Debut: New GMC Sierra pickup reaches higher

Henry Payne and Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

GMC unveiled on Thursday its all-new flagship Sierra pickup, the defining vehicle of a growing brand.

The 2019 Sierra and its premium Denali trim are a departure from mainstream sibling Chevy Silverado, with industry-firsts including an optional carbon-fiber bed.

GM has been developing the carbon-fiber bed for a little over two years, according to Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

The 2019 GMC Sierra makes its global debut at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit, Thursday.

The tough, lightweight material is usually found in race-car tubs or the skins of luxury sports cars. Dubbed “CarbonPro,” GMC says it will offer “best-in-class dent-, scratch- and corrosion-resistance.”

Reuss declined to say whether the option would appear on other GM pickups like the Silverado, but seemed confident that truck buyers would be clamoring for the CarbonPro bed once it becomes available.

“I think it’s going to be very popular,” he said at the premiere of the truck at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit. “I think there’s a huge value-proposition in it.”

Separating itself from the Silverado — and re-enforcing its claim as the pickup segment’s only premium nameplate — GMC has given the Sierra other exclusive features including a multi-dimensional tailgate and head-up display.

Differentiation between the GMC and Chevrolet brands is key, Reuss said.

“If you look at the way the truck is styled, there’s not much carrying over from truck to truck here,” he said. “We made a very conscious decision to really differentiate these because people pay for that differentiation either way.”

Following the lead of its “Professional Grade” big pickup, GMC has expanded its flotilla to include a full-size Yukon SUV, midsize Canyon pickup, family Acadia ute and compact Terrain crossover. All carry GMC’s upscale Denali badge which now accounts for 30 percent of brand sales and carries the industry’s highest average transaction price — besting even luxury icons like Mercedes and BMW.

GMC sales have more than doubled since 2009 to 560,687, including a 3 percent rise in 2017 despite an overall down U.S. market.

“All the marketing investment has been leading to this point in launching the next-generation Sierra because it’s such an important vehicle for the brand,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president for global GMC. “This will mark the strategy that comes after — not only from a design perspective but from a market-share aspiration.”

The standard Sierra echoes the Silverado’s commitment to a rolled-steel bed, in defiance of the best-selling Ford F150’s much-publicized move to aluminum. Together with Chevy, GMC brings the biggest box in segment — increasing width by 7 inches and length by 1 inch over the current truck.

Behind the bed is another segment first, GMC’s versatile “MultiPro Tailgate,” which is powered, also a first for the segment. Its Swiss Army knife list of functions includes enhanced second-tier loading, a standing workstation, easier box access, and a step-entry and assist handle that can withstand 375 pounds of weight.

The Sierra is bigger in every dimension, a response to focus groups who wanted a Sierra “that projects strength,” said exterior design boss Matt Noone. The bow gets a complete remake with an even taller front fascia. The top-trim Denali grille features more chrome than a Woodward Dream Cruise display of ’50s Cadillac Coupe DeVilles. Chrome also outlines the truck’s side glass, and even the Denali tailpipes get rectangular, chrome tips for the first time.

Front headlights are a work of art with an LED “light blade” bringing a three-dimensional look to GMC’s signature c-clamp headlight. The pickup’s aluminum doors, hood and tailgate panels — a first for Sierra as the pickup goes on a diet by up to 360 pounds — are sharply stamped with a deep, arching bezel cut into the side (the body is still built on a steel frame-rail truck architecture). Gone are the bulky, square fender arches.

Towering over traffic with another inch added to its ride height, Sierra uses multiple tricks for more efficient aerodynamics to counter its increased stature. In addition to its toned torso and grille shutters, the front corners gain air curtains for better airflow through the fenders. It’s a design tweak shared by the Chevy Silverado, which is assembled at the same Fort Wayne, Ind., and Mexico plants as the GMC — and on the same, lighter platform.

The luxury continues inside where the well-appointed interior (real wood is offered for the first time) bristles with electric gadgetry like a head-up display and camera mirror for better rear visibility. The camera mirror debuted on the Cadillac CT6 two years ago.

Backseat passengers get 3 more inches of legroom, heated seats, and heating and air-conditioning controls.

The new Sierra is powered by an upgraded fleet of engines — including a GMC-first 3.0-liter inline-6 diesel — and 6.2- and 5.3-liter gasoline V-8s with stop-start technology and the ability to operate on one to eight cylinders to optimize fuel efficiency. All engines will be mated to a new 10-speed transmission.

GMC’s flagship comes in four trims — SLE, upscale SLT, off-road rebel All Terrain and posh Denali. All arrive at dealerships this fall.