Q&A with Jeff Luke, chief engineer for GM trucks

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GM-Jeff-LukeWith the 2015 GMC Canyon making its debut in Detroit, we sat down with Jeff Luke, executive chief engineer for all of GM’s pickup trucks, to find out how the automaker will tackle the midsize truck market — and possibly reenter the heavy-duty segment.

BestRide: Now that you’re going into smaller truck segments, a lot of the overseas trucks have smaller four-cylinder diesel engines than the one in the Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado, say like…

Jeff Luke: The 2.0-liter in the Volkswagen Amarok, for example, with the 8-speed transmission.

BR: Yeah, that’s a combo you don’t see too much. For a lot of people, that might work if they don’t need the towing capacity.

JL: The technology is important. I believe in purposeful and practical features and functionality. If you add technology that doesn’t give the customer any benefit, it’s a waste.

BR: Some of these trucks have the vibrating safety alert seat, which seems useful.

JL: It’s a great feature to help you with front park assist, which is a new feature. It helps customers park in tight spaces in a bigger vehicle, along with the rear park assist. You get a bump on the seat if you get close. It gets actuated there and you can see on your [instrument panel]. The lane departure warning, forward collision alert — these are smart technologies in my mind. A lot of people drive trucks for hours at a time. Sometimes you can get drowsy sometimes, that happens. If you start getting out of your lane, the safety alert seat lets you know.

BR: Do you think you would go back to the Topkick line with GMC?

JL: I tell you, [there has been] a lot of discussion about the higher [gross vehicle weight rating] trucks, over 14,000 GVWR. We’ve had a lot of discussion in the company about that segment, who’s in it, how big is it, and a lot of interest. So we’re studying it.


BR: Is there any particular area of the country you expect the Colorado and Canyon midsize pickups to sell in high numbers?

JL: We think a lot of our competitors are taking a rearview mirror approach to the segment. There’s only two in there today, with Toyota and Nissan. The two North American competitors vacated and we have a lot of our former S10, Colorado, S15, Canyon, Sonoma customers who just want a smaller truck. We take care of our own (I call them “loyalists”), we go after our full-size truck competitors Ford and Ram who vacated with the Ranger and the Dakota. They’re gone, we’re going to go after those customers who just don’t want to buy a bigger truck from our competitors. And we think there’s a big appeal for crossover customers.

BR: Someone mentioned to us that the Canyon’s engine bay looked big enough to fit a 6.2-liter V8 engine in there. Could you see a new Syclone in the works?

JL: I’d say there’s lots of interesting opportunity, and Syclone, to your point, had a lot of nameplate recognition at the time and it had performance to match it. That’s why it got the recognition it did. Oh, it’d be interesting here.

BR: So fitting in a V8 wouldn’t be impossible.

JL: No, we would pick one [engine] that had the proper high performance that could meet the requirements, and clearly, the Syclone — if we were to bring a vehicle like that back with that nameplate — it has to have high performance.

BR: We don’t see turbos now in the truck lineup, and GM has said that its 6.2-liter V8 is more efficient than Ford’s EcoBoost V6. But would it be useful later on?

JL: When you look at turbos in the truck sense, one of the things you have to be really careful of is when you’re putting a turbocharged engine under load, it basically is fueling all the time. So if you look at real-world fuel economy of a turbocharged engine, especially in a truck, it’s not quite the same as running the EPA schedule. And trucks, as you know, you put 2,000 pounds of payload and a 12,000-pound trailer on there, that’s a lot of load there and we like the fact that our full-sized truck engines are designed for all those conditions. We think our customers appreciate the durability of our EcoTec3 engines.

Clifford Atiyeh

Clifford Atiyeh

Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Based in Connecticut, he writes for BestRide, Car and Driver, The Boston Globe and other publications.