- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

The pickup market is rapidly evolving, according to Gary White, vice president of GM North America and vehicle line executive for the segment, and General Motors is keeping pace with the changes.

“What you’ve seen is a tailing off as people leave the large pickup trucks,” White said. “We think that a lot of those people who bought trucks had probably driven a car before and they’re probably going back to either a car, crossover or some other kind of vehicle.”

There were a lot of people who bought trucks because they liked the image of driving a pickup, but didn’t use it for its capabilities, he said.

That group was about 20 percent of the market.

People who only occasionally tow also have left the market, White said, but the number of pickup buyers remains strong. Based on a segment that was at about 2.5 million units, GM believes there still is great opportunity.

The automaker is pushing forward in the pickup market with refinements to its 2009 Silverado and Sierra 1500 full-sizers, which target serious truckers who want improved fuel economy, but not at the sacrifice of capability. Answering these buyers’ needs, GM has created XFE - Xtra Fuel Economy - versions of its Silverado and Sierra pickups. These are in production now and are expected to roll into dealerships before year’s end.

Available only in 2WD crew cab configurations with the 5.3-liter V-8 engine, XFE models are enhanced in a number of ways to milk out fuel economy. They are rated at 15 miles per gallon city/21 mpg highway — a mpg better in each count compared to a non-XFE.

The 5.3-liter V-8 with Active Fuel Management, which delivers 320 horsepower and 340 pounds-feet of torque, is partnered with a new, more-sophisticated six-speed automatic transmission. It has a wider gear-ratio spread and features two overdrive gears.

The only axle ratio offered on XFE models is a 3.08:1, but GM claims that, with the six-speed, it “covers a lot more ground.”

It provides the plus of a towing axle ratio at the bottom end and the plus of a fuel economy ratio at the top end. Maximum towing capacity, boosted with a heavy-duty cooling system, is up to 7,000 pounds.

Another XFE enhancement contributing to fuel economy is a weight-loss reduction of about 150 pounds. This is accomplished with a switch from steel to aluminum for the 17-inch wheels, including the spare; lower control arms; and engine block. This is GM’s first use of an aluminum block on a 2WD pickup.

The wheels are wrapped with low-rolling-resistance tires — the only tires offered on XFE models. Aero enhancements also contribute to XFE fuel efficiency. A lowered suspension, front air dam extensions and cargo-box tonneau cover help the XFE cheat the wind.

“We feel that the 0.412 drag coefficient is best in class,” White said.

Another key refinement, available on all but base model 2009 Silverado and Sierra pickups, is a new hydraulic body mount in the No. 3 position, just in the back of the cab.

It improves overall ride quality, lessening roughness of ride and freeway hop, and increasing vibration isolation. StabiliTrak is standard on all GM light-duty V-8 models.

GM hasn’t announced pricing on the XFE models, but describes it as “mainstream.” Estimated base pricing is in the low-$30,000s.

The XFE also will be getting a fuel-efficient hybrid companion.

“We will bring the hybrid technology into our pickup trucks starting next year,” White said. “The Silverado and Sierra Hybrids will get 40 percent greater city and 25 percent greater overall fuel economy ratings.

Hybrid trailering is in the 6,000-pound range, and it’s very quiet. White said GM is still working on setting Hybrid pricing.

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