Chevrolet’s 2018 Silverado Centennial Edition shows a major truck evolution since the brand’s first pickup debuted in 1918.
“It’s night and day,” said Leslie Kendall, curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
One hundred years ago this January, Chevrolet introduced the Series 490 Light Delivery. The Series 490 was a stripped-out passenger car that replaced its body with a pickup bed and added stronger springs to cart crops from farms to the city. Its four-cylinder engine made 24 horsepower. Customers paid $490 for the privilege.
By contrast, the 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Centennial Edition is a 5,300-pound truck that comfortably seats five passengers and tows nearly six tons. All Centennial Editions have heated leather seats and an off-road suspension package. The engine is a 5.3-liter V8 with 355 horsepower. Its starting price is $55,000.
The Series 490 came just six months after Ford created the segment with its Model TT. Together the two trucks kicked off the fiercest and most successful rivalry in automotive history, Kendall said.
Today, the Silverado is the top-selling vehicle in the General Motors portfolio. GM sold more than 585,000 Silverados in 2017, good enough for second place among all passenger vehicles, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp.
Chevrolet has sold an estimated 85 million trucks since the launch of the Series 490.
“The early trucks were beyond basic,” Kendall said. “They went from strict utility to personal vehicles, then to lifestyle and then the highest means of self-expression.”
A Century of Change
The 100-year milestone is meaningful to Chevrolet. The company celebrated by hosting loyal customers at the Chevy Truck Centennial Event at Texas Motor Speedway in December.
“Trucks have always been really the heart of Chevrolet,” Alan Batey, president of General Motors’ North American operations, told Trucks.com.
Inside the speedway, the public tested towing capabilities of new trucks and crawled up steep inclines in the off-road Colorado ZR2. Retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. spoke about his first car, a Chevrolet C10 pickup. He also introduced the all-new 2019 Silverado 1500, which was flown in by helicopter.
Many of those in attendance have owned several Chevrolet truck models in their lifetime. They raved about the brand’s toughness and dependability.
“They’ve never let me down,” said Martin Gallegos, a longtime Silverado owner from Round Rock, Tex. “If I won any other truck in a lottery I’d sell it and buy a Chevy.”
The automaker also showed off its Silverado Centennial Edition. It featured the same shade of midnight blue and retro-style Chevrolet “bowtie” badge found on trucks from nearly a century ago.
One month later Trucks.com tested the Centennial Edition pickup. It embodies the monumental shift that pickup trucks have undergone in the past 100 years.
The truck’s standard 22-inch wheels and LED headlamps glistened in front of the main entrance. The Silverado Centennial has chrome on the tow hooks, door handles, side mirrors and running boards.
A trip to the Petersen museum, which displays important vehicles throughout automotive history, showed a stark difference between the Spartan trucks of yesteryear and modern day style and flair.
“There’s so many embellishments you never would have seen years ago,” Kendall said.
Its full leather interior, vibrant large touchscreen and standard WiFi connection are a departure from the interiors of the historic trucks Kendall passes in the museum halls each day.
“It used to just be a bench seat,” he said.consumer preference shifts from small passenger cars to larger light trucks – a category that includes crossovers, SUVs and pickups.
The average transaction price of a full-size light duty pickup truck in 2017 was $40,070, a higher price than the average vehicle on sale at $31,781, according to according to market research firm J.D. Power.
That’s also a sharp increase of 23.5 percent over the past five years. In 2012, a pickup cost an average of $32,444, according to J.D. Power.
Pickup trucks and other large vehicles are extremely valuable to automakers because they generate higher profit margins than smaller cars.
Ford sold 800,000 F-Series trucks in the U.S. in 2017. Due to its robust mid-size, full-size and heavy-duty lineup, GM is nearing one million annual truck sales. The Silverado and its GMC Sierra sibling, combined with the midsized Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, sold 948,909 units in 2017.
Linking the Old with the New
The stakes have never been higher. Though trucks have changed from their blue-collar roots, they have always been tough vehicles that can handle anything, Kendall said.
At the centennial event GM carted passengers in historic trucks around the streets of Fort Worth, Texas. The experience tied the common threads between the older models and newer ones.
A vintage 1926 Chevrolet Superior Series X pickup – completely original but for an aftermarket starter – rode on wood-spoke wheels and its open-air cabin created chilly conditions at speed. An all-black 1956 Chevy 3100 Stepside glistened with unmistakable styling and a wooden bed lined with metal slats. A two-tone 1978 Performance Classic custom demonstrated the quandary of combining a modern 335-horsepower V8 engine with 40-year old steering and braking components.
Though all three of the trucks now live quiet, climate-controlled lives in the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Mich., each seemed ready to haul a load.
That go-anywhere and do-anything reputation has made pickup trucks extremely desirable for generations, Kendall said. Despite its flashy add-ons and plush appointments, the 2018 Silverado Centennial Edition has the same basic principles as its predecessors.
“It’s gotten more luxurious, but you can still haul a hell of a load in this,” he said.