Eye Spy: GM Engineers Hopped on the Ford Tour for Pickup Inspiration

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
eye spy gm engineers hopped on the ford tour for pickup inspiration

Figuring out how best to shave weight from the next-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra wasn’t an easy task, with some General Motors engineers resorting to taking public tours of Ford’s Dearborn truck assembly plant just to see how their rival handled its all-aluminum body.

Ultimately, GM opted for a hybrid solution of sorts — some aluminum, backed up by varying grades of steel, to slim down its 2019 full-size pickups. But the obsession with Ford didn’t end with the plant tours.

Speaking to Reuters, Tim Herrick, executive chief engineer for GM’s truck programs, said his spies noticed, “[Ford] had a real hard time getting those doors to fit.” With stopwatches in hand, they watched and timed the operation as the F-150s moved down the line.

Focusing on the doors, Herrick’s team bought and disassembled F-150 doors sold as parts. It was then they realized GM could get away with using thinner, high-strength steel plus aluminum to shed pounds (up to 450 lbs per vehicle), without having to make the entire body from the lightweight commodity. Seven grades of steel make up the cab, while aluminum is the material of choice for the doors, hood, and tailgate.

Tariffs and rising aluminum prices are currently hurting Ford’s profits, but GM’s not exactly outside the boat. There’s also new tariffs on imported steel, and the rise in commodity prices have taken a chunk out of GM’s earnings, too. Still, the team’s glad they didn’t go all-aluminum.

Herrick claims the company battled with the decision at all levels (“it was a really hotly contested item for us”), but feels the decision to mix metals will ultimately help the company reap a larger windfall per truck.

“We think we have thousands of dollars advantage (over Ford) just in the aluminum costs. It’s big,” he said, adding that the extra profit will help fund other programs while keeping shareholders happy.

The reduced weight of the slightly larger crop of 2019 pickups meant the opportunity to do the unthinkable: add a four-cylinder offering to the engine mix. Backed by a host of efficiency-minded tech, GM’s turbocharged 2.7-liter “Tripower” inline-four generates 310 horsepower and 348 lb-ft of torque, and could give the General an edge in the full-size fuel economy fight. Currently, no EPA ratings exist for this mill.

We’ll have a first-drive of the 2019 Silverado for readers next week.

[Image: General Motors]

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  • Carroll Prescott Carroll Prescott on Aug 13, 2018

    And this is what they were so inspired to build? Another third rate truck from a company that couldn't care less about building a competitive product.

  • Carroll Prescott Carroll Prescott on Aug 13, 2018

    Considering that we've caved into other countries' desires for years, it is time to give them a taste of their own medicine.

  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
  • Cardave5150 I've had 2 different 300's - an '08 300SRT and an '18 300C. Loved them both a LOT, although, by the time I had the second one, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the image of 300's out on the street, as projected by the 3rd or 4th buyers of the cars.I always thought that the car looked a little stubby behind the rear wheels - something that an extra 3-4" in the trunk area would have greatly helped.When the 300 was first launched, there were invitation-only meet-and-greets at the dealerships, reminding me of the old days when new model-year launches were HUGE. At my local dealer, they were all in formalwear (tuxes and elegant dresses) with a nice spread of food. They gave out crystal medallions of the 300 in a sweet little velvet box (I've got mine around the house somewhere). I talked to a sales guy for about 5 minutes before I asked if we could take one of the cars out (a 300C with the 5.7 Hemi). He acted like he'd been waiting all evening for someone to ask that - we jumped in the car and went out - that thing, for the time, seemed to fly.Corey - when it comes time for it, don't forget to mention the slightly-stretched wheelbase 300 (I think it was the 300L??). I've never found one for sale (not that I've looked THAT hard), as they only built them for a couple of years.
  • Jkross22 "I’m doing more for the planet by continuing to drive my vehicle than buying a new one for strictly frivolous reasons."It's not possible to repeat this too much.
  • Jeff S Got to give credit to Chrysler for putting the 300 as a rear wheel drive back on the market. This will be a future classic.