup trucks," said Reid Bigland, president and chief executive officer of FCA Canada. "They generally have a much higher transaction price than passenger cars, and I think if you talk to most [original equipment manufacturers], they generally command a higher margin as well.
"Fifty years ago, the pickup truck was an extension of somebody's tool kit, but today they're really doubling as the luxury family vehicle," Bigland said. "You have amenities now in pickup trucks that rival some of the most luxurious vehicles on the market."
The new Silverado will have eight different trim levels when it becomes available this September, ranging from "work truck" to full-on luxury, and will feature three new engines and a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Its highest-level versions will even include a powered tailgate that can be raised and lowered from the cabin or with the key fob.
The entire truck is as much as 204 kilograms lighter than the current generation thanks to lighter-weight materials. It now uses aluminum for the doors, tailgate and hood. Forged aluminum and available carbon-composite springs help save additional weight in its independent suspension.
Chevrolet has not gone as far as Ford's F-150 in its use of the lighter metal, however, sticking with high-strength steel for 80 per cent of the all-new frame. The cabin's safety cage uses seven different grades of steel, and fixed panels, including the bed, are all steel.
"The working end of every pickup is the bed," said Mark Reuss, GM's executive vice-president for global product development, setting up for a jab at the F-150. "It's like the head of a good hammer. It's the end that does all the work and gets all the abuse. I don't think you'd get much work done with an aluminum hammer."
The bed is larger, thanks to thinner but stronger side-sheet metal that varies from two to five millimetres in thickness.
The body is 10 per cent stiffer, but the bed is almost 18 centimetres wider - the short-box edition has 1,784 litres of volume. Lockable storage bins will be available to fit over the wheel wells inside the bed.
There are two new gasolinepowered engines - a 5.3-L and a 6.2-L V-8 - and a completely new 3.0-L inline-six turbo diesel. GM did not reveal any horsepower or torque figures for them, although Reuss said he was confident they'd be the most powerful on the market.
The larger V-8 and the diesel engine will be available with the new Hydra-Matic 10-speed transmission that GM developed jointly with Ford, as well as start-stop technology. All engines will have a "dynamic fuel management" system that can switch off one to seven cylinders when they're not needed.
The vehicle itself is slightly larger than before, with a wheelbase as much as 100 millimetres longer, and there's more space in the cabin: Crew cab models will have 113 centimetres of front legroom and 111 cm in the rear - the latter an increase of 7.6 cm. There's extra cabin storage, too, with clever optional cubbies under the seats and even behind the seat backs.
The new Ram 1500 also has a larger cabin, with more than 10 cm of additional length and double the storage capacity of before. There's so much room now that the rear seats of its crew cab can recline.
The Ram is 102 kilograms lighter, again thanks to lighterweight materials and improvements in metal technology: 98 per cent of its frame is made from high-strength steel, though the bed is stamped and not roll-formed like that of the Chevrolet.
Off-road 4x4 versions are available for almost every version, with a dedicated Rebel edition the most rugged of all.
There are two engines available for the Ram: a 3.6-L V-6 that creates 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque and a 5.7-L Hemi V-8 that's good for 395 hp and 410 lb-ft. Both now include an "eTorque" mild hybrid system, which combines a motor generator with a 48volt battery to add 90 lb-ft and 130 lb-ft of torque respectively.
Both also include stop-start technology and cylinder deactivation, shutting off as much as half the engine when the power isn't needed. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard for all 1500s.
Inside, the Ram has full connectivity with FCA's fourthgeneration Uconnect system and all the leather luxury the maker could think of, as well as 360-degree surround cameras and an optional 12-inch central display screen on its high-end editions.
Like the Silverado, the new Ram will be available in early fall, but drivers who want the smaller Ford Ranger will have to wait longer, perhaps even until early 2019, before the midsize truck becomes available.
For Ford, it can't come soon enough.
Sales of the Ranger ended in North America seven years ago when Ford made the corporate decision to concentrate on its half-tonne F-150, which is the bestselling vehicle on the continent. Many buyers did not want the larger F-150, however, especially those who live in cities.
Chevrolet's Colorado, Toyota's Tacoma and Honda's Ridgeline all increased sales while Ford could offer no true alternative.
Production continued in the rest of the world, though - it's been the bestselling vehicle in South Africa forever - and the new North American Ranger is a development of that popular off-shore vehicle. It was designed in Australia but will be built in Michigan.
Only one powertrain is available: a 2.3-L, turbocharged, four-cylinder Ecoboost with a 10-speed transmission, similar to the one in the new Explorer, which makes 280 hp and 310 lbft of torque. It's a body-onframe five-passenger truck with a steel body and bumpers and an aluminum tailgate.
It looks generally more rugged than the version sold in the rest of the world, with an available 4x4 off-road package. And while everywhere else it's sold with a basic cabin, here it will be sold with supercab and supercrew cabins, both with four full-size doors.
The Ranger will be as easy to drive and park as a regular SUV and will feature a full range of options - to ensure both choice for the buyer and profitability for the maker. It will help fuel even more pickup truck sales when it comes to Canada, so don't expect passenger cars to make a comeback any time soon.
From top to bottom: The new Ram 1500 features double the storage space; the 2019 Chevy Silverado will have eight trim levels, from work to luxury; Ford brings the Ranger back after a seven-year absence.
TOP: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS; ABOVE PHOTOS: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Only one powertrain is available on the new Ford Ranger: a 2.3-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder Ecoboost.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
The Dodge Ram 1500 has full connectivity with FCA's fourth-generation Uconnect system and all the leather luxury the maker could think of.
BRENDAN MCDERMID/ REUTERS