Sterling Heights, Michigan -- It's not difficult to understand why General Motors makes heavy-duty trucks. The HD pickup truck is absolutely required for hard work. It's a necessity for building homes, cutting down forests, harvesting crops, pulling out stumps, and plowing snow. In fact, 77 percent of HD buyers use their truck for towing or trailering at least once a week, compared with 32 percent of light-duty owners. The heavy-duty pickup isn't a relic of the past but instead a reminder of what a truck is really about. It goes to work, sweats it out, and gets the job done.
So, the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra outfitted for heavy-duty work are a big deal. Quite literally, in fact. These are the largest trucks that General Motors makes, both in sheer size and in raw capability. Their customers are also among the most loyal in the industry.
Chevy and GMC last refreshed these pickups in 2011, which involved stuff you couldn't see, like engines and the chassis. Now it's time to change the stuff you can see, and the Chevrolet and GMC heavy-duty pickups now incorporate many of the updates introduced by their light-duty siblings for 2014. So while the mission of the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500 models and the 2015 GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500 models remains the same as before, when these trucks arrive in dealerships in the first quarter of 2014, they'll look and feel quite different, both inside and out.
Freshened Up, Inside and Out
The new front end is the first thing you'll notice about both the Chevrolet and GMC trucks. The hoods are more contoured, and there are new headlights, an updated grille, and restyled bumpers. The doors are now inlaid into the cab, which improves aerodynamics and adds a different appearance.
When it comes to the cargo bed, the Silverado and Sierra HD models get a feature called CornerStep, which was introduced on the 1500 pickups. They are steps at the corners -- hence the name -- which allow for easier access to the bed. The steps are integrated into the side of the truck and have textured pads to give your boots something to grip securely in the most inclement of circumstances. The beds are also updated and have lower liftgates to ease cargo loading.
For the cab configurations, GMC and Chevy replace the extended cab with a double-cab setup, which now has longer, front-hinged rear doors with outside pull-type door handles. This feature allows rear passengers to get out of the truck even if the front doors are closed and the truck has been wedged into a tight parking space. All of the trucks get fresh interiors, including new six-gauge instrument clusters. There are more soft-touch materials, trims, and the latest versions of GM's connectivity technology, called MyLink (Chevrolet) and IntelliLink (GMC).
An HD Truck Is What it Does
Many of the changes to the chassis from 2011 carry over, although GM has added structural reinforcements that increase the payload for Silverado 3500 and Sierra 3500 variants to 7374 pounds, up slightly from the 2014 model's 7222-lb rating. The conventional towing capability (19,600 pounds) and fifth-wheel towing (23,200) also increase marginally compared with the last generation.
In the same way, the powertrains also continue largely unchanged for 2015, like the 765 lb-ft rippling out of the 6.6-liter V-8 turbodiesel. As John Schwegman, executive director of product and pricing for GM's trucks puts it: "We're kind of running out of large stumps to pull out of the ground." Buyers can choose from a 6.0-liter V-8 rated at 360 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque or the 6.6-liter turbodiesel, which cranks out 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque. The Silverado offers a slight variance with the 3500 version, which comes standard with a V-8 that delivers 322 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. All of the engines are paired with six-speed automatic transmissions.
GM has also refined the drive character of its big trucks, fitting StabiliTrak stability control with trailer sway control as standard equipment across both the Chevy and GMC lineups and adding integrated cruise control, automatic grade-sensitive braking, and exhaust braking (on diesel models). GM continues to offer a compressed natural gas conversion for both of the trucks.
What's Going On With Big Trucks
There was a time when pickup trucks were changed only every decade or so, but now the segment is seeing more frequent product changes. At the same time, these changes are often about marketing, not performance. The Chevrolet and GMC HD trucks already command substantial market share, so the pace of their improvement is driven by more than an advertising headline.
As you'd expect, GM is neck-and-neck with Ford in the heavy-duty truck race. Ford had 38 percent of the U.S. market in 2012, while GM was a close second with 36 (with 24 percent for Chevy and 12 percent allotted to GMC). Ram follows with 26 percent of the segment. The heavy-duty market is much like the light-size segment, only richer. The average household income of an HD buyer is $100,000 (vs. $88,000 for a light duty truck), and he or she is more likely to own a personal business. As Schwegman says: "They're really an important part of our business."
That's the thing about an HD truck; it means business, and everybody knows it.