Chevy responds to criticism of F-150 puncture tests

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GM says steel is the key to a better truck bed.GM says steel is the key to a better truck bed.

Chevrolet has enjoyed plenty of exposure with its series of puncture tests comparing its Silverado and the F-150, but it’s also drawn criticism from some who recall Chevy’s own interest in aluminum coupled with the popularity of bed liners which others say make the costly impact tests a moot point.

Jim Cain, senior communications manager at GM, told “Hard Working Trucks” today that the video recorded puncture tests, which left the aluminum beds of 12 F-150s with 68 holes versus two holes in a dozen steel Silverado truck beds, had garnered millions of YouTube views along with plenty of press and social media exposure.

“I think it’s certainly approaching the kind of buzz that you get when you launch an all new truck,” Cain said. “Keep in mind that we’re in the early days and we’re extremely pleased with how this has been received by our customers, our dealers, and that it has sparked a kind of online conversation that people will carry on for quite some time.”

Some of that online conversation centers around Chevy’s own interest in aluminum. A “Hard Working Trucks” reader recalled a 2014 “Wall Street Journal” story in which the automaker was said to have plans for a largely aluminum bodied pickup truck by 2018.

While Cain would not comment on GM’s future truck designs, he did say that aluminum has already been playing a large role in the construction of its Silverado pickups—just not in the bed where they believe strength matters most.

“We already do use aluminum in the Silverado body and throughout the chassis. We have an aluminum hood. We have an aluminum engine block and heads,” Cain explained.

“We have aluminum chassis components. There’s a decent amount of aluminum that’s in the truck, but what we’ve been working on for quite some time, and what we’ve started to be much more open about, is our philosophy that you need to mix metals so that you have the right material for the right application.

“And we’ve been talking a lot about the aluminum fabrication techniques, the welding techniques, including steel to aluminum welding and our use of mixed metals in vehicles like the Cadillac CT6 to improve strength while reducing weight. And we see that mixed metal strategy as a competitive advantage because the reality is one size doesn’t fit all, especially when it comes to trucks.”

So, why didn’t Chevy use bed liners during any of its puncture tests?

“The tests were deigned to evaluate structural integrity of the beds as designed and delivered,” Cain said. “About half of the Silverados are delivered to customers without a bed liner. And Ford has called out their own statistics, but the fact of the matter is that bed liners, whether they’re spray-in or drop-in, are optional equipment.

“Many customers don’t use them and most that do—they’re primarily designed for appearance protection. And even if they prevent damage from impacts, it’s not actually improving the structural integrity of the box. It’s just slightly dissipating energy.”

Cain said that prior to its aluminum body debut, Ford’s F-150 was at the back of the pack in terms of weight.

“One thing that people forget is that before Ford went to aluminum with the F-150, they were by far the heaviest pickups in the segment. And after all the investment in aluminum, they are only slightly lighter than a Silverado.”

Chevy could design an aluminum bed, Cain said, but the gauge of aluminum required to make it strong enough to meet GM standards would considerably increase cost.

At this point, an aluminum bed doesn’t appear to be in the cards for the Silverado. GM has been investing in and testing composite materials, but Cain’s quiet on future application. Whatever material GM uses, it’s thrown down quite a gauntlet with its puncture tests and has made the topic of body composition more important than before.

“You don’t want it to compromise capability and utility and I think that the demonstrations that we showed the world yesterday showed that Ford made a different choice,” Cain said.

“We’ve had a whole raft of different things that we’ve done, even since the current generation of Silverado hit the market to improve fuel economy. You know, we’ve introduced 8-speed transmissions as just one example. So it doesn’t all have to come through weight reduction in the body.”