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GM trucks may see 8 gears soon

General Motors plans to incorporate 8-speed automatic transmissions into some of its 2015 full-size pickup trucks and SUVs, an important upgrade as the industry awaits Ford’s aluminum F-150 pickup later this year.

GM said the 6.2-liter, 8-cylinder engines in the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, GMC Yukon Denali and Yukon XL Denali would be paired with the 8-speed transmissions. Production will start in the fourth quarter of this year.

Ford is taking a divergent strategy: discontinuing its 6.2-liter V-8 with the new 2015 F-150 and instead offering a turbocharged 4-cylinder as an option on a truck that sheds 700 pounds by switching to an aluminum body.

For GM, it is the first major rollout of 8-speed transmissions. They are currently offered only in a few vehicles, including some versions of the Cadillac CTS sedan and the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. The Silverado is GM’s most popular vehicle in the U.S. and is central to its profitability.

GM adds the 8-speed a year after it introduced its latest generation of full-size pickups. The company’s chief trucks engineer, Jeff Luke, and global product chief, Mark Reuss, had said they would not wait long to offer improved powertrain options.

The key question is whether the new transmissions will give the vehicles a fuel economy boost. That’s critical because some industry experts believe Ford’s aluminum F-150 may reach 30 miles per gallon in highway driving. Ford has not released any figures yet.

Ford is hoping a lighter, more fuel efficient truck will give it a marketing edge in the lucrative pickup truck segment if GM doesn’t respond accordingly.

Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Ram pickup already offers 8-speed transmissions depending on the model, as well as a diesel engine.

Chrysler has also developed 9-speed transmissions for its front-wheel-drive vehicles.

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