Sport Truck readers already know that trucks are great. The broader automotive world is about to be reminded of this fact, when General Motors puts its next generation of pickups on sale during the fourth quarter of 2006. Meet the all-new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.

These are easily the most sophisticated and best trucks The General has ever produced. To highlight this point, GM's Heritage Center brought out a bunch of historic pickups from its collection to show how much the world of trucks has changed since the Grabowsky brothers founded Rapid Motor Vehicle Company and sold what may be the world's first truck in 1902. (Max and Morris Grabowsky sold their truck company to General Motors in 1912, and their company became GM's GMC.) The first pickup in the display, a model from 1915, still had chaindrive and wood spoke wheels!

To make the point that these trucks mean business, none other than the Chairman of General Motors himself, Rick Wagoner, kicked off this major introduction. Rick arrived in one of a fleet of 22 trucks that sped dramatically into position along a hillside at General Motors' Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan. And by "mean business," Wagoner was quick to point out that as GM's best-selling product line, these were critical to the company's financial future.

So, what did GM come up with? How did it make the country's best-selling truck even better? To answer this question, GM product development engineers spoke for the better part of an hour and handed out nearly 100 pages of materials charting the changes and advancements. We can't cover every detail right here, right now, but we can give you the highlights.

The Silverado and Sierra ride on a new, stronger chassis with a fully boxed frame. Engineers say that the new frame shows a 234 percent improvement in torsional stiffness and a 62 percent improvement in vertical stiffness, compared to the '06 models. This is critical, because when the chassis is solid, it can handle more power, the suspension can be tuned better, the vehicle is quieter, and the feeling of quality goes way up.

Suspensions are all new, with major changes at each end. Monotube shocks, with coilover springs, once only used on sports cars, are now standard fare up front. For added stability, the front track is widened 3 inches. In back, there is an additional inch of track. The traditional leaf spring lives on, but with huge refinements, such as splayed shocks and new mounting points. Payload and towing capacities are up, while ride and handling are said to be improved. (We'll let you know our opinion when we drive them.) The standard wheels are 17 inches, with 18- and 20-inch rims available.

Beyond pure mechanical advances, full electronic stability control is standard on crew cabs, and is enhanced with the ability help reduce yaw. Bosch's latest electronics control the four-wheel disc brakes.

Powering the new trucks is a family of engines that consist mainly of high-performance V-8s. The most advanced mills use technology developed for the Corvette Z06's LS7 engine. The aluminum heads feature a high-flow design with unique inlet port and offset rocker arms. Some engines also include variable valve timing (VVT), a slick system that automatically changes the phase of the cam to alter intake and exhaust valve timing. VVT is key to maximizing idle smoothness and allows the engines to make more power over a wider rpm range. Some engines also have active fuel management, a feature that shuts down fuel delivery to four cylinders. We've driven other GM V-8s with this feature, and the only clue that the engine is firing on fewer than eight pots is the indicator on the dash. When you step into the throttle, all cylinders instantly come back on line seamlessly.

Features like these help improve mileage, and while figures weren't available as we went to press, expect to see a 1 mph increase to both city and highway figures.

The truck's styling also contributes to this fuel savings. If you were to compare an '07 to an '06 Silverado or Sierra, you'd see how much tighter the bed is to the cab, and the bumpers are to the body. Closing these gaps, along with refining other aspects of the trucks' design, significantly reduce aerodynamic drag. GM claims that these trucks have the best aero figures in the segment.

All of these improvements are mighty impressive, given that the dimensions in the cab and bed are larger, giving people and cargo more room. Additionally, dash heights were lowered, improving visibility. The folding rear seats now work like seats in a movie theater. To create more cargo space, they fold up flat against the backrest. It's a natural, one-handed operation that doesn't require releasing a latch or pressing a button; all you do is lift and they smoothly fold into place and stay there until you fold them back down. With this design, the load floor is free of cargo-damaging seat hardware.

In these times when everybody is looking for more safety, GM delivered what the market asked for. More safety features are standard, including roof-mounted head curtain side airbags and pre-tensioners on the front safety belts that cinch up the belts in front and rear collisions. A tire pressure monitoring system is also available. Shorter drivers will appreciate power pedals.

We expect the pickups to drive at least as well as the new generation of GM SUVs that went on sale this summer. That's a good thing. Those SUVs are tight, and even with the 5.3L engine, they really move out. Given what we've seen so far, GM has another winner on its hands. We'll bring you road tests as soon as trucks become available.

HOT-ROD PICKUP
Just look at the facts: It has 400 horsepower, variable valve timing, a six-speed gearbox, coilover front shocks, full electronic stability controls, four-wheel disc brakes with the latest Bosch ABS, 18-inch rims, short 3:42:1 gears, an Eaton automatic locking differential, and a stout 9-1/2-inch rear axle. These could be the specs on a new Corvette, Mustang, Challenger, or some other performance car. But, they're not. Meet the '07 GMC Sierra Denali. It's the hot rod of the '07 GM truck family.

Power comes from the Denali's 6.2L Gen IV small-block engine. It's the same motor you'll find under the hood of the new Cadillac Escalade, but you can't get it in any other pickup. The smooth shifting six-speed automatic sports twin Overdrive gears with Sixth being a super-tall 0.67:1 for efficient and quiet cruising. This tranny also has the ability to tap up and down through the gears, using a stalk-mounted rocker switch that GM introduced on the ultra-heavy-duty Allison six-speed automatic it pairs to the Duramax Diesel.

Because any hot rod has to look as good as it goes, the Denali sports a style all its own. The exterior styling adds glitz and glamour to the basic GMC Sierra look, just like on Denali-badged GMC SUVs. There is more chrome and that distinctive Denali-only grille. Chromed 20-inch rims are optional.

Inside, the Denali takes the luxury-oriented interior found on Sierra SLT to a more elegant galaxy. Wood, chrome, and other polished surfaces let you know you're in the ultimate pickup from GM. Supple leather wraps the steering wheel and seats, and a unique center console is the perfect place to store your computer, cell phone, or MP3 player.

We can't wait to test this beast, and we want a face-off between the standard two-wheel-drive and optional all-wheel-drive version. It should be a close match.

By the Numbers- TRUCKS VS. CARS

How popular are pickup trucks? Buyers in the U.S. snap up more than 2-1/2 million fullsize trucks every year. General Motors, through Chevrolet and GMC, sent more than 900,000 new big trucks over the curb in 2005, with Ford in hot pursuit only a few percentage points behind. By comparison, the most popular car in the U.S. is the Toyota Camry with sales of just more than 400,000. It's no contest-the best-selling names in the automotive world are trucks.

Trick Suspensions - FROM THE FACTORY

General Motors knows that trucks get used for different things. The guy hauling drywall needs a different suspension than a guy who just wants to haul. Five different suspensions are available:
Z83: Delivers a solid, smooth ride with monotube front shocks and twin-tube rear shocks.
Z85: Designed for enhanced handlingand trailer towing, with monotube front and rear shocks.
Z71: Delivers enhanced off-road capability; features specific monotube front and rear shocks.
Z60: Designed for maximum street performance and offered with 20-inch wheels.
NHT: Designed for maximum towing capacity, it includes monotube rear shocks, 17-inch wheels and off-road tires, and high-capacity rear springs.

It's All About Choice
When Ford announced its '07 model line, the Blue Oval team touted that the F-Series offered 60 different truck configurations-not options but actual truck configurations with differing cabs, boxes, drivelines, and so forth. The General also knows sthat choice is king, when it comes to selling fullsize trucks to Americans. GM didn't total the number of possible combinations with its trucks, but between Chevrolet and GMC, the range is staggering. A quick overview regarding main choices includes:

TWO NAMEPLATES:
Chevrolet Silverado
GMC Sierra

THREE CAB STYLES:
Regular
Extended
Crew Cab

THREE BOX LENGTHS:
Short, at 5 feet, 8 inches
Standard, at 6 feet, 6 inches
Long, at 8 inches

EIGHT ENGINES:
4.3L V-6 with 195 horsepower
4.8L V-8 with 295 horsepower
5.3L V-8 with 315 horsepower*
6.0L V-8 with 367 horsepower
6.2L V-8 with 400 horsepower

(GMC Sierra Denali)
THREE ELECTRONICALLY CONTROLLED TRANSMISSIONS:

Four-speed automatic (4L60/4L65 base)
Four-speed automatic (4L70 high-capacity)
Six-speed automatic (6L80 high-capacity, GMC Sierra Denali)

THREE DRIVELINE CHOICES:
Two-wheel drive
Four-wheel drive
All-wheel drive (GMC Sierra Denali)

THREE MAJOR INTERIOR CHOICES:
Work truck
Luxury
Ultra luxury (GMC Sierra Denali)

*There are four different 5.3L engines, each with identical horsepower outputs. Variations include iron and aluminum blocks and flex-fuel capabilities.

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