FOR Chevrolet and GMC, it's the calm before the storm.
Truck product changes for the 1998 model year are minor this year as General Motors gets ready for future introductions-so minor in fact that the company did not have a product display at this year's NTEA Truck Product Conference.
"Most of our product is carryover, explained Mike Soich with Chevrolet's Commercial and Special Vehicle Group. "It didn't make sense to show you trucks that you already have seen and have worked on. Next year, though, we will be back with a product display."
Some of the NTEA members attending the conference stayed in Detroit an extra day and previewed some of the products that may be making news a year from now. That session was designed to give Chevrolet and GMC early feedback on trucks that the company will introduce in a timeframe beyond that of this year's conference.
For the time being, however, General Motors is tweaking its existing line of light- and medium-duty trucks and chassis. Steve Strine, a vehicle engineer with the company's Special Vehicle Integration Engineering (SVIE) department, reviewed the changes that Chevrolet and GMC have made for this year's lineup.
For the Chevrolet S10 and GMC Sonoma, heavier loads are in the future. The compact pickup will be available with a hitch that can accommodate 350-lb tongue weights. Towing capacity has been increased to 3,500 lb, with improvements in the safety chain attachment. Four-wheel drive models are now offered with four-wheel disc brakes, and the electrical system has been upgraded with increased fuse capacity and improved electrical centers.
The Chevrolet C/K and GMC Sierra full-size pickups rated above 8,600-lb GVW will have higher-capacity front axles in 1998. Capacity of the C Series front axle increases from 3,800 lb last year to 4,100 lb for 1998 models, while the 4,250-lb axles of the K Series have been beefed up to a rating of 4,500 lb.
Powertrains of the full-size pickups have been upgraded for 1998. The 4L60E and 4L80E automatic transmissions benefit from a variety of enhancements, while the durability of the axle gears should improve through the use of a new gear material and a shotpeened hardening process. The transmissions will not include provisions for a power take-off.
The C3500HD will be produced at both the Flint and Janesville assembly plants. The Flint facility will build only trucks with Summit White cabs sold for domestic use. All other 3500HD models will continue to be produced at the Janesville plant.
Other Changes Other product changes include:
* The enhanced 4L60E will be available on the Chevy Astro and GMC Safari vans.
* The 4L60E and 4L80E automatics will be offered on the full-size van and the P30 Series forward control chassis.
* For medium-duty trucks, the C and T Series start the year as carryover vehicles. Changes in the trucks for 1998 include a clutch-starter interlock that requires the clutch pedal to be depressed before the starter will engage.
* As required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, trucks equipped with air brakes will come with ABS after March 1. Hydraulic brake systems will get ABS in March 1999.
* New names and badging will be used for the W Series low cab forward to make it consistent with the C/K models and to indicate the weight capacity of the individual truck. Depending on GVW rating, the trucks will be designated the W3500, the W4500, and the W5500. The GVWR of the W3500/W4500 Series has been increased to 14,050 lb when equipped with 225/75R 19.5" tires. Wheelbases will be available up to 176" to accommodate bodies up to 20 ft long.
* A new Isuzu direct-injection four-cylinder diesel engine will be offered on the W3500/W4500 Series. A 145-hp version of the engine will be mated with a four-speed manual transmission, while the 175-hp version will come with a choice of four-speed manual or Aisin automatic. Production of these diesel models will begin in Japan in early 1998, making them available from U S ports in late February. Production of 1997 diesel models will end in Japan in December.
* Production of the W5500 will begin in February. The truck will be offered with wheelbases of 109", 132", 150", and 176" and will be rated at 16,500-lb GVW. A new Isuzu four-cylinder diesel will provide 175 hp of power and 330 ft-lb of torque. The engine will be mated with an Aisin four-speed automatic.
Special Equipment Mike Soich spoke on the special equipment options (SEOs) that General Motors offers. These are published in a catalog, but he provided information on two SEOs that temporarily are not listed.
Multi-leaf rear spring for cutaway chassis. The multi-leaf traditionally has been available for RV models. To order this spring on a commercial cutaway, use option code 9R5.
Ornamentation delete. Sometimes the nameplates and badges installed on a vehicle get in the way during the course of equipment installations and painting. With this option, 8F2, cargo vans and cutaways can be shipped with the badging packaged with the vehicle but not installed.
Alternative Fuel Options GM personnel provided information on its alternative fuel options, including two SEOs.
The KL5 option gets the 5.7-liter ready for conversion to burn LNG or compressed natural gas. The option is offered on vehicles rated between 8,600 and 12,000 lb and equipped with automatic transmissions.
The KL6 option is specifically for the three-quarter-ton regular cab pickup with the long pickup box. It prepares the engine for use with compressed natural gas or bifuel operation. It requires a Fleetside body, automatic transmission, and the 5.7-liter engine. It cannot be ordered with the VZY bedliner.
IMPCO has agreed to convert and certify GM engines for burning propane. Under the program, both light- and medium-duty trucks will be available as propane-fueled vehicles.
The light-duty offerings will include the long-box three-quarter-ton pickups (both 4x2 and 4x4), a 4x4 extended cab above 8,600-lb GVWR, and some chassis cabs. Applications are restricted to the 5.7-liter engine and automatic transmission. Several fuel tank options will be offered.
The medium-duty conventional C Series will use 6- and 7-liter gasoline engines. These will be dedicated propane engines rather than the bifueled engines that the light-duty trucks will have. The engines are certified for use in all 50 states.
Snowplow Installations In a change for 1998, GM is allowing the installation of snowplows on extended cab pickups with GVW ratings of 8,600 lb or more.
"We were able to do that because of the increased axle rating-from 4,250 to 4,500 lb," Strine said.
Snowplows can be installed on the K20753 (short box extended cab), the K20953 (long box extended cab), and the K30953 (the K30 series extended cab).
Only the 350-cu-in engine can be used, however. Trucks with the 454-cu-in engine and the 6.5-liter engines will not be available with the snowplow prep package.
GM limits the number of passengers that a truck should hold when the snowplow is attached. Because of weight limitations caused by the snowplow, no more than two people should be in the truck-a driver and one passenger.
"We feel this is very important," Strine said. "Our legal staff has said we can go ahead with this program, and we have put announcements about it in the body builders book and the owner's manual."
Organizational Changes General Motors recently reorganized its truck engineering group in a move that combines the former Special Vehicle Manufacturer Quality Process group and the Body Builders Book group.
"The main benefit is the combined SVMQP and Body Builders hotlines," Strine said. "The new expanded hotline will provide technical support to all upfitters and manufacturers of equipment that will be installed on light- and medium-duty GM trucks.
"We plan to be the voice of the SVM (special vehicle manufacturer) on the engineering side of the business. We also plan to facilitate and coordinate new product launches."
Restructure has divided the area into four disciplines: engineering support, assessment activity, communication, and body builders.
The communications group will be handling the hotlines, offering technical assistance, answering assessment process questions, faxing bulletins to those requesting them, and will be a filter for plant concerns.
The body builders group will continue to publish the body builders manual. We also plan to have them work with our design community to be able to provide illustrations and dimensional data that is required to mount bodies and equipment.
The SVIE hotline number is (800) 875-4742. It is staffed between 8 am and 5 pm EST, Monday through Friday.