By CARL GREEN
Wentzville – The St. Louis region’s importance to the automotive industry is being enhanced by the early success of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks, built at General Motors’ Wentzville assembly plant.
The Colorado received the prestigious Truck of the Year award from Motor Trend magazine, while the two mid-size models shared the title of best in their class in U.S. News and World Report.
Early sales have been positive for the new trucks, which are assembled by the members of United Auto Workers Local 2250. Now the plant is adding a third shift to build more of the trucks, along with the full-size vans that it was already building.
GM lists the plant as having 2,250 hourly employees and 215 salaried. The third shift is to add 750 new hourly jobs, bringing that total to 3,000.
The trucks are GM’s bid to revive the nearly dormant small-to-medium pickup category, which has sagged in recent years even while sales of full-sized pickups have topped the charts for all vehicles. GM stopped making the old Colorado truck three years ago.
While past small pickups were light-weight, economy vehicles that delivered on gas mileage but not always on payload, these new GM trucks are like slightly shrunken versions of its full-size pickups, capable of handling most pickup jobs but in a smaller, more efficient package.
In announcing its Truck of the Year award, Motor Trend writer Scott Burgess explained how the new trucks are a far cry from the old compact pickups.
“Really, when you look back to the original small pickups, the new Colorado is quite large in comparison,” he wrote. “A regular cab, short-bed 2003 Chevy S-10 was just 190.1 inches long and 62 inches tall, but a new Colorado in its smallest configuration is 212.7 inches long and 70.3 inches tall. But it’s not nearly as big as all of those full-size pickups, which have incredible power and capability that many owners will never likely use.”
List prices start at $22,650 for the two-wheel drive, four-cylinder version, with EPA mileage estimates of 20 in the city and 27 on the highway. Horsepower is 200. Prices move to $30,000 and beyond for models with V6, longer beds and four-wheel drive, while EPA mileage edges down to 17 in town and 24 on the highway. The crew-cab version seats up to five.
U.S. News weighed the trucks against the only two others remaining in the smaller truck category, the models Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.
But the magazine not only rated the Chevy-GMC product better than those Japanese brands, it had good things to say about the new trucks as well.
“The all-new Chevrolet Colorado surpasses its competition with first-rate cabin materials and composed driving dynamics,” the magazine reports. Its test drivers commented on the trucks’ firm ride, controlled handling, responsive steering and strong brakes.
The magazine gave the truck an overall score of 9.0. It reported that the base engine is fine for more driving duties but that the V6 is better for towing or hauling.