FORT WORTH, Texas – Anybody can drive a truck onto a stage. Chevrolet went one better: it brought in the all-new 2019 Silverado hanging from a helicopter.
It’s hard to pull off a surprise in these days of spy shots and social media, but GM did it, bringing media and consumer truck owners together to the Texas Motor Speedway for a celebration of 100 years of Chevrolet trucks – and, as it turned out, the world’s first peek at the upcoming next-generation model.
The 2019 Silverado will have its official unveiling at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, when the company will reveal more information about it. For now, all GM will say is that it’s an entirely all-new truck and will come in an expanded range of models, with more engine-and-transmission combinations, and more technology and convenience features. Global chief Alan Batey, who introduced it at the event, said it will use a higher-grade alloy in its roll-formed, high-strength-steel bed floor for more functionality and lighter weight – no doubt to quell rumours about aluminum or carbon-fibre construction behind the cab.
The truck was presented in the new LT Trail Boss trim, which combines off-road features from some existing models, along with a two-inch (five-centimetre) lift kit from the factory.
The event was a draw for several hundred Chevrolet customers, who brought their trucks, old and new. In addition to an appearance by Dale Earnhardt Jr., and a chance to try 2018 models in towing and simulated off-road conditions, there was a look at the past as well.
Chevrolet was founded in 1911 by William Durant, the former head of General Motors who’d been kicked out by his directors and created the new company as a way to get back in, and race driver Louis Chevrolet.
As Durant had planned and hoped, he got back into the leadership of his original company when Chevrolet became part of GM in 1918. In the early days, automakers often sold car chassis to third-party coachbuilding companies that put light truck bodies on them, but in 1918, Chevrolet introduced its first true truck. It was a one-ton chassis which, oddly enough, it named the Model T, the same moniker as the car being churned out by a certain crosstown rival at the time. Chevrolet also offered a car-based commercial chassis with heavier springs that year.
Batey said that when the Silverado is officially unveiled at the Detroit show, it will be in the same city, and a century to the month, that the company sold its first truck. Since that first one, it has delivered some 85 million trucks.
General Motors brought several of its trucks from its Heritage Collection for the event. The elder statesman was a 1926 with a flat bed and no doors, a common configuration for delivery vehicles at the time. Most truck bodies were still built by outside companies, but this was the first year that Chevrolet made its own, in addition to selling just the chassis. The company also displayed a 1928 “depot hack” at the event. These wooden-bodied trucks had rows of seats, and at a time when few people took driving vacations – mostly because there still weren’t that many driveable roads outside of cities – hotels would use these trucks to pick up passengers from the train station. They were often known as “station wagons” because of this, a name that would stick for cars in the future.
In 1934, an all-new model marked the first time that a company-bodied Chevrolet truck shared no sheet metal with the company’s cars, and had all its own stamped panels. GM brought along a 1936 Canopy Delivery truck, a pickup with a frame for a screen to cover the goods in the back. There was also a 1949 Canopy Express, a sedan delivery with open sides for accessing and displaying cargo.
Also among the heritage trucks was a 1971 with such options as air conditioning and power steering, which were extra-charge add-ons at the time; a 1963 step-side three-quarter-ton 4WD with manual hubs; and a 2007 Silverado 2500 that was the very last one built in that body style (and in Oshawa, Ontario at that!) and with 60 miles on its odometer.
In the Speedway’s infield, trucks had been carefully lined up to spell out the number 100, and customers and media sat on bleachers above them for the surprise helicopter drop of the new Silverado. The automaker runs a loyalty program for truck fans, called Chevy Truck Legends, and many of those braving the unseasonably cold Texas afternoon were members. Alan Batey asked for a show of hands of those who had names for their trucks, and easily a quarter of them went up. He then asked how many had names for their phones, and as expected, none did. Every truck manufacturer has a core of brand-loyal customers, and Chevrolet did an excellent job of tapping into its fan base with this event. It should be interesting to see how it’ll top a helicopter drop at the previews in Detroit early next year.