The automobile industry is a numbers game that sometimes works against common sense. Consider the matter of heavy-duty pickup trucks.
They are work vehicles, engineered to carry and pull heavy loads. Their pride is in horsepower, the overall amount of work their engines can do; torque, the ability of those engines to exert twisting power on drive wheels; payload, the amount of weight that can be carried onboard; and towing capacity, the weight of a trailer or other wheeled object to be pulled.
Lately, because of global concerns over potentially ruinous climate change and energy sourcing and conservation, other numbers have gained importance. They include fuel efficiency, the amount of work (usually measured in miles traveled) that can be done per unit of fuel used (measured in gallons in the United States) and the amount of tailpipe pollutants emitted (measured in grams per mile).
The problem for vehicle manufacturers is that many of those numbers are frequently at odds with one another. More horsepower and torque tends to negatively affect fuel efficiency and economy, the latter referring to the cost of fuel used. Better fuel economy and efficiency tend to negatively affect horsepower, torque and payload and towing capacities. A pickup truck that gets a high city-highway mileage score, but can't pull its weight at a construction site, is a useless wimp in the truck world.
And so it is a large credit to General Motors that the company has managed to reconcile most of those numbers in its 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 LT crew-cab pickup truck, equipped with an optional turbocharged Duramax 6.6-liter diesel V-8 (397 horsepower and a humongous 765 foot-pounds of torque).
The Duramax turbo-diesel costs $7,195 more than the standard gasoline-fueled 6-liter V-8 engine (360 horsepower, 380 foot-pounds of torque) that comes with the new Silverado 2500 crew-cab pickup. But as a work truck -- note the differences in engine horsepower and torque -- the Duramax turbo-diesel makes a better partner on the job.
Because it is a more powerful engine than its gasoline counterpart, the Duramax turbo-diesel requires stronger, heavier ancillary parts -- steering knuckle, new independent front suspension, a rear suspension with wider leaf frames, a fully boxed ladder frame to support the truck's body and chassis components -- to do its work effectively. But even with all that added weight, the Duramax turbo-diesel gets more miles per gallon than its gasoline rival -- an estimated 19 miles per gallon on the highway, vs. 12 miles per gallon for the gasoline model.
But here is where common sense takes a flogging. Weight affects miles per gallon. GM, Ford, Dodge and other makers of pickup trucks don't seem to mind increasing that weight if it increases horsepower, torque and other aspects of bragworthy pickup prowess. But they apparently mind awfully much when it comes to doing one of the easiest things they can do to better serve the work-truck consumer -- adding a composite or other bed liner to the truck's cargo box as standard equipment.
It's simply outrageous. It makes no sense.
The Chevy Silverado 2500 LT driven for this column came with a handsome steel-green metallic paint job -- an expensive and extensive paint job with multiple undercoats and a polyurethane finish that made the body glisten even on a gray day. Unfortunately, that same paint job was used in the cargo box, where I loaded metal and concrete pieces, rocks, chunks of wood torn from a demolished car port, and brush from an overgrown yard.
My efforts to protect the cargo box with a tarp came to naught. By the end of my refuse run, the box's paint job was demolished, trashed, brutally scratched. Why?
Again, the answer is in the auto industry's obsession with numbers.
A composite cargo box cover could have added 50 to 100 pounds to the weight of the Silverado 2500 LT, depending on box cover quality and design. That extra weight would have hurt Chevrolet's bragging rights -- doing everything to reduce fuel efficiency and economy while doing nothing to increase horsepower, torque, payload and towing capacity.
Also, adding a composite cargo-box cover as standard equipment would raise the retail price of the truck. In the car business, that comes down to guesses about what buyers are willing to pay for.
The current industry thinking is that more consumers are willing to pay for extra horsepower than are inclined to pay for cargo-box protection. But I think the trashed, scratched and dented cargo box returned to Chevrolet represents ample ground for disagreement.
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