Although founded in 1911, Chevrolet truly changed the face of transportation when it introduced the Chevrolet One-Ton to the world in 1918.
When the One-Ton was introduced it featured a 2.8L, four-cylinder engine. This truck achieved what was considered at the time a whopping 45 lb.-ft. of torque. Compare this to today’s Chevrolet Colorado, which achieves 191 lb.-ft. of torque, an increase of 480% over 1918 figures.
Over the past 100 years, a lot has changed when it comes to truck design and manufacture, but one thing has stayed the same: the availability of a Chevrolet Truck to get the job done.
Getting to Know the Experts
To learn as much as possible about the history of Chevrolet Trucks, Work Truck spoke with the experts involved in bringing these trucks to the world.
John Schwegman, U.S. director of commercial product and medium-duty for Chevrolet Trucks, was the Silverado Brand Manager from 2000-2008 and since 2014 has worked with fleet and Chevrolet Commercial. Among other accomplishments, he led the launch of the all-new GMT900 Silverado.
“We positioned the truck with a theme, ‘This is Our Country, This is Our Truck’ along with music from John Mellencamp. This was at a time when a competitor was launching its new truck with production in Texas. We could not let the roots of our positioning be compromised,” Schwegman said. “Additionally, I led GM’s effort to get back into the medium-duty segment with the all-new Silverado 4500HD/5500HD/6500HD models that begin production later this year. The entry not only complements and halos the 1500-3500 Silverado models, but it allows Chevy to grow our commercial volume and provide one-stop shopping for our commercial truck customers.”
Eric Stanczak, chief engineer, Chevrolet Full-Size Trucks, has worked with Chevrolet/General Motors for 27 years, serving as the company’s chief engineer of Chevrolet Trucks since 2014.
“During this time, I have led a fantastic truck team in the development of many successful models including our highly desirable special editions such as the Midnight Editions, Redline Editions, and most recently the Centennial Edition. I am most proud of the 2017 Silverado HD 2500 and 3500 with new L5P Duramax Diesel, which has garnered many accolades since its introduction, specifically on its performance and excellence as an overall integrated package,” Stanczak said.
Rich Scheer is the exterior design director for Chevrolet Trucks. With an appliance repairman father, he grew up in the passenger seat of a Chevrolet pickup truck.
Greatest Advancements in Chevrolet Trucks
Chevrolet has worked hard to be at the forefront of advancing technology and enhancements to power, drivability, and comfort. A few of the greatest advancements in Chevrolet Trucks over the past 100 years include all of that and more.
“I believe the greatest advancements over the past 100 years include the first three-door pickup with the GMT800 extended cab, the first mild-hybrid FSPU in 2005, the longest running nameplate with 80 years of the Suburban, and the refinement of the Silverado interior to rival the comfort and convenience of many luxury vehicles,” Schwegman said.
Technology also comes to mind as it connects to enhancements in safety and comfort.
“We have developed technologies such as seat belts, air bags, rear vision camera systems, driver assistance systems, traction control, and stability control systems, just to name a few. They greatly improve the safety of today’s trucks as compared to years past,” Stanczak said.
One thing drivers look for with each new truck to market is more power and overall capability.
“Our engines and transmissions are more capable than ever before delivering higher horsepower, torque, and fuel economy while still having lower emissions than ever. And, our trucks today are more comfortable than ever to drive. Many customers use our trucks as daily drivers for their work as well as their play on weekends.”
Along the lines of work and play, trucks have an additional challenge of needing to cross markets.
“I think the change from trucks being a work tool to a mainstream, or even family vehicle has been interesting to watch. Trucks today really do it all; they do their job as a work truck, but are comfortable and even luxurious,” Scheer said.
Technology has also allowed truck engineers to focus even more on aerodynamics for enhanced efficiency and style.
“In addition, the advances in aerodynamics have been incredible. Not only do today’s Chevrolet trucks do work and offer comfort and convenience features, they are surprisingly efficient. We’ve come a long way in aerodynamics making trucks that are big, bold, and efficient. I’m not sure those three words could have gone together 25 years ago,” Scheer added.
Chevrolet’s Impact on Fleet
Chevrolet has also been a dependable truck for many fleets over the century.
“Chevrolet’s proven reputation to be the most dependable, longest lasting trucks has been a pillar for enhancing the brand’s value to fleet customers. Silverado consistently ranks as the lowest total cost of ownership and has been a leader in durability, keeping customer downtime to a minimum,” Schwegman said.
For fleets in particular, keeping trucks on the road and doing their jobs is key to continued success.
“Reliability and dependability are likely the biggest impacts Chevrolet Trucks has had on fleet operations over the years. Fleet owners have relied on their Chevrolet trucks to do work, and to do it well, day-in and day-out. We have the most dependable, longest lasting full-size pickups on the road, and the design, engineering, testing, and validation philosophy that we use in our trucks has 100 years of experience as well as fleet customer feedback,” Stanczak said.
Another way Chevrolet has focused on fleets is by ensuring they have the options they need to succeed.
“For the 2019 Silverado, we offer eight trim levels. I like to break them up into three groups. Our value-minded trucks are the Work Truck, Custom, and Custom Trail Boss. Our volume trucks are our LT, RST, and LT Trail Boss. And our more premium trucks are the LTZ and High Country. For our fleet customers, this offers an incredible range of options, even just within the value category. Someone on a construction site might want a traditional work truck with steel wheels and a municipality may want something that looks more premium and they can find that in a Custom. Chevrolet offers that choice without much difference in price,” Scheer said.
Most Impactful Trucks
Trucks have a special place in the hearts of many, and those who are closely involved with the design and sale of these trucks are no different.
“The Chevrolet Avalanche was the most impactful truck in my opinion. It inspired the company to take trucks to a new level in terms of ride/handling, progressive design, and unparalleled functionality. In addition, the GMT800 FS Utilities put a stranglehold on the segment and GM has held a dominant 75% market share since,” Schwegman said.
Scheer has a special place in his heart for the classics. “I love the 1967-72 C/K trucks. Those are the trucks that I fell in love with. They’re perfect,” Scheer said.
According to Stanczak, the most impactful truck was never produced for retail customers.
“I think the most impactful Chevy truck model over the past 100 years is the one we never produced for retail customers — the trucks built to support the U.S. armed forces during WWII,” he said.
For more than four years between 1940 and 1944, Chevy built hundreds of thousands of trucks to support the war effort.
“In addition to providing parts and more for the military — these efforts were certainly critical in ensuring our national security and the security of millions of allied citizens as well. I can’t think of a larger impact of our trucks than that,” Stanczak said.
Looking Back & Moving Forward
Chevrolet has been a part of automotive truck history for a century. It’s equally important to take a look back at how we got here as well as continue to keep our eyes on the future.
“I’ve always loved Chevrolet trucks, from a kid building a model of the beautiful 1955 3100, to a college student when I drove a late 1970s C65 delivering paper products for my father’s small business, to my current position responsible for the Silverado, Tahoe, and Suburban lineups,” Stanczak said. “There is a great amount of honor and pride that comes from working on these trucks and with the people that design, engineer, build and sell them. I’m very fortunate be a part of this legacy and work hard every day to make the Chevrolet trucks the best in the industry.”
One of the ways Chevrolet has made its mark and stayed around 100 years is the people that have put their sweat, time, and hearts into these trucks.
“Our Chevrolet truck design studio is full of authentic truck people. We own them, we work on them, and we love them. Some of us upfit our trucks and go off-roading. In a nutshell, we’re truck customers, too, and we are extremely passionate,” Scheer said.
Chevrolet even made their way into pop culture over the past century.
“Chevy trucks are a fabric of the American culture. How many top country songs in the past 10 years talk about Chevys and Silverados? Too many to count,” Schwegman concluded.