GM Pickups to Feature Steel, Aluminum, Carbon Fiber Mix

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Dec. 7, 2017—General Motors plans to use costly but lightweight carbon fiber to make the beds on premium versions of large pickup trucks, according to people familiar with the strategy, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Development of the new trucks slated for sale next year—along with several large SUVs such as the Chevy Suburban that will use the same underpinnings—consumed a few billion dollars and took several years. They will use a patchwork of materials to balance cost and regulatory concerns, including aluminum doors and a high-strength steel cabin, the people said.

The Journal writes that carbon fiber, which today is reserved mostly for exotic sports cars, is at least 50-75 percent lighter than steel and 20-50 percent lighter than aluminum. It would improve dent resistance and give GM a differentiating feature in the fierce realm of truck marketing, said Richard Schultz, a metals expert at Ducker.

The composite, however, is much costlier and more complicated to produce than other materials, adding pressure to Detroit’s effort to charge more for products that already have risen well into luxury-car territory.

GM will unveil redesigned versions of its next-generation full-size pickup trucks—the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra—in coming weeks, and will start selling those models at dealerships next autumn, without a carbon-fiber box available, the sources said.

The carbon-fiber pickup box is under development and expected to be offered on higher-priced pickup trucks in late 2019, the sources also said.

GM sells about 800,000 full-size pickups annually, and its use of carbon fiber, even if initially confined to higher-priced models, could push broader adoption in the auto industry.

Pickup sales represent about 16 percent of the U.S. market, but delivered the bulk of the $25 billion in operating profit Detroit’s Big Three automakers earned in North America last year, according to analysts. 

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