Interview: James Bell on 2014 GM Pickups
General Motors' head of Consumer Affairs
When he worked on the media side of the auto business with IntelliChoice, then Kelley Blue Book, James Bell was often interviewed as a consumer-oriented auto expert. That's one reason General Motors hired him to fill a new position as head of Consumer Affairs. At the media introduction of GM's much-anticipated 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, he described his role as "sort of an ombudsman between the industry, GM in particular, and the consumer. This is a new role. No one at GM was doing it, which makes it exciting."
TT: What sets these new trucks apart from the ones they replace, and the competition?
JB: The competition is making a huge fuel-economy push, potentially at the expense of what a pickup truck signifies to most people, including plenty of power on demand and a real sense of heft and fortitude. We are looking to make these trucks more fuel-efficient, of course, but to not compromise on their truckness.
TT: Will they be more powerful but less fuel-efficient than some competitors?
JB: We'll see really good numbers when we finalize with the EPA, but -- relative to the Ford EcoBoost and Ram V-6 -- we'll offer a different option, the best of all worlds. We'll still have available 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V-8s to give what people expect from trucks, but we'll do it in a modern, updated way. The combination of variable valve timing, direct injection, and MDS [cylinder deactivation] will give good fuel economy and a more trucklike experience.
TT: A big piece of the cost of ownership is fuel cost, so 1 mpg over a period of years can make a major difference.
JB: My sense is that we've put an extra couple of percentage points toward the truckworthiness side rather than compromise for fuel-efficiency numbers. We'll get fuel efficiency, but with what people expect from pickup trucks without any compromise. You look at the displacements and think they will probably be thirsty, but the cylinder deactivation makes a difference, along with friction reduction and the latest in computational fluid dynamics to minimize pumping losses and maximize the combustion process. It's not a turbocharged smaller engine, but it is a brand-new V-8 using state-of-the-art technology. There has not been an all-new V-8 in this market for some time. You could put all the common parts between these new engines and the ones they replace in a sandwich bag.
TT: The styling isn't much different from the ones they replace.
JB: It's a different truck market today. The bulk of the business now is among those who use them for tools, so it's not an image or style play as much as it used to be. The styling is conservative, not a bold step, but maybe right for the times. That is the calculated risk GM is taking.
TT: Does GM have realistic hopes of conquesting Ford or Ram buyers?
JB: No one would say we don't want to steal any business, but perhaps more important at this point is to keep every customer we already have, and that's a pretty big group. These new pickups may not make headlines for excitement, but we believe they will sell like hell. And don't forget that "truck" also includes full-size SUVs. You may see a bit more excitement and innovation when you see those new vehicles.
In every issue, Truck Trend interviews people involved in designing, building, and equipping current and future trucks. Have any suggestions for interviews you'd like to see? Email us at email@example.com -- Ed.