Chevrolet is upping the ante in the tug-of-war with Ford over America's favorite vehicles: pickup trucks.
General Motors said Monday that its new Chevy Silverado will get 23 miles per gallon on the highway with a 5.3-liter V-8 engine. That's a little better than similarly-equipped competitors from Ford, Chrysler and Toyota. The new trucks also promise more towing power.
That could help the Silverado get closer to unseating Ford's F-Series trucks, which have been the top-selling vehicles in the U.S. for 30 years. GM sold 575,497 Silverados and GMC Sierras — the Silverado's upscale twin — last year. Ford beat that by nearly 70,000 trucks.
The Silverado will have a starting price of $23,590 excluding shipping. That's $80 less than Ford's F-150 but $950 more than Chrysler's Ram. The Sierra will start at $24,090.
GM is rolling out the new trucks in late spring or early summer. They replace models that were last revamped in 2007.
The timing is good. Truck sales are growing rapidly after a five-year slump as contractors and other small businesses replace aging trucks they held onto during the recession. Pickup sales were expected to rise 15 percent last month over March 2012, the biggest growth of any vehicle segment, according to Kelley Blue Book.
GM says its V-8 bests Ford's turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 in fuel economy. The EcoBoost V-6 promises the power of a V-8 with the fuel economy of a smaller engine. It's been a big hit, getting 22 mpg on the highway. Ford says 43 percent of F-150 buyers choose the EcoBoost over Ford's three other options.
The Ram currently boasts the best fuel economy in the truck segment. Its 3.6-liter V-6 can get up to 25 mpg on the highway. GM said it hasn't finished testing the fuel economy of its V-6 engines.
The Silverado delivers less power than its chief rivals, however. A Silverado equipped with the 5.3-liter V-8 gets 355 horsepower, which is 10 less than the EcoBoost F-150 and 40 less than a Ram with a comparable V-8. The Silverado also has less torque.
The Silverado can tow a maximum of 11,500 pounds, the same as a heavy-duty version of the Ram 1500 and 200 more than the F-150.
GM dealers are eager for the new trucks because they've been selling dated models against newer competitors. Silverado sales were flat last year, while F-150 sales rose 10 percent.
The new GM trucks look more aggressive and aerodynamic. They will have quieter cabs and updated steering, suspensions and brakes, GM says. The new pickup trucks are also 200 pounds lighter than Ford and Chrysler competitors, which should make them more nimble.
Despite the changes, the base price of the 2014 Silverado will stay the same as the current model. The Sierra's base price goes up by $500.
But Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com, says the base price doesn't matter to most buyers, who add options like larger cabs and more powerful engines that bring the average pickup price above $35,000.
GM said 90 percent of its current buyers opt for more expensive crew cabs and double cabs, and GM expects that to go up with the new trucks. And just 7 percent of Silverado buyers get the V-6 engine that comes on the base model. Most upgrade to a V-8.
Options prices for the 2014 models are similar to the 2013 models, said Jeff Luke, executive chief engineer for GM's full-size trucks. But GM is offering brand new safety features on the 2014 trucks, such as lane departure warning and front collision alert, that will drive up the price, he said.
Last month, the average Silverado sold for $35,609, while the average Sierra went for $37,326, according to Edmunds.com. The Silverado sold for $3,345 less than the F-150 on average. But GM got $93 more for the Silverado than the Ram, Edmunds said.