By on March 15, 2018

GMC unveiled the 2019 GMC Sierra amid great pomp and circumstance on March 1st. Much of the buzz surrounding the new truck focused on new features like a multi-function tailgate and comprehensive towing suite. One of the new features, CarbonPro, is the industry’s first carbon fiber pickup box. Duncan Aldred, GMC’s Global Vice President, went as far as saying, “In 116 years of making GMC pickup trucks, our industry-first carbon fiber box is the toughest and most durable pickup box we have ever made.”

While we have little reason to question that statement, it gives the impression that this pickup box is made out of supercars and iPhone cases. In reality, it’s chopped up carbon fiber in a nylon plastic resin. After talking to GMC and the supplier that builds the CarbonPro box, we’ve this product does indeed have some important advancements. At the same time, it is also shares some similarities with the pickup boxes found on the Toyota Tacoma and Honda Ridgeline.

Following a similar plan as Toyota and Honda isn’t a bad idea. Both the Tacoma and Ridgeline have durable beds that are lighter than the steel competition. The Detroit Three aren’t blind to that fact.

Ford and GM actually made composite pickup boxes before Honda or Toyota. Ford’s Explorer SporTrac had a four-foot composite bed. Meanwhile, GM had the first full-size truck with a composite bed in 2001. Unfortunately for the future of composite beds, the Silverado and Sierra’s Pro-Tec box, an $850 option, had a take rate of just 10 percent of what GM expected. Sales performance was so poor that it took General Motors over 15 years to introduce another composite box.

This leads us to GMC’s new CarbonPro pickup box. Work on the box started a few years ago as a global development project with Teijin Automotive. GM had engineers co-locate at the Teijin facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan, to create a collaborative product development cycle. At first, joint development work focused on how to design and process the new material; co-development steps included modeling techniques, material validation, manufacturing strategies, and manufacturing processes.

In 2017, Teijin acquired Continental Structural Plastics (CSP). This gave Teijin and GM the materials and manufacturing capability to build the product. CSP had been honing its manufacturing expertise of composite products by making the boxes for the Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma, as well as hardtops for the Jeep Wrangler and other auto industry composite products.

The end result of the collaboration is a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic box that will be molded in the U.S. and made via a process Teijin calls Sereebo. It is the world’s first mass-production technology for thermoplastic carbon fiber-reinforced polymer. Teijin claims it improves production efficiency by significantly reducing molding time while still yeilding a durable product.

The CarbonPro box uses a chopped 1-inch carbon-fiber thread. The carbon fiber is reinforced with nylon plastic resin sheets, then molded to allow the carbon fiber to bond with the plastic. The process happens in minutes. It’s not a pure carbon fiber weave like pieces of the Lexus LFA. CSP and Teijin are not weaving these beds in giant carbon fiber looms; rather, the molding process is similar to how other composite truck beds are made.

CSP plans to mold the box at its facility in Huntington, Indiana. The 340,000 square-foot factory opened in 2010 and employs around 350 people. It is also less than 30 minutes from GM’s Fort Wayne Truck Plant.

The CarbonPro replaces the standard steel box inner with a lightweight, purpose-designed material that supposedly offers “exceptional” impact resistance, as well as strength and durability. GMC claims the box has significantly stronger material properties that any other composite box on the market. It also estimates the CarbonPro box is 40 percent lighter than steel. Competitors’ composite boxes are only 10 percent lighter than steel, the automaker claims.

Taking the pickup rivalry even further, GMC says traditional “sheet molded composite” — the material used in competitors’ boxes — “would not have met our full-sized truck structural requirements or saved as much mass.” Weight loss, compared to a standard Sierra steel bed, stands at 62 pounds (more, if you included the weight of a spray-on or drop-in liner).

While all the materials underwent durability testing during the co-development process, GM did some unique testing on its own. According to CSP, “Engineers challenged the box’s durability with new creative tests that included dropping 30 Bobcat loads (of) materials including large gravel, crushed concrete and Belgian blocks, as well as the loading in and out of studded snowmobiles.” These tests are what led the automaker to declare it as “the toughest and most durable pickup box we have ever made.”

So far, GMC has only announced that the box will have late availability on the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali. The company wouldn’t comment on future availability on other products or Sierra trims. At this point, it appears there is a future for CarbonPro. There’s already a similar product in use on other trucks, there continues to be an industry-wide quest to save weight, and GMC is marketing this bed aggressively.

But questions about the viability of this product remain. The biggest concern is price. So far, GMC isn’t talking price. In communications with TTAC, CSP did mention this product being affordable. However, without actual numbers, it is difficult to define what constitutes “affordable.” It will also be interesting to see if GM can use this material on other products. The automaker’s partner already makes a large number of sheet molded composite parts for other manufacturers, and there’s the possibility GM can expand on the lightness and strength of the material.

Since the CarbonPro box is only available on the Sierra Denali, sales will be limited —expanding the box to other GMC and Chevrolet models would allow GM to spread out the costs, but if the price is too high, the option will go unordered.

In the past, GM introduced a number of new truck features that never caught on. Quadrasteer, the Pro-Tec bed, Two-Mode Hybrid, and the GMC Envoy XUT were all interesting ideas doomed by price or marketing. We’ll soon see if CarbonPro joins those failed attempts, or if it forces FCA and Ford to develop new pickup boxes of their own.

[Images: Adam Tonge/TTAC, General Motors]

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32 Comments on “What’s in the Box?! – With GMC’s CarbonPro Pickup Bed, Plenty...”

  • avatar

    This sounds like it could be a winner. The picture shows the carbon fiber components as separate pieces – are they really separate, and if so, how are they held together? Bonded? Glued together? Bolted together?

    Also, what’s the UV performance like? What will the material look like after ten years in the sun in Texas or Arizona? Unpainted CF on cars is normally clear coated with a coating that includes a UV protectant. The bed material in my 2013 Tacoma still looks good after five Texas summers. I also use a rubber Toyota bed mat, so that items don’t slide around so much.

  • avatar

    Sounds interesting. I wonder if GM would build body panels for their other cars out of the stuff.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the mention of QuadraSteer. I think the take rate could have been much better if they hadn’t made QS insanely expensive by offering it only as a part of an options package, but instead had offered it as a standalone option.

    • 0 avatar

      GM couldn’t afford to offer QuadraSteer cheaper. It was a case study in a value engineering certification course a former employer sent me to. GM badly overestimated the cost customers would be willing to pay for the feature. The price add to get the feature barely covered the costs of adding the equipment. They lost quite a bit of money compared to a similar-spec non-QS truck. That’s the real reason they quit offering it, the low take rate was a blessing in disguise.

    • 0 avatar

      Local family has a Suburban with QuadraSteer. I’ve often wondered how RARE that was.

  • avatar

    “California, tell your people to stay away. Stay away now, don’t … don’t come in here. Whatever you hear, stay away! John Doe has the upper hand! John Doe has the upper hand! ”

    Nice reference in the title!

  • avatar

    This looks awesome, but expensive. How many buyers really care if either 1) their steel box gets dented and scratched or 2) they have an extra 100 pounds of weight (accounting for a spray-on liner)?

    • 0 avatar

      And will buyers wonder how that plastic box will hold up under “Professional Grade” applications.

      Even Tonka builds metal trucks. Real world trucks should not use plastic for high wear&tear parts.

  • avatar

    Pick up bed made of Plastic with chopped carbon fiber strips.
    The answer to a question no one asked.

    • 0 avatar

      Since it’s make of Nylon, I wonder how bad the dimensionality change will be?
      Those panel gaps are going to be huuuuge.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “The answer to a question no one asked.”

      Not really…

      How much does it cost to undercoat a truck bed?
      How much does a bed liner cost?
      How much is a replacement bed?
      Should I buy a bed liner or go with the factory coating?

      It’s innovative and solves a problem. What’s wrong with that?

  • avatar

    CFRP is the future of automotive manufacturing, and I’m glad GM has decided to roll out CFRP components on mass market vehicles. Hopefully, they will find ways to get this CFRP bed into higher volume applications.

    The issue with CFRP (to my knowledge) is not the cost of the materials themselves. Plastic and carbon fibers are cheap. The cost is driven by cure time and adhesion time. Therefore, CFRP increases the capital expenditures required to produce sufficient quantities, and the upfront investment outstrips the savings on the assembly line. The intellectual property required to mitigate the drawbacks probably costs a fair amount as well.

    The future of CFRP in trucks will be interesting to watch. Since the vehicles are body on frame, it seems like they have inherent advantages for using CFRP because the CFRP components can simply be bolted onto the frame. However, if the body loses 500lbs via CFRP a 5.0L-6.0L V8 will no longer be required to pull the vehicle around. The powertrain will change. Maybe Ford is already giving us a glimpse.

  • avatar

    I think it’ll be difficult to determine how tough this stuff is until it arrives on lesser trims. Denali owners aren’t likely to put a ton of crushed stone in their truck beds.

  • avatar

    Doesn’t matter a bit cause the wheel arches will rot away from the damned thing. Why can we not make, in 2018, wheel arches and cab corners that aren’t the first thing to rot?

  • avatar

    I wonder how slick it is. Still get a rubber mat to keep things from sliding around.

  • avatar

    I’m not convinced that randomly situated chopped-up carbon fibers add anything in the way of strength or durability to this bedliner. The fiber has to be wetted to actually form part of the iverall material, and when in cloth form becomes a structural matrix. Does anyone know for sure if chopped carbon fiber is a known structural material?

    It’s just that to my perhaps limited understanding, the carbon fiber here seems no more than filler. The real product is the plastic. Of course, Marketing will blow the carbon fiber whistle for all it’s worth, whether it contributes real value or not.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      Carbon fiber forms a mat with a nylon/plastic resin. Based on what I’ve been told by GM and CSP, the carbon fiber mat has significant energy absorbing/strength properties and compared to tradition composites.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        That might be the case. But when you already have the wheel and it works really good, why create a new more expensive with no real benefit?

        The only possible benefit is research and development.

        • 0 avatar

          I know they want to make trucks lighter for mpg and a steel bed weighs alot. But come winter I threw in some ballast just to improve traction, so real world you are probably right, good old steel, even if it has a tarriff.

  • avatar

    Plastic? HAHAHAHAHA plastic. You hear that Ford? Its time for payback!

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    This bed reminds me of those fibreglass swimming pools.

    A friend of the family owned a swimming manufacturing company and he produced fibreglass pools.

    It was fascinating to watch. A gun was used that feed the fibre and cut it into 2″ lengths and another part of the gun sprayed the epoxy resin.

    This kind of technology has been around since the 50s and has been modernised by GM.

    Unless robotics are used extensively I can’t see this tub being viable, it’s might just be a marketing push.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    So, this is so great the mining industry has not adopted this? You would think the agri, construction, etc industries would already be applying this tech.

    So, why?


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