Engineering the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado

Bigger, bolder and. . .lighter. And with impressive powertrain technology, to boot.

The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado is available in eight trims, with variations within those trims. The vehicles are categorized into three segments, acknowledging the type of buyer and the type of truck configuration meant to address that buyer’s particular needs.

There are the High Value trucks. There are three in this category, the Work Truck (what could be a better name for a work truck than that?), Custom and Custom Trail Boss (a variant of the Custom, but not simply a cosmetic difference, as it adds suspension modifications, including a two-inch lift, the Z71 Off Road Package with a locking rear differential, skid plates, and Rancho shocks—it is “go,” not just “show.”

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Then there are the High Volume Silverados, the LT, the LT Trail Boss (modified like the aforementioned Custom Trail Boss, in this case, the base model is more upscale than that of the Custom) and the RST.

And last but certainly not least but arguably most, the High Feature trucks, including the LTZ (lots of chrome and leather) and the High Country (which is visually distinctive with its specific grille with a two-tone bronze and chrome finish and a chrome step on either side for access into the sumptuous cab, but functionally distinctive, as well, as it comes standard with a power up/down tailgate.

One interesting point about the variations being offered.

For the last-generation model, there were five trim levels.

Now eight.

Both generations offer a plethora of options.

Which means build complexity.

The Silverado team has calculated that for the previous model there were 1.7-million build variations.

Yet for the 2019 version, which has eight models rather than five, thanks to the packaging of various options in ways that are considered to be capable of meeting the requirements of the broadest number of consumers, the build variants are down to 635,000. Which undoubtedly makes things (somewhat) simpler at the GM Fort Wayne, Indiana, assembly plant and the Silao Assembly Plant in Mexico.

Powerful Propulsion

But when it comes to trucks it is more than whether there are vinyl seats or full LED lighting and 22s. For utility users and enthusiasts alike, it is the powertrain setup that is of critical importance. So for the Silverado, particular attention was paid to the propulsion system.

For the Work Truck, the Custom and the Custom Trail Boss, there is a 4.3-liter V6 with Active Fuel Management (AFM) mated to a six-speed automatic as the standard setup (SAE-certified at 285 hp/305 lb-ft); this truck has maximum towing capacity of 8,000 pounds and maximum payload of 2,500 pounds. A 5.3-liter V8 with AFM and the six-speed are available (SAE-certified at 355 hp/383 lb-ft), which provides max towing of 11,000 pounds and max payload of 2,430 pounds.

For the LT and the RST, a 2.7-liter I4 turbo with AFM and an eight-speed automatic are standard (SAE-certified at 310 hp/348 lb-ft); it provides maximum towing of 7,200 pounds and a maximum payload of 2,280 pounds. Optional are a 5.3-liter V8 with Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM) with an eight-speed automatic (SAE certified at 355 hp/383 lb-ft) (max towing: 11,600 pounds; max payload 2,190 pounds) and a 3.0-liter I6 turbo diesel with a 10-speed transmission (as this package isn’t available until early in 2019, information is not yet available).

The LT Trail Boss, LTZ and High Country all come standard with the 5.3-liter V8 with DFM and the eight speed. Options for the LTZ and High Country are the 3.0-liter turbo diesel with the 10-speed and a 6.2-liter V8 with DFM and a 10-speed (SAE certified at 420 hp/460 lb-ft); this configuration can tow 12,200 pounds and handle a payload of 2,190 pounds.

Not surprisingly, given this variation in engines and transmissions, there are a whole lot of GM production plants involved in manufacturing them. The 4.3-liter, 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter engines are produced at the Tonawanda Engine Plant in New York. The 5.3-liter is made at the engine plant in St. Catharines, Ontario. The 3.0-liter turbo diesel comes out of the Flint Engine Operations in Michigan. As for the transmissions, the six-speed and the eight-speed are manufactured at both Toledo Transmission in Ohio and the Silao, Mexico, facility. The ten-speed comes out of Silao.

Both Active Fuel Management (AFM) and Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM) are cylinder deactivation systems. Chevy has had the former on offer since 2005. In the case of a V8 with AFM, the engine operates either with all eight cylinders or four. That’s the choice.

DFM is quite different. According to Jordan Lee Small Block chief engineer, “Dynamic Fuel Management enables only the cylinders needed to deliver the power you want, seamlessly delivering the best balance of power and fuel economy.”

Again, it is worth emphasizing: AFM switches from eight cylinders to four and back again as conditions require.

DFM provides 17 different cylinder patterns. And it does so in a way that is imperceptible to anyone who isn’t paying extraordinarily obsessive attention to when or if cylinders are shutting down or starting up. Tim Asoklis, chief engineer for the Silverado, says, “The propulsion team did a great job. It is seamless. We put control boxes in the vehicles so we could tell what’s happening.” Yes, even hard for the engineers who developed the vehicle to know what is happening when. And it happens more frequently than you might think: during testing of the system on a 2WD Silverado equipped with a 5.3-liter engine, the truck operated on fewer than the eight cylinders 60 percent of the time.

So how does this work? There is a controller that monitors the position of the accelerator pedal to determine what the driver wants in terms of torque, then calculates the number of cylinders that need to be in operation to accomplish that objective. The controller runs the calculations 80 times per second.

As for actually doing the physical work of starting and stopping, there is an electromechanical system that controls the engine’s 16 hydraulic valve lifters. There are solenoids that deliver oil pressure through control ports that work to activate and deactivate the lifters’ latching mechanism. In operation, it might fire every fourth cylinder (2/3 or 7/4 or 8/5 or 1/6) every other cylinder (8/2/5/3) or deactivate every seventh cylinder.

Materials Matter

No one can develop a brand-new pickup without addressing materials. The approach that the team took was one of mixed material use. The truck is larger than the outgoing model: 2019 crew cab with a short box is 1.2 inches wider, 1.5 inches higher, 1.7 inches longer, and offers 3.9 inches more wheelbase than a 2018 model, yet overall it is 450 pounds lighter thanks to the engineering approach that uses steel (press-hardened; ultra-high strength (martensitic and multi-phase), advanced high strength (dual-phase), high-strength low-alloy, and mild), aluminum (all of the swing panels—doors, hood, tailgate; forged upper control arms) and even composites (some models feature the material on second-stage springs).

Asoklis says, “When we started this program, we knew there as more than one element on the periodic table.” And he, perhaps unintentionally, cites one of those elements (not, however, used on the Silverado except in its name): “There’s no silver bullet for this mass reduction play. We started at the bumper and went all the way to the back, we walked the truck.”

And they looked at seemingly everything. They re-architected the rear seats to optimize the steel in the frames. They addressed scar mass—the material that carries over from stamping operations—so that it didn’t come along for a ride.

What’s worth noting is that there are considerations that must be taken into account when lightweighting a vehicle. Asoklis: “If you put an aluminum door on and then look at door-closing efforts, you have to go in and manage the door closing energy because the mass of the door is physically less.” That is, you want to make sure that the door compresses the primary seal around the door and, well, closes.

One of the things that you might imagine would be a goal in developing the sheet metal for a new vehicle would be to minimize the number of tools in the body shop in order to simplify operations. Yet Tim Herrick, executive chief engineer of Full Size Trucks (he also has the GMC Sierra as well as the various variants of the two nameplates), says that there are as many as 40 percent more tools than would otherwise be used. There are a number of reasons why this is so. For one thing, he says that not only are the smaller stamped parts made with more accuracy, but that approach allows them to have parts with different gauges, such that the strength is located where it is needed and weight is minimized where the extra thickness isn’t required. Although the Silverado is big, the small details matter.

Teams Matter

So you ask Herrick what he’s most pleased about regarding the development of the new Silverado. You imagine that the answer might have something to do with the mixed materials strategy that allows the weight save. Or the powertrain innovations. Or something else of a technical nature.

But his answer is different: “I had the opportunity to lead a great team of people.”

This was quite an extensive team, with, Herrick says, some 10,000 people working on it at any one time and of them 6,800 working on it full time. “We took a clean-sheet approach to this truck,” he says, and while that number of people is large, recognize that it isn’t just a matter of engineering and design and production, but there is extensive electronics work that has gone into the vehicle, as well, not only things like the aforementioned DFM, but also for things like safety (e.g., lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning; low-speed forward automatic braking). Herrick quips with perhaps only slight exaggeration: “Every component has a wire in it.”

He says that he’d been working on the project since mid-2014 and that during this time he had the chance to interact with a lot of people who showed a commitment to developing the truck that he found to be absolutely impressive.

One thing that stands out, he says, was that there were numerous young people who were hired on to the team and that they brought with them knowledge of computer tools that allowed the rest of the team to do things in terms of, say, simulation, that some of the long-time truck people on the team may not have been so familiar with.

And Tim Asoklis echoes that by saying: “The nice thing about this program is that we had a lot of 30-year truck guys and a lot of millennials. We infused those two to step up the truck.”

It is no exaggeration to say that the Silverado is key to the Chevrolet franchise. In 2017 Chevrolet sold 585,864 Silverados in the U.S. That’s by far the greatest number of sales for any vehicle in the Chevy lineup, with the Equinox coming in second at 290,458 units, or about half of the Silverado deliveries. That 585,864 is greater than the 2017 U.S. sales of all the Cadillacs (156,440) and Buicks (219,231) combined (375,671).

According to Herrick, “This is the most-tested vehicle GM has ever put out.” Miles on the road. Miles simulated in computer-aided engineering software. Testing on a six-axis rig that shakes the truck hour after hour. Tests on the roll-formed bed like the “hoof test” and the “keg test” (load concentrations).

He and his team are confident.

They should be.