First Look: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra

Every Corvette fanatic’s 2013 desk calendar has January 13 circled. That’s when Chevrolet officially unveils its C7, a day ahead of the North American International Auto Shows’ press conferences. General Motors’ other big press conference at Detroit is more important, if you count volume and profits.

The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra are the General’s most overdue new models. Their development was put on hold in early 2008, when oil prices shot up and killed off the big, V-8 truck business, even before the September ’08 Lehman Brothers collapse culminated in GM’s ’09 bankruptcy.

Phew. Glad that’s all behind us so we can talk about sheetmetal. Therein lies the rub; first, the pickup truck business dropped from 14 percent, to 11 percent of a swiftly shrinking U.S. auto market. Then, as it crept up to 12 percent during the slowly recovering economy, the much-newer Ford F-Series, already the market leader for four decades, cleaned the clocks of the Silverado and Sierra. Previously, the two GM trucks, combined, sometimes outsold the F-Series in certain months.

As GM lifted the veils off the two trucks in a preview of the show reveal, the automaker has a staggeringly high 139-day supply of ’12 and ’13 Silverado/Sierras, though the company says it has been building inventory to compensate for a complete shut-down when it takes a couple of weeks to tool up for the new models. Production of the 2014 models begins in the second quarter of 2013.

The earnest folks at Chevrolet Trucks and GMC say they have made the new Silverado and Sierra more “family friendly” without trying to turn them into cars. The family truck sub-segment took off when truckmakers finally began offering four-door crew cabs about a decade ago. GM says crew cabs accounted for 67 percent of pickup sales in 2011, up from 0 percent in ’01. To that point, the new GM crews have longer rear door openings, shorter front door openings and more interior space.

Ride and handling improvements are courtesy new cab mounts for less vibration, aluminum front suspension components and stiffer front springs, retuned rear leaf springs with new bushings and new twin-tube shocks with better low-speed damping.

In the wake of rumors the next Ford F-Series will be aluminum-intensive and 700 pounds lighter than the current model, GM’s new trucks aren’t terribly radical. They have an optional step-in rear bumper to make it easier to climb into the box, and optional front park assist to help you with that long, tall hood, which now is aluminum. A forward-collision alert, defeatable, and lane-departure warning which vibrates the lower part of the driver’s seat, also will be options.

The new trucks get triple-sealed doors, box rail protectors with built-in handholds, and in club cabs, inlaid rear doors that fit into the body. No more clamshell doors. There’s also a new 6.5-foot box option to the Silverado and Sierra crew cabs, for maximum cargo/people capacity and minimum parallel parking opportunities.

A new cab-to-box seal was designed for better aerodynamics. They have “extensive” use of high-strength steel and fully boxed frames, hydroformed in certain sections. The frames are 11-22 pounds lighter than the ’13 models’. Four-wheel discs are standard, again, after several years’ absence, and a new ferritic nitride coating (FNC) assures no orange-colored rotors if a truck sits on the dealer’s lot too long. The sideview mirrors are a bit smaller than the ’13 models’, another aero improvement.

The F-Series’ 700-pound diet seems apocryphal anyway; Ford’s apparent attempt to scare the General’s guys and get them to delay the trucks further while taking time for bigger changes. A truck is a truck. Chevy loyalists will remain Chevy loyalists, Ford loyalists won’t get near a bowtie and those unauthorized Calvin and Hobbes window stickers will remain a viable aftermarket item. Ford cannot afford to cut into its trucks’ substantial profit margin with costly body materials and assembly just as buyers are shifting to low-margin small cars.

The new GM trucks carry forth with some familiar numbers. The base engine remains a 4.3-liter V-6. The volume engine is a 5.3-liter small block V-8, and the top choice is the 6.2-liter, related to the C7’s Gen V small block. They’re aluminum-block engines, with cross-bolted main caps. Each have a cam-driven fuel pump for better noise, vibration and harshness, and have oil-spray piston cooling for hi-load operation. All engines get redesigned combustion systems, with gas direct-injection, continuously variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation, which GM calls Active Fuel Management. The V-8s have new, stronger 9.5- and 9.76-inch rear axles. Both the V-6 and the V-8s become V-4s at highway cruising speeds. There will be just one transmission, a six-speed automatic. The hybrid powertrain has been dropped.

When Chevy unveiled the new Corvette LT1 earlier this fall, engineers said 6.2 liters turns out to be the optimum displacement for AFM because the displacement’s power assures spending the most time in V-4 mode. There was no such claim at the truck preview, and engineers didn’t think the 6.2 AFM’s highway fuel mileage would necessarily match that of the 5.3’s. The maker claims more power, torque and better fuel economy for all three compared with the engines they replace. Not all-new engines, they’re “significant updates.”

GM didn’t release horsepower or torque figures for any of the engines, though it says the 4.3 has the most torque of any naturally aspirated V-6. Toyota’s 4.0-liter V-6 and Ford’s 3.7-liter V-6 now tie at 278 pound-feet.

Engineers got more precise control of the combustion event in each cylinder from the engines’ redesign. There’s better control of detonation, as part of the fuel efficiency improvements.

The Chevy and GMC will have best-in-class towing, GM claims, no matter what cab style or whether two- or four-wheel-drive.

GM is striving for more separation between the Chevy and GMC versions of the truck. Being body-on-frame, different front clips are relatively easy to accomplish. Like the current models, the Silverado gets stacked, dual projector headlamps and the Sierra continues with single headlamps, now LED projectors. The Chevy comes with solid chrome lower bumpers, while the GMC has chrome door handles, lower body moldings and rocker moldings.

The fleet-friendly Work Truck remains Chevy-only, and most GMC models will be priced higher than their Chevrolet counterparts. The two brands have distinct interior designs, with pressed-in stitched-look dashboards for the GMCs. A high-zoot Sierra Denali is inevitable. Both brands will offer 17-, 18- and 20-inch wheels, with 22s available as dealer accessories.

Later in the year, Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac will introduce new versions of their traditional full-size sport/utilities based on these pickups. After that, heavy-duty versions of the Silverado and Sierra will be updated with the new styling of the half-ton pickups.