With the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, GM chooses evolution over revolution

There's no vehicle more important to General Motors than the Chevrolet Silverado. Full-size pickups account for a fifth of GM's U.S. sales and an even larger share of its profits, and Silverado customers rank among the most loyal of any vehicle GM builds. Today, Chevrolet and GMC revealed the all-new 2014 editions of the Silverado and GMC Sierra — offering much-needed updates everywhere, but far from dramatic change overall.

While every piece of the Silverado is new, GM kept to a more conservative approach than Ford has with its F-Series or Chrysler took with the Ram division. There's no twin-turbo downsized engines or 8-speed transmissions, and GM didn't reveal exact power or fuel economy figures, which will be finalized just before the trucks go on sale in the middle of next year. Given the leaps made by Ford and Ram, the Silverado will face competition tougher than at any point in GM's 111-year history of truck building.

Instead, GM is counting on loyal buyers to embrace a slew of updates to the trucks they already know. The engine lineup remains the same -- a 4.3-liter V-6, and V-8s of 5.3 liters and 6.2 liters -- tied to a new six-speed automatic transmission. Engineers gave the motors a thorough reworking, adding bits of fuel saving technology like direct injection and cylinder shutoff at highway speeds, and claim sizable improvements in power, torque and fuel efficiency — but without exact specs it's unknown how far those changes go toward closing the fuel economy gap with Ford and Chrysler. The frame grows tougher, and the suspension also gets reworked, but keeps its basic setup of coil springs and struts in front with leaf springs in the rear.

The most noticeable changes come on the inside, where Chevy and GMC have brought the truck's interiors into the 21st century. There's a new, more handsome dash than the previous generation, along with the now-requisite touch screen info-entertainment center with controls that can be operated with work gloves on. While the majority of pickups see duty as pure work vehicles, there's a growing market for luxury editions of half-ton pickups like the Ram Laramie Longhorn and Ford King Ranch whose sticker prices can break $50,000, and the Silverado's entry, known as the High Country, will offer a leather-wrapped cocoon.

With three factories to retool, GM won't begin selling the new Sierra and Silverado until mid-2013, giving GM several months of running room until Ford and Chrysler launch their updated models. No models GM has launched since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009 will determine more about its future than these pickups. They better be ready to carry the load.