2007 GMC Sierra Z71
2007 GMC Sierra Z71. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Among domestic manufacturers, trucks are big business: they are General Motors’ highest-volume product, and the profits they generate are going to be considered a large part of the company’s plan to revive its flagging fortunes. So it’s no surprise that the company made an event out of revealing the new generation of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, which debut as 2007 models.

It all happened at the company’s massive proving grounds in Milford, Michigan, where media, dealers and a select group of truck owners from across Canada and the U.S. were assembled in the scorching August heat.

Leaving the sanctuary of an air-conditioned tent, participants made their way through a delightful display of restored Chevrolet and GMC trucks, ranging from a 1915 GMC flatbed to a 1975 Chevrolet that was the first pilot project that year, and still only has 2.8 miles on the odometer.

A 1938 GMC truck
A 1938 GMC truck was part of a historical display. This antique truck was borrowed from a dealership by GM and used in a never-released James Garner movie, but was shot full of holes during filming. Rather than return it, GM bought the truck and restored it to its original condition. Click image to enlarge

There was also a line-up of trucks in “well-loved” condition, rusty fenders and all, but these were equally important: they belong to members of the Silverado 200,000 Mile Club, who had been brought in to see the event. All own trucks with more than 200,000 miles (321,868 km) on the original drivetrain; a couple were well over half a million miles (804,672 km) and were still in use. That sits well with GM, of course, since many of its advertising campaigns revolve around customer loyalty, long-term dependability and an “all-American” theme (even though some of the new models are built in Canada and Mexico).

The first new GMC drives out along the proving grounds
The first new GMC drives out along the proving grounds

They're everywhere!
They’re everywhere! Click image to enlarge

Everyone sat in bleachers, facing one of the proving grounds roads that disappeared on either side behind a grove of trees. A Chevrolet Avalanche pulled up and GM Chairman Rick Wagoner got out, and made his way to the podium. After his short speech, two new trucks came out from behind the trees. Then there were a few more, and finally a cavalry charge, as twenty-six trucks in all came out from behind the forest. Some were loaded with hay or trees, while others were pulling boats, horse trailers, construction equipment and even an Airstream trailer.

This new generation still bears a strong family resemblance to the truck it replaces, but with numerous refinements and updates. New exterior designs differentiate between the two brands: Chevrolet favours wide, squared-off fender flares, while GMC’s are rounder and more integrated into the body; Chevrolet’s horizontal grille bars contrast with GMC’s squared-off grille opening. The idea, as General Motors North America vice-president Gary White said in his presentation, is to give GMC more of an industrial, professional-grade “work truck” appearance in keeping with the brand’s heritage; to my eye, it’s the more attractive of the two.

A cutaway model of the 6.0-litre V8
A cutaway model of the 6.0-litre V8. Click image to enlarge

Engine choices are a 4.3-litre V6, 4.8-litre V8, 5.3-litre V8, 6.0-litre V8 and exclusive to the GMC Sierra Denali, a 6.2-litre V8. The 5.3-litre and 6.0-litre come with Active Fuel Management, which seamlessly deactivates half the cylinders under light load for improved fuel mileage; GM says that the overall truck line-up will offer a one to two mpg advantage over its competition.

Other new-for-2007 features include all-new, stiffer fully-boxed frames with hydroformed front section; new coil-over-shock front suspension; new splayed rear shock arrangement; a sleeker and more aerodynamic 57-degree windshield angle; wider and lower stance; 170-degree-opening rear doors on extended cab models; new 17-, 18- and 20-inch wheels; premium interior materials with lower gloss levels; increased interior storage capacity; standard OnStar; and StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with rollover mitigation technology as standard equipment on crew cab models, and optional on extended-cab models.

The interior of the Chevrolet LTZ. This is the
The interior of the Chevrolet LTZ. This is the “Luxury Inspired” interior, one of two available across the line-up. Click image to enlarge

Inside, there are two interiors: the “Pure American Pickup” interior (which will probably be renamed simply “Pure Pickup” for Canadian sales) and the “Luxury Inspired” interior on upscale models. The new trucks have more leg, hip and headroom, with 44 inches (111 cm) of legroom in the front seats. Available options will include a power-operated back glass or sunroof on extended and crew cab models, ultrasonic rear parking assist, rain-sensing wipers, heated washer fluid system, rear seat entertainment system on crew cab models, touch-screen DVD-based navigation system, and new-generation OnStar that includes turn-by-turn navigation automatically downloaded into the driver information centre.

The GMC Sierra Denali is the top-of-the-line pickup
The GMC Sierra Denali is the top-of-the-line pickup. Click image to enlarge

So what are they like? There was no opportunity to drive the trucks, but we could certainly crawl all over them, and I was impressed with what I saw.

Even without a test drive, the information sounds good: the new frame has 234 per cent increased torsional stiffness and 62 per cent increased vertical bending stiffness, with wider front and rear tracks, and a new rack-and-pinion steering system that’s mounted on the front crossmember; in the back, the shock absorbers are angled outward, which the company says will give it a “firmly-planted driving feel”, as well as increase payload and towing capacities.

GM of Canada was on hand; Tony LaRocca, Manager of Product Communications, with the Silverado. Light-duty crew cab and extended cab models are built in Oshawa, Ontario. Click image to enlarge

All of this should, in theory, give a tighter and smoother ride, with less vibration through the steering wheel. The new front section also improves vehicle-to-vehicle compatibility, with the force of a crash directed more to a smaller vehicle’s frame, rather than to its passenger compartment.

What I could see was the fit-and-finish on the new trucks. GM has done an excellent job of panel fit and gap reduction; the company says the hood-to-fender gap is targeted at 4 mm, the grille-to-bumper gap has been reduced to 17 mm, and the headlamp-to-fender gap is now 1.5 mm. The pickup box now uses a one-piece wheelhouse and inner box side for more strength and a smoother appearance, and the boxes are 30 mm deeper in front and 40 mm deeper at the rear.

A clever bed rail cargo system consists of three bars, to which any number of dealer-available accessories are attached
A clever bed rail cargo system consists of three bars, to which any number of dealer-available accessories are attached

The cargo system with a cargo divider attached
The cargo system with a cargo divider attached.

Hauling an Airstream trailer
Hauling an Airstream trailer. Click image to enlarge

A new cargo management system is available for all models, consisting of three rails that run along the box sides and forward wall, with adjustable tie-down brackets. The system can accommodate a number of dealer-ordered accessory packages, including an overhead utility rack, sliding toolbox, sliding bed divider, storage boxes or a bicycle mount; the tool boxes and bicycle mount use a codeable lock that can be set to the truck’s key for convenience. It’s a great system and will probably prove very popular, but I would have liked to see the box finished with a spray-in bed liner from the factory, as Japanese manufacturers finish theirs. The drop-in plastic box liner, while profitable for dealers, really is a dinosaur compared to the new, indestructible spray-in products.

The interiors are equally innovative, with a lower dashboard, an increased recline angle and more fore/aft travel on the front seats, concealed fasteners and seat frames, soft-touch plastics, new woven-fabric headliners, a double glove box (luxury models get a single large one), and new lockable 9.1-litre storage bin under the 40/20/40 bench seat.

The luxury interiors will be used on the Silverado LTZ, Sierra SLT and Sierra Denali, and feature the same touches as on GM’s high-end SUVs: distinctive panel design, 20.1-litre centre console, and trim-specific door panels. The Denali, as befitting the top of the heap, includes deeper-pile carpet, covered console storage and cupholders, woodgrain trim and heated steering wheel.

Bob Lutz
GM’s Bob Lutz, who’s justifiably proud of his company’s new trucks. Click image to enlarge

The new line of trucks, which were fast-forwarded to shave thirteen weeks off the usual turnaround time, are expected in showrooms in the fall of 2006; heavy-duty versions will follow about three months later. Chevrolet truck prices will range from $19,150 to $50,820, while GMC prices will also start at $19,150, and rise to $55,395 for the Denali.

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz was also on hand, and I had the opportunity to ask him why buyers should consider GM’s trucks over those of the competition.

“They’re the best overall for driving, the most powerful engines, the most precise fit and finish on the body panels, and the best fuel economy,” Lutz says. “These are designed to be first in class, and we’ve accomplished that. I challenge anybody to better this truck. We don’t know what’s coming out in six months – we haven’t seen the new Tundra yet – but we’re confident that this is the benchmark.”

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