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Chevy Silverado swings first blow in pickup wars

Nora Naughton, and Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Let the truck wars begin.

Chevrolet unveiled its much-hyped 2019 Silverado pickup truck Saturday night at Eastern Market, kicking off a trio of truck reveals expected at the Detroit auto show.

Weighing 450 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the Truck of Steel doubles down on the durable metal with a roll-formed (not stamped) high-strength bed, it boasts the biggest box in the segment – increasing width by seven inches and length by one inch over the current truck. The Chevy bed also makes news at the North American International Auto Show with a segment-first power tailgate that can be opened or closed by key fob, cabin button or hand.

The debut sets up a heavyweight showdown with its arch-rival, the aluminum-bed Ford F-150.

“The working end of every pickup is the bed. It’s like the head of a good hammer, it’s the end that does all the work,” Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president of global product development, said as he was flanked by three of the four 2019 Chevrolet Silverados on the stage at Eastern Market Saturday night.

“I don’t think we’d get much work done with an aluminum hammer,” Reuss said, taking yet another swipe at Ford Motor Co.’s aluminum-bodied F-150.

While maintaining its signature, horizontal “sandwich grille” – anchored by the Chevy bow-tie logo – the Silverado exterior drops its boxy look for a much more sculpted exterior. Narrower headlights and door-mounted mirrors also immediately distinguish the 2019 pickup from its predecessor.

The Silverado's sleek-aerodynamic face is inspired by the sixth-generation Camaro, said Mike Simcoe, GM's design chief. And new integrated sensors, hidden under the corner step bumper, make for a bigger statement on the back of the truck with big, bold tail lights.

"Day or night, you’ll recognize this new Silverado," Simcoe said.

Chevy will offer a diesel option for its light-duty truck. The 3.0-liter V-6 diesel is an immediate answer to Ford’s announcement earlier this week that it will offer a diesel in its light-duty pickup for the first time. GM’s oil-burner, made in-house, debuts in the Silverado.

"I’m not going to go into the numbers today," Reuss said. "But some of our competition has already given their numbers on their new diesel and I am really confident that we will have the best performing diesel in this segment."

After the F-150 rocked the Detroit auto Show in 2014 with an aluminum-skinned truck that carved 700 pounds off its big frame, industry observers assumed Detroit rivals GM and Ram would have to follow suit to meet strict federal fuel economy requirements. That hasn’t happened. Indeed, Chevy skewered its rival with “real people” commercials showing a dropped toolbox puncturing the bed of the F-150.

“We know there is more than one element in the periodic table,” said Silverado Chief Engineer Tim Herrick, elbowing Ford in the ribs while detailing Chevy’s mixed-metals construction strategy.

Silverado’s frame-rail chassis and pickup bed remain steel, but the truck’s hood, doors and tailgate will be made of aluminum as Chevy undertook a comprehensive review of the big truck to save weight. Where Ford’s 700-pound aluminum diet brought it even with the current-generation Chevy pickup, the 2019 Silverado should once again claim class-lightweight status with 450 pounds of weight reduction.

That reduction helps account for the GM brand’s continued reliance on normally aspirated V-8 engines. In addition to its aluminum diet, Ford has committed to a turbocharged V-6 strategy to save fuel while increasing torque.

The Silverado will stick with V-8s as its top-line engines, announcing that its 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter workhorses become more efficient with “dynamic fuel-management” – the engine’s electronic brain chooses between one and eight cylinders, depending on need.

“Our competition has downsized and boosted their engines,” said Herrick. “Our V-8 is an iconic engine for us, and we have made it even better.”

There are more bed tie-downs (12), there’s more interior legroom (3 inches in the back seat of the popular Crew Cab) and there are three more available trims: Custom Trail Boss, RST, and LT Trail Boss. The latter is a tough-looking brute with blacked-out grille, two-inch suspension lift and Z71 off-road package including locking rear differential, skid plates and all-terrain tires.

“Truck customers told us they want the perfect truck for them and not a ‘one size fits most’ truck,” said GM design boss Mike Simcoe. “That insight shaped our design strategy with eight distinct models, each with a unique personality to fit different customers, from the affordable work truck to the luxurious High Country.”

Technology has long been a calling card of the F-series, but the Silverado is no slouch. In addition to the available power liftgate, the Silverado offers 4G WiFi and smartphone app compatibility.

The one thing the pickup adversaries share is a 10-speed transmission, co-developed by GM and Ford for rear-wheel drive platforms. The Silverado will couple the 10-speed with its 6.2-liter V8 and diesel. The Silverado will begin production at GM’s Fort Wayne assembly plant in Indiana. It arrives on dealer's lots this fall.