Reports are starting to filter out about some of the possible powertrain strategies GM might use for the next-generation Chevy and GMC half-ton pickups, due out next year.
According to Automotive News, GM engineers are saying they will continue to use the existing (though improved) cylinder-deactivation technology, called Active Fuel Management, currently used on certain V-8 options for the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500. We think GM is planning other weight-saving measures and advanced technology solutions to help the new half-tons achieve fuel economy improvements, but probably not to the extent we just saw in the 2013 Ram 1500.
The GM strategy has been pretty clear from the start: come to the U.S. pickup market with smaller, more fuel-efficient midsize pickups for buyers who need the higher gas mileage, while leaving the more mainstream work-duty full-size trucks for bigger loads and towing. Of course, Ram Truck does not have a small pickup anymore, so it made every attempt to make the new 1500 all about fuel savings, hence the HFE model (18/25 mpg city/highway) requires the start/stop engine technology, low-rolling-resistance tires and a bed tonneau cover -- all for $29,195. (It should be noted that Ram does offer the 4x2 V-6 with TorqueFlite 8 suspension in regular, quad and crew-cab configurations with 17/25 mpg.)
It will be interesting to see if GM will includes its best fuel-efficiency technology (AFM-plus?) on one specific model or make it all available across the new lineup. But we do know that the current AFM technology has quite a bit of room to allow for both more aggressive and more programmable settings if the GM engineers want to go that direction. Current AFM technology is reported to offer between 7 and 8 percent improvements compared with non-AFM models, but we could envision a selectable driver-controlled button offering both Eco and Highway settings that could change the computer-mapping programs to bias the system to be more aggressive for around-town driving or long-haul cruising.
No doubt Ford will very interested in how truck customers will view the Ram and GM strategies, but it seems to be doing just fine with the continuing EcoBoost success. In fact, by year's end, Ford is likely to surpass its 250,000th F-150-equipped pickup, making the engine the most popular in its pickup truck lineup across the board. And they're getting a premium price for each one of them.
Are you listening, GM? We hope you have something up your sleeve because just doing the same old thing -- even if it's a little bit better or of a higher quality -- may not be enough to attract the attention of new-truck buyers. We'll see.