Chevrolet has enjoyed plenty of exposure with its series of puncture tests comparing its Silverado and Ford’s F-150, but it’s also drawn criticism from some who recall Chevy’s own interest in aluminum coupled with the popularity of bed liners, which others say make the costly impact tests a moot point.
Chevy tested 12 2016 Silverados up against 12 2016 F-150 pickups. The beds of the F-150s ended up with 68 holes, while the Silverado beds ended up with two. None of the trucks was equipped with a bed liner.
“I think it’s certainly approaching the kind of buzz that you get when you launch an all-new truck,” said GM spokesman Jim Cain. “Keep in mind that we’re in the early days and we’re extremely pleased with how this has been received by our customers, our dealers, and that it has sparked a kind of online conversation that people will carry on for quite some time.”
Over the course of six days, Chevy’s two truck bed challenge videos garnered approximately 4.6 million views on YouTube. Ford’s “Bed Meets Rock” F-150 video (posted below), released in 2014 as part of the automaker’s marketing campaign on aluminum’s rigidity, had just under 80,000 views earlier this week.
Some of the online frustration over Chevy’s claims focuses on its own interest in aluminum. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that GM had plans for a largely aluminum bodied pickup truck by 2018. While Cain would not comment on GM’s future truck designs, he did say that aluminum has already been playing a large role in the construction of its Silverado pickups – just not in the bed, where they believe strength matters most.
“We already do use aluminum in the Silverado body and throughout the chassis. We have an aluminum hood. We have an aluminum engine block and heads,” Cain explained. “We have aluminum chassis components. There’s a decent amount of aluminum that’s in the truck, but what we’ve been working on for quite some time, and what we’ve started to be much more open about, is our philosophy that you need to mix metals so that you have the right material for the right application.
“And we’ve been talking a lot about the aluminum fabrication techniques, the welding techniques, including steel to aluminum welding and our use of mixed metals in vehicles like the Cadillac CT6 to improve strength while reducing weight. And we see that mixed metal strategy as a competitive advantage because the reality is one size doesn’t fit all, especially when it comes to trucks.”
In response to Chevy’s bed strength claims, Ford spokesman Mike Levine told us “The F-150 rock test video is a great example of a real world customer using F-150 the way real customers do, instead of in a stunt setting.”
The roughly four-minute video shows an excavator loading the bed of an aluminum F-150 several times with masonry stone – 100,000 pounds of the decorative rock over the course of a day. A stone mason drives the truck back and forth to his work site unloading the rock. It takes 51 loads to move the stones.
“Basically, everybody who works with a truck, the bed durability is probably the key factor that comes to mind,” stone mason John Swanson says in the video.
However, Cain points out that Ford used bed liners in that 2014 video, noting that Swanson’s comment about “durability” of the bed is odd when Ford allegedly skewed the demonstration.
So, why didn’t Chevy use bed liners during any of its puncture tests?
“The tests were designed to evaluate structural integrity of the beds as designed and delivered,” Cain said. “About half of the Silverados are delivered to customers without a bed liner. And Ford has called out their own statistics, but the fact of the matter is that bed liners, whether they’re spray-in or drop-in, are optional equipment.
“Many customers don’t use them and most that do, they’re primarily designed for appearance protection. And even if they prevent damage from impacts, it’s not actually improving the structural integrity of the box. It’s just slightly dissipating energy.”
But Levine argues the Ford video is more realistic because most F-150s doing the type of hauling the video depicts would in fact have a bed liner installed.
“Most customers who would use their truck this way would add a spray-in or drop-in liner to protect the box,” Levine said before adding a jab at a steel bed’s susceptibility to rust. “If they didn’t add a liner, a steel box would be at risk of red rust if the paint and corrosion coating were scraped off.”
Cain continued to stand behind the veracity of the GM tests, saying that unlike Ford’s bed test, which was carried out on one pickup, Chevy used several trucks along with three different types of puncture tests.
“A benefit of our testing is one, the original field evaluations were conducted by engineers using long-standing Chevrolet durability test methods; two, multiple runs were conducted of each laboratory and field testing used for advertising; and three, we reported our methodology and results for each test and vehicle,” he said.
At this point, an aluminum bed doesn’t appear to be in the cards for the Silverado. GM has been investing in and testing composite materials, but Cain’s quiet on future application. Whatever material GM uses, it’s thrown down quite a gauntlet with its puncture tests and has made the topic of body composition more important than before.
Chevy could design an aluminum bed, Cain said, but the gauge of aluminum required to make it strong enough to meet GM standards would considerably increase cost.
“You don’t want it to compromise capability and utility and I think that the demonstrations that we showed the world yesterday showed that Ford made a different choice,” Cain said.
“We’ve had a whole raft of different things that we’ve done, even since the current generation of Silverado hit the market, to improve fuel economy. You know, we’ve introduced 8-speed transmissions as just one example. So it doesn’t all have to come through weight reduction in the body.”