Wentzville-built Chevy Colorado wins best pickup of 2018

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The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is an off-road version of the popular, award-winning pickup truck.

By KEVIN WEAKS

When General Motors reintroduced the small pickup to the market in 2015, they thought they might have a winner. Turns out they were right. Since 2015, the Wentzville-built Chevrolet Colorado pickup has been hauling home the trophies.

Recently the Colorado ZR2, an off-road version manufactured by UAW Local 2250 members right here at home, won the 2018 Best Pickup Truck of the Year awards from Cars.com and Fourwheeler.com. The Colorado also is a Motor Trend favorite, having won the magazine’s Truck of the Year title two years in a row in 2015 and 2016. The ZR2 also was a finalist in this year’s competition.

BORN TO COMPETE WITH IMPORTS

The Chevrolet Colorado traces its history back to the early 1980s, when Detroit was desperately trying to compete with Japanese automakers who were flooding the market with their compact pickups. Heck, even all-American Chevrolet was selling a rebadged Isuzu called the LUV, which won Motor Trend’s first Truck of the Year award in 1979.

GM ditched the LUV and started building its compact pickup truck in the U.S. with the introduction of the 1982 Chevrolet S-10 (and its near-twin, the GMC S15). Ford countered with the 1983 Ranger, and Chrysler caught up in 1987 with the Dakota. The S-10 was redesigned for the 1994 model year and in 2004 it was replaced by a new version with a new name: Colorado.

Things were going just great until gas prices zoomed over $3 a gallon. GM stopped making the Colorado in 2012. The Shreveport, LA, assembly plant closed and for a short time the Colorado was sold only overseas. In the U.S., Chevy sold 36,840 of the compact trucks that model year.

RETURN OF THE COMPACT/MID-SIZE PICKUP 

But buyer demand really didn’t go away, and as gas prices settled into the $2 range, GM revived the Colorado along with its GMC brother in 2015, moving production to a revitalized Wentzville plant and adding a third shift of 750 new jobs.

It was the first time in 30 years that three shifts were running at the plant which now employs nearly 3,500 hourly employees who build the Colorado, GMC Canyon, GMC Savana and Chevy Express.

There’s a burning question of how to classify the Colorado/Canyon/Ranger genre. They used to be called compact trucks, but smaller pickup trucks offered by manufacturers these days now are also considered mid-size.

GM moved production of Colorado to the Wentzville plant in 2015. Nearly 3,500 union employees build the Colorado, GMC Canyon, GMC Savana and Chevy Express.  More than 145,000 Colorado and Canyon pickups were purchased in the U.S. in 2017.

In 2015, some 84,430 Colorados were sold and last year the number hit nearly 113,000. Right out of the box, the Colorado started gathering trophies. The Labor Tribune’s own Sheri Gassaway reported at the time that the Colorado won back-to-back Motor Trend “Truck of the Year” awards in 2015 and 2016.

Plant officials say they were ecstatic to learn about the prestigious honor, Sheri noted in her 2015 article. Nancy Laubenthal, Wentzville’s GM plant manager, told the Labor Tribune, “Not every GM plant gets that experience, and I attribute the win to the men and women who put in countless hours to design, engineer and build these great trucks.”

Ford has responded to the Colorado/Canyon success story by reintroducing the Ranger compact pickup for the 2019 model year. No word yet from Chrysler’s Ram.

RAISING THE BAR

In naming the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 its “Best Pickup Truck of 2018,” Cars.com called it “quite possibly the most distinctive vehicle that’s come along in years. This is the kind of vehicle that off-road enthusiasts would build in their garage. Many will be surprised by how well the ZR2 performs on the pavement as a daily driver and how well it does standard pickup truck work, like hauling 1,200 pounds or more of payload in the bed or towing a 5,000-pound trailer off the bumper.”

The Chevy Colorado has not only pushed a growing pickup class to great heights, says Cars.com, but it’s also raised the bar. “Yes, the ZR2 was a big risk for GM, and like the huge investment it made in making a new Colorado two years ago, this off-road-focused experiment looks like it will be turning the heads of new-truck buyers as well as impressing off-road enthusiasts.”

Fourwheeler.com, in naming the 2018 Colorado ZR2 “Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year,” said “The ZR2 takes the capable Colorado platform to a new level with a dizzying array of modifications including front and rear electric differential lockers, Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve shocks, a two-inch-taller ride height, 3.5-inch-wider track width, additional skid plating, 31-inch tires, and many more off-road-centric goodies. The result is a truck that is willing and able to conquer terrain that would leave most other trucks behind.

Fourwheeler.com judges gave high marks to the ZR2’s optional 2.8L Duramax turbodiesel I-4 direct-injected engine, which provided “a wealth of smooth power while returning outstanding fuel economy.” The Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve shocks — not seen before in a truck application — worked extremely well to damp the suspension over rough terrain and contribute to the Colorado’s outstanding handling. At speed, the judges also appreciated the added stability of the ZR2’s 3.5-inch-wider track.

Call it compact or mid-size, the 2018 Colorado is priced from $20,000 to $41,785 and the off-road ZR2 model starts at around $40,000.

Contact Kevin Weaks at kweaks@labortribune.com.

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