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Beyond Aluminum: 2019 GM Pickups May Tackle the Carbon-Fiber Frontier

By: · December 7, 2017

2017 GMC Sierra All Terrain

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Starting in the 2015 model year, Ford turned to aluminum rather than steel for portions of its F-150 pickups, including the beds. And General Motors was merciless in ads that made fun of the change. But now the time has come for everyone at the ranch to raise their eyebrows a bit: GM is reportedly planning to use plastic for its pickup beds.

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In all fairness, it’s not the kind of plastic that the word brings to mind. The beds would be made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), commonly just called carbon fiber. And the promise is that this would make the beds far stronger than steel or aluminum while weighing less.

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Cost is the major barrier that explains why we haven’t seen carbon fiber in wider use; the material has been employed primarily in gram-conscious performance cars and eco-extremist models such as the BMW i3.

-

Although it’s possible that all of the next-gen light-duty GM trucks sold under the Chevrolet and GMC brands could go with carbon-fiber beds, it’s only likely for the most expensive trim levels of the new truck, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news. The report said that carbon fiber offers about a 60 percent weight saving while costing 20 times more than steel and 10 times more than aluminum.

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Carbon-fiber production in large volumes would be a far more labor-intensive and time-consuming process than production of steel or aluminum, although a big flat slab like a pickup bed would be easier to manufacture than, say, a shapely McLaren 720S fender. Collision repair could pose new complications for dealerships and body shops, while recyclability and end-of-life use for such a high-volume vehicle would be concerns from an environmental standpoint. While there’s an established ecosystem for second-life uses of steel and aluminum from recycled vehicles, a report from a U.K. think tank, the Green Alliance, this past year found various barriers to making the use of carbon fiber more sustainable, such as the cost of reprocessing it and the lack of a secondary market for the material.

-

GM’s aim would boil down to one thing: better fuel economy. Combined with other strategies—including a mix of steel and aluminum in the structure of its next-generation pickups, which are expected to go into production late next year—GM is expected this time to go all in on a suite of fuel-saving technologies, including electrification for some versions.

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Much Ado about . . .

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Despite the initial gripes when the F-150 switched to its more aluminum-intensive design, the pecking order among full-size trucks wasn’t disrupted. The F-series lineup could finish this year with its strongest sales year since 2005. The U.S. pickup market is also surging, and GM isn’t being left out; it had nearly 800,000 U.S. sales, combined, for the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra last year.

-

2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country

-

GM wouldn’t confirm or deny the Wall Street Journal report; nor would it comment on specifics for the next-gen trucks. “We will always use the right materials for the right application,” said spokesman Monte Doran. “One thing we will never do is compromise on capability or durability; we need to keep with customer expectations.

-

“With every single vehicle, we’re always looking for opportunities to optimize materials, mass, and fuel efficiency. We have the flexibility and expertise to use the best materials, and we have a very materials-based approach,” said Doran, pointing to the company’s multiple-materials approach to the Corvette and the aluminum hood used in GM’s current full-size trucks.

-

In this game of truck one-upmanship, is rival Ford also considering a carbon-fiber move? “Ford has always looked at advanced materials and decided on the right use and the right time,” said product spokesman Mike Levine. Levine added that Ford has already gained some carbon-fiber expertise with the Ford GT.

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The price of full-size trucks isn’t yet up to the level of the GT, but in their  top trims, the Chevrolet Silverado High Country and the GMC Sierra Denali, GM’s entries already exceed the base price of the Corvette. Actual transaction prices have been rising far more rapidly than those of vehicles in other segments. According to J.D. Power data, the full-size GM pickups sell for $43,220 on average, which is 30 percent more than just five years ago. Such a weight-watching bed might push not just the mileage, but also the sticker price, to new highs.

-

Filed under: GMC,News

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Beyond Aluminum: 2019 GM Pickups May Tackle the Carbon-Fiber Frontier

By: ·

2017 GMC Sierra All Terrain

-

Starting in the 2015 model year, Ford turned to aluminum rather than steel for portions of its F-150 pickups, including the beds. And General Motors was merciless in ads that made fun of the change. But now the time has come for everyone at the ranch to raise their eyebrows a bit: GM is reportedly planning to use plastic for its pickup beds.

-

In all fairness, it’s not the kind of plastic that the word brings to mind. The beds would be made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), commonly just called carbon fiber. And the promise is that this would make the beds far stronger than steel or aluminum while weighing less.

-

Cost is the major barrier that explains why we haven’t seen carbon fiber in wider use; the material has been employed primarily in gram-conscious performance cars and eco-extremist models such as the BMW i3.

-

Although it’s possible that all of the next-gen light-duty GM trucks sold under the Chevrolet and GMC brands could go with carbon-fiber beds, it’s only likely for the most expensive trim levels of the new truck, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news. The report said that carbon fiber offers about a 60 percent weight saving while costing 20 times more than steel and 10 times more than aluminum.

-

Carbon-fiber production in large volumes would be a far more labor-intensive and time-consuming process than production of steel or aluminum, although a big flat slab like a pickup bed would be easier to manufacture than, say, a shapely McLaren 720S fender. Collision repair could pose new complications for dealerships and body shops, while recyclability and end-of-life use for such a high-volume vehicle would be concerns from an environmental standpoint. While there’s an established ecosystem for second-life uses of steel and aluminum from recycled vehicles, a report from a U.K. think tank, the Green Alliance, this past year found various barriers to making the use of carbon fiber more sustainable, such as the cost of reprocessing it and the lack of a secondary market for the material.

-

GM’s aim would boil down to one thing: better fuel economy. Combined with other strategies—including a mix of steel and aluminum in the structure of its next-generation pickups, which are expected to go into production late next year—GM is expected this time to go all in on a suite of fuel-saving technologies, including electrification for some versions.

-

Much Ado about . . .

-

Despite the initial gripes when the F-150 switched to its more aluminum-intensive design, the pecking order among full-size trucks wasn’t disrupted. The F-series lineup could finish this year with its strongest sales year since 2005. The U.S. pickup market is also surging, and GM isn’t being left out; it had nearly 800,000 U.S. sales, combined, for the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra last year.

-

2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country

-

GM wouldn’t confirm or deny the Wall Street Journal report; nor would it comment on specifics for the next-gen trucks. “We will always use the right materials for the right application,” said spokesman Monte Doran. “One thing we will never do is compromise on capability or durability; we need to keep with customer expectations.

-

“With every single vehicle, we’re always looking for opportunities to optimize materials, mass, and fuel efficiency. We have the flexibility and expertise to use the best materials, and we have a very materials-based approach,” said Doran, pointing to the company’s multiple-materials approach to the Corvette and the aluminum hood used in GM’s current full-size trucks.

-

In this game of truck one-upmanship, is rival Ford also considering a carbon-fiber move? “Ford has always looked at advanced materials and decided on the right use and the right time,” said product spokesman Mike Levine. Levine added that Ford has already gained some carbon-fiber expertise with the Ford GT.

-

-

The price of full-size trucks isn’t yet up to the level of the GT, but in their  top trims, the Chevrolet Silverado High Country and the GMC Sierra Denali, GM’s entries already exceed the base price of the Corvette. Actual transaction prices have been rising far more rapidly than those of vehicles in other segments. According to J.D. Power data, the full-size GM pickups sell for $43,220 on average, which is 30 percent more than just five years ago. Such a weight-watching bed might push not just the mileage, but also the sticker price, to new highs.

-

Filed under: GMC,News

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