Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

General Motors Corp. unveils the GMC Denali XT concept pickup at the Chicago auto show on Wednesday, which is built on the auto maker’s Zeta rear-wheel-drive platform that for the first time combines flex-fuel capability with its 2-mode hybrid-propulsion system.

Holden Design, the styling house of GM’s Australian subsidiary GM Holden Ltd., penned the design and constructed the Denali XT in Port Melbourne, Victoria.

Holden also is responsible for development of the ’09 Chevrolet Camaro and reportedly will take the lead in an all-new Cadillac coupe, both of which will leverage the Zeta platform.

A GM spokesman calls the Denali XT an opportunity for the GMC brand to explore a different kind of truck, although no production date has been set.

The spokesman also says the vehicle’s exterior design, which suggests the Holden Ute, does not confirm rumors of a GM Holden-built sport wagon for the U.S., although the auto maker say it is always is looking for opportunities within its global portfolio.

Citing its unibody construction, GM says the Denali weighs much less than traditional body-on-frame pickups, which contributes to better fuel economy and a sporty driving experience.

GM also packs the concept with technology to enhance flexibility, adding features such as the auto maker’s folding midgate to increase cargo bed capacity and a height-adjustable suspension that enhances its performance quotient.

Most notably, the auto maker uses the concept to showcase a first-ever combination of flex-fuel capability with its 2-mode hybrid-propulsion system. With E85 capability the Denali XT trims greenhouse gases emitted by a traditional, V-8 powered pickup, while the hybrid system improves fuel economy 50% over a similar vehicle using gasoline only.

GM’s 2-mode hybrid system unites an advanced electrically variable transmission and a 300-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery with an internal combustion engine further optimized for fuel efficiency with cylinder deactivation.

The Denali XT additionally marks the first time GM has combined the technology with a smaller-displacement version of the small-block engine.

GM currently offers the 2-mode system in production versions of its ’08 Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon fullsize SUVs, but mates it to a 6.0L V-8 engine. The system will be made available later in the year in the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra fullsize pickups and Cadillac Escalade fullsize luxury SUV.

The Denali XT’s 4.9L V-8 engine produces an estimated 326 hp, which helps the vehicle to a payload capacity of 1,100 lbs. (499 kg) and a towing capability of 3,500 lbs. (1,587 kg).

Direct-injection technology helps produce the power of a larger engine, GM says, but also contributes to its better fuel economy and reduced emissions. In city driving conditions, GM says the Denali XT can operate on battery power exclusively.

Exterior design highlights include what GM characterizes as a “muscular form and wide, firmly planted stance” that provides road presence. Overhangs are kept to a minimum and 23-in. wheels combine with fender flares, sleek headlamps and a low-roof profile to deliver an aggressive, performance-oriented appearance, GM says.

“It is a robust, yet tailored design statement that is unlike anything else on the road,” says Ed Welburn, vice president, GM Global Design in a statement ahead of the unveiling. “It has the youthful look of a custom automobile that incorporates the capability customers expect from a truck.”

Inside, GM says the Denali XT blends the mechanical functionality of items such as billet-metal controls and instruments with the comfort of leather-trimmed seats and contact surfaces.

“The form language is smooth and structured to characterize GMC’s power,” says Warrack Leach, GM Holden lead designer, who also led the VE Commodore Ute design. “The details have a deliberately contrasting mechanical aesthetic to mark GMC’s engineering sophistication.

“This was a great program to work on, as I was given the opportunity to really stretch the limits of the global rear-wheel-drive architecture and create a truck with unique and bold proportions,” Leach adds.

“GMC has such a rich heritage of producing great trucks, and it was essential we keep that in mind while at the same time exploring how far we could take this concept.”

– with Alan Harman