As others see us: GMC Sierra em-beds carbon fiber

May 3, 2019

Automakers find it difficult to differentiate themselves in the hyper-competitive full-size truck segment.

Ford employs aluminum body panels, Ram deploys smooth suspensions, Toyota relies on reliability and Nissan has its light-duty Cummins diesel engine. The GMC Sierra is quickly differentiating itself with features such as a six-function MultiPro tailgate and an invisible trailer camera system. It goes one further by offering a carbon fiber bed, called CarbonPro.

I recently toured the bed supplier, Continental Structural Plastics in Huntington, Indiana, and GM’s assembly plant near Fort Wayne.

CSP is ramping up a gleaming new addition specifically built and equipped to support GM truck production with 3600 Ton and 1000 Ton presses to form panels. Robots are employed to assemble them with adhesives. It’s an impressive operation with apparent room to grow.

The industry’s first carbon fiber box is probably a little different than you imagine.

Traditional carbon fiber is very strong but can be brittle under certain circumstances. Unlike familiar carbon fiber materials created by layering sheets of woven fabric, GMC’s box is more like a strong plastic, made stronger by embedding carbon fibers. It also makes a much faster and cost-effective manufacturing process -- needed to support fast-paced truck production.

To say the new beds were thoroughly tested for corrosion, perforation, vibration and temperatures is a woeful understatement.

Engineers dropped 1,800-pound loads of gravel, 450-pound steel drums and cinder blocks directly into the bed. Snowmobiles with metal studs were driven out the back, full throttle, with a 250-pound rider on board. The beds were tested in both arctic and desert conditions. GM says the bed is six times stronger than steel.

Carbon fiber beds have some other practical benefits.

The bed weighs 25% less than traditional steel for a 60-pound reduction. Grained surface negates the need for bedliners. The black material is colored all the way through, so even if you scratch it, you’ll barely notice.

Since the material can be formed much like plastic, designers optimized molds to enlarge the box by 1 cubic foot and included wheel cutouts in the front wall for motorcycles and ATVs.

Two cubic yards of mulch will fit under a closed tonneau cover. LED lights, a 110-volt outlet and forms for cargo dividers are part of the deal.

“The bed is the working end of a truck; it’s what brings buyers to the segment,” said Tim Herrick, General Motors’ executive chief engineer, full-size trucks. “Loaded with motorcycles, snowmobiles or dirt bikes, CarbonPro in the 2019 GMC Sierra is sure to impress with its strength, space and innovation.”

The CarbonPro bed will initially be available on 2019 Sierra Denali and AT4 models as part of the CarbonPro package that includes unique wheels, badging and connectivity suite. Expect to spend more than $60,000 for a truck so equipped. Pricing and availability for 2020 models will be announced closer to their on-sale date.

Casey Williams is an Indianapolis automotive journalist. Send comments to Casey at AutoCasey@aol.com; follow him on YouTube @AutoCasey.