2020 Heavy Duty Trucks Bow Early from Ford, Ram and GM

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The fierce competition between the pickup manufacturers regularly witnessed in ½-ton advertising is quickly spilling into the Heavy Duty truck segment following the newest HD Ram being introduced as a 2019 model. 

Not long ago model updates were most often singular events; with each brand following its own engineering schedule.  Not anymore.   The recent Ram release quickly brought news from GM (Chevy and GMC) and Ford. They not only announced a 2020 update to its HD’s; they made a point of showing them and releasing many of the numbers. All this to make sure that Ram did not have the advantage of a quiet market as they showed the 2019 models. 

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The 2019 HD Ram introduction just last month was startling – with the announcement that the new Cummins 6.7L turbo-diesel engine would make 1,000 lb-ft of torque and tow a new high of 35,100 lb. Those are big numbers and a pair of HD truck firsts; not something the other Detroit builders would let lye for long.  So, despite the fact that these numbers will be achieved by a very select group of trucks (reg cab, dual wheel, 3500 with the H.O. diesel engine option) these types of announcements let truck builders claim the high ground in the truck war. Also shown was a new gas powertrain – the 6.4L Hemi V8 coupled to a new 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission.  A new interior, courtesy of the 1500 Ram which debuted last year, has upped the HD game as has a laundry list of new electronics and driver assist features.  This is a serious generational update to the HD Ram – and that why it wasn’t long before the boys in Dearborn and downtown Detroit answered back. 

 Fierce is almost too weak a word for this level of competition, but that is exactly what it is. Well over 20% of total North American truck sales are now HD pickups – and of those 90% tow regularly.  These are trucks that probably have an average cost of $75,000 each; so you can see why the Big Three are fighting so hard for market share. 

That said, from a consumer’s point of view, this truck war will most certainly offer sharp deals and a new level of content and electronic sophistication as each builder tries to outdo the other – nice. 

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The first thing you’ll notice when looking at any of the brands is the increased size, power and capacity of all these new HD trucks. This 2020 GMC Sierra HD for example features a new Allison 10-speed automatic transmission mated to its 6.6L Duramax turbo diesel.  That is already a significant upgrade, but to demonstrate the power of this new powertrain a GMC Sierra 3500 HD towed an 80-foot Viking yacht suspended on a marine lift out of the San Diego harbour.  Granted it was only 75 feet, but this load totalled more than 225,000 lbs!  It’s these types of visual spectacles that the manufacturers are now using to convey the bigger, stronger message for these next generation HD trucks.   

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For 2020 the Duramax 6.6L turbo-diesel is tuned to 445 hp and 910 lb-ft of torque.  Performance is also improved thanks to increased cooling capacity delivered improved air induction. However, the all-new 10-speed Allison automatic transmission — (a first-ever offered in the HD segment) is the big story. This 10-speed with closer gear spacing allows the engine to operate in the optimal range at all times with varying load and terrain conditions.  A bigger frame, stronger powertrain and smarter technologies will deliver greater towing capacity; in excess of 30,000 lb says GM.  On the tech side GMC is promoting its ProGrade Trailering System which will include an in-vehicle trailering app with trailer light test, trailer electrical diagnostics, trailer tire pressure and temperature monitoring, pre-maintenance reminders and a departure checklist. Many of the trailering app’s functions, including the lighting test and pre-departure checklist, are available with the myGMC mobile app. 

GM has also announced that an all-new gas engine is coming to the HD lineup.  Details are not available yet; but this feature is of particular interest to truck buyers as many need the capability of an HD truck but don’t do enough kilometers to justify the increased cost of the diesel engine option. All these GM announcements will apply to both Chevrolet and GMC for the 2020 model year.   

As for the need for more gas engines options – Ford knows all about  this.  That’s why its 2020 Super Duty announcement led with the news of an all-new gas engine – the 7.3L V8.

This addition now gives HD customers two gas engine choices. The standard is still the 6.2L V8 and now it will be joined by the 7.3L V8 – both are paired with new 10-speed automatic designed specifically for HD transmissions. 

This new 7.3L gas V8 design is built on decades of Ford’s commercial engine experience, meant to provide durability, ease of maintenance, and the towing and payload capability customers want.

 It uses a cam-in-block, overhead valve architecture with cast iron block and forged steel crankshaft.  Port injection with variable-valve timing optimizes the intake and exhaust to match performance with workloads. Oil jets cool the pistons under heavy loads. When this engine debuts next year it will be the largest displacement available in its class. 

 As for the diesel option – the 6.7L Power Stroke is now in its third generation; it too is paired with the 10-speed TorqShift automatic. After Ram announced a 1,000 ft-lb of torque version of the Cummins diesel in its 2019 HD Ram, I expect the Power Stroke to get at least that much of a boost s well.  However, at the moment Ford is keeping its new engine and weight numbers to itself – expect them to be dropped at regular intervals over the next year. 

The planned Ford upgrades they are sharing include a new front-end design that increased cooling performance and lighting. Super Duty will use LED headlamps and revised taillamps for a new look. Interior appointments (as with all brands) are more upmarket as are the number of option packages available.  Available technology will include Ford’s exclusive Pro Trailer Backup Assist as well as 4G LTE modem with Wi-Fi access for up to 10 devices.  Driver assistance features will include lane-keeping alert, Blind Spot Information System (with trailer coverage included), pre-collision assist with emergency braking and pedestrian detection. Also added is a wireless charging station and USB-C ports to power devices. 

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 So, while the 2019 Ram HD has debuted as of this writing, we have a few months to wait for the first drives of the GM and Ford HD trucks; but based on the amount of information already available you can plainly see that they are biting at the bit to get selling the 2020’s.

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