Q&A: Talking Trucks With GM’s Head Full-Size Pickup Engineer Tim Herrick

Herrick headed development for the new GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado, which have some of the keenest new features in the full-size pickup market.

byJames Gilboy|
GM News photo

Under the direction of Tim Herrick, executive chief engineer for General Motors' full-size pickup trucks, a new generation of Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra have arrived on the market sporting world-first features. The Sierra's MultiPro six-position tailgate is the most versatile on the market and can open to a carbon fiber-reinforced CarbonPro bed, the first ever fitted to a mass-produced pickup.

The Drive was given a chance to chat with Herrick about the importance of the Sierra's signature, market-first features, along with the direction in which GM could take the engineering of its future pickup trucks. Topics include the value of carbon fiber and light-weighting in full-size pickups, improvement on the MultiPro tailgate, and possible future full-size truck variants, from low-volume aspirational models to electrification.


The Drive: The fourth-generation Sierra and Silverado platforms are still new, but have you identified ways in which the vehicles can be improved?

Tim Herrick: "The new next-generation trucks had well over 7,000,000 test miles before we delivered our first truck to customers—making it the most-tested truck we've ever built at GM. As such, we're confident we’ve made a great truck for our customers, which is just hitting full production capacity now. That said, we are always looking for ways to improve performance or add new features. That's our job as engineers."

TD: With Ford announcing the F-150 will be getting an electric variant, do you see any value in an electric Sierra/Silverado? If so, what engineering challenges would you face that are unique to an electric pickup?

TH: "As a rule, we do not cannot comment on future product for competitive reasons. I can say GM believes in an all-electric future and is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles through no-compromise solutions that meet our customers' needs."


TD: GM kicked off this tailgate war we're seeing now, but has FCA's new tailgate for its Ram given you any ideas for how to improve the MultiPro tailgate?

TH: "I think consumers are just beginning to understand the usefulness of the MultiPro tailgate—which really is the first of its kind. The split 'barn-door' style tailgate [as used on the new Ram 1500] has been tried in the past, and did not get a great deal of consumer acceptance in part because it was not a significant leap in functionality over a traditional tailgate."

TD: The Sierra's carbon composite bed poses several questions about the use of lightweight materials in mass-market trucks. For starters, why a carbon bed and not other components such as the roof or hood?

TH: "Our mixed material strategy—delivering the right material for the right purpose—continues to serve both us and our customers extremely well. The carbon composite that is used in the new CarbonPro box is tougher and more durable, so it is an ideal choice to meet the expectations of the Sierra customer. For the CarbonPro box, this results in a significant decrease in mass, more cargo volume, and improved durability. The dent, scratch, and corrosion resistance of CarbonPro makes perfect sense for active, adventure, and hard-working pickup truck owners."

TD: What are some unique challenges associated with cutting weight in full-size trucks via the use of composite materials?

TH: "There were two challenges. First, we had to ensure that customer expectations for durability are met or exceeded. The CarbonPro box has gone through rigorous testing, like hot and cold weather tests, abusive loading, etc. to ensure that it can be used as a tool during the day and loaded with bricks or rocks, but after being washed, its ready for a night out on the town. Second, we had to develop a new manufacturing process to bring this innovative approach and material to our customers."


TD: Are there any places you think we'll never see composite materials appear in a mass-market truck?

TH: "Composite technologies are rapidly evolving. The GMC Sierra engineering team continually evaluates new materials to see if there is a place on the truck where they improve the customer experience and reduce mass. The new CarbonPro box is an excellent example of this work. Carbon composite was identified as the right material for a high performance, tough pickup box and we continue to look at new, innovative ways to deliver more for our customers."

TD: Would you say there are more promising areas in which to invest development than composite materials, or light-weighting?

TH: "There are many promising areas to invest in. Consider with the next-gen trucks we reduced weight by 450 pounds, we improved aerodynamic efficiency while making the trucks bigger and more capable, and we introduced new features from the CarbonPro box to the head-up display. We will continue to look for innovative solutions like these that have real customer benefit and improve their total ownership experience."

TD: Do you have any personal desire (irrespective of business case, and not representative of GM's intent) to create something outlandish like a COPO Silverado? Even as a concept or demonstration vehicle?

TH: "I often tell my team you don't eat an elephant in one sitting. Launching an all-new truck franchise is a massive undertaking, with literally thousands of employees across all aspects of the company. And we have more to do. We have the all-new 3.0-liter diesel coming soon, we are just starting the rollout of the Heavy Duty models, and then, of course, we have full-size SUVs after that."