Category: Pickup Trucks

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

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. 

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. 

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.   

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. 

 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.

2019 GMC Sierra Long-Term Test Introduction

The 2019 GMC Sierra Denali 1500 took the top award at last fall’s Canadian Truck King Challenge.   

That win, for the GMC half-ton, was a first in the 13 year history of our event.  It also came as the Sierra went through a generational update – bringing with it a host of new features, inside and outside the truck.  The judges considered everything the new Sierra had to offer and after two days of intensive road testing scored it highest among its peers.  Testing, as those who follow the challenge know, includes empty test loops, driving with payload and also towing our low-boy trailers loaded with concrete and having a gross weight of 7,000 lb. 

ALSO SEE: 2019 Canadian Truck King Challenge Results

Still, no matter how through our testing is – it’s still just a snapshot taken over two days- so considering that Truck King is known for doing real world testing for Canadians, we felt we could do better.  

So, with the assistance of GM we have our 2019 winner back for four months of additional road test time.  This is the same truck we had last fall. At the time it came to us with just 1,000 km on the clock, but since we drove it it’s been used by other auto journalists regularly and these writers have added 8,000 kilometres to the odometer.  

The Sierra is currently being used a daily-driver – which includes the regular towing of any of the seven trailers I own. I am driving it, as is my wife, and even my son, auto-journalist Stephen Elmer.  My grandson, Otis – is not driving but getting his car-seat in and out is a story in itself. 

My plan for this long-term test is to report the good and the bad as it presents itself during daily operation while also examining and reporting on the trucks key features.  To that end we are using the truck as any Canadian would. Luckily we have started at the tail end of winter and will continue through spring into summer.   

I will be writing about my experiences regularly as well as producing YouTube videos on our Truck King channel – so you can watch me on-line or read my comments on the various components and features of this new Sierra. 

Today’s discussion centers on the new powertrain in my Sierra.  It was built with the 6.2L V8 gas engine coupled to GM’s 10-speed automatic transmission.  This is a new combination and in my truck also features a new system from the General called Dynamic Fuel Management.  This industry-first technology enables the engine to operate in 17 different power patterns all governed by demand.  

The first thing to note here is that while there are other “fuel management” systems on the market, as of today, none are as efficient as this one.  DFM is the next generation of GM’s other deactivation system; Active Fuel Management.   First introduced in 2005 AFM has been in use ever since. This original system fueled either eight cylinders or four – depending on the power demanded from the engine.   A seamless system, it requires no input, or thought for that matter, from the driver.  

The point to this system?  Well, it’s two-fold.  First is the obvious one – it saves fuel.  The second reason for its existence is GM’s engineering decision to not go with turbo-chargers on its truck engines.  So, instead of lowering displacement and using turbo’s to make up for the drop in horsepower – they have maintained the size of their small block V8’s, but found another way to save fuel.  This strategy applies to the main two truck engines on offer – the 5.3L V8 and the 6.2L V8.  Now, at this point I do have to state that GM has dipped its toes into “that” other pond with a 2.7L turbocharged four-cylinder engine.  However, that’s a story for another day.    

In our test truck – we are running the 6.2L V8 engine. It’s the segment’s largest and most powerful engine – making 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque.  It uses a cast aluminum block and head. Its valve train is designed with a single overhead cam and two overhead valves per cylinder; it features variable valve timing and feeds those cylinders via direct high-pressure fuel injection. 

Dynamic Fuel Management is certainly more complex than the earlier AFM system. But that added complexity has resulted in greater gains on the fuel savings side – while still keeping the punch of the V8 available. 

GM says that drivers require V8 power less than 40% of the time – meaning DFM kicks in and saves the fuel that would otherwise be pouring into unneeded cylinders.  This electro-mechanical system can deactivate any of the engines 16 hydraulic valve lifters.  These two-piece lifters “unlatch” when the solenoid gives the command and keep the ports closed. As to how many are closed – well, that’s determined by the inputs from the accelerator pedal and calculations based on the requested torque.  The computer that runs this system can make these calculations (and send commands) as often as 80 times a second.  

From my perspective as the driver – after several weeks of operation – I don’t notice any changes in performance while driving. There is no change in sound, or any noticeable “feeling” while driving.  In the city or on the highway there is nothing to indicate that DFM is in operation – it works completely in the background, but when punched, the big V8 delivers power instantly. This invisible effort from DFM is exactly what I want. 

As I mentioned earlier the truck has a 10-speed automatic transmission. Again, fuel savings is a big plus here – if you add gears you lower power demand particularly from a standing start.   This new transmission was designed for improved shift quality by adding a new centrifugal pendulum absorber torque converter that effectively reduces vibration. This is particularly relevant during cylinder deactivation events – another reason why the DFM is so subtle while operating.

The last piece of this fuel savings effort is the addition of a standard Stop/Start system.   These have been around for several years and various fuel studies claim as much as a 3% annual savings in fuel – by simply by regularly stopping the engine at traffic lights.   Still, some folks find it annoying. To that end there is a center console toggle switch that shuts it off if you so choose; though you do have to do it each time the truck is re-started as the system resets itself whenever the truck is shut down.   It doesn’t bother me – but it does bug my wife.  

As of today we have added around 3,000 km to the total on the odo and while we are getting more familiar with the truck there have been no issues to report.     

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