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General Motors hasn’t been the only one on a building spree as it gets ready for full-scale Colorado and Canyon production. Many of the third party suppliers who make electronic, engine, suspension and interior components for the Colorado have created and clustered their own manufacturing facilities within a short distance of the Shreveport plant. These suppliers are tightly woven with the manufacturing process to make sure that components are only produced as needed and delivered to the assembly line within 1-½ hours from the time an order is placed for a part.

It might seem easy to lose focus of the product after hearing about all of the new changes at Shreveport but the engineers responsible for the Colorado and Canyon are vigorously, and rigorously, testing out the GMT 355 platform looking for any final kinks prior to full-scale production using an approach called iterative engineering. The trucks are incrementally built in larger, more complex batches to test manufacturing processes and check for build quality so problems can be spotted before full scale production begins.

The first set of iterative test vehicles, usually just one or two, is known as the alpha build. Many times these alpha ‘mules’ find their way to a scrap heap rather than production because they never receive the greenlight from management or the concept doesn’t prove out with the public. Next come the hand-built beta builds. Betas begin to fully realize technical concepts, new technologies and can provide critical insight into manufacturing techniques that will be needed for assembly. Gamma builds are run down the production line at a manufacturing plant and are slow built to test technical specifications, fit and finish and ride and handling. After gammas, non-saleable units are next incorporating lessons previously learned and to lock-in finely tuned settings, such as the suspension, in something very close to a production truck. Finally full-scale production can begin after the engineers are confident all of the risks have been eliminated from their manufacturing and design process.

When we joined the GMT 355 engineers for their most recent development drive there was a set of six gamma-build trucks ready for testing, each representing a major cab configuration or driveline type. They were described as 85% production representative and included: an I5 Colorado crew cab 4x2 with the ZQ8 sport suspension; an I5 Colorado regular cab 4x2; an I5 Colorado extended cab 4x4 with the Z71 off-road package; an I4 Canyon regular cab 4x2 with a manual transmission; an I4 Colorado extended cab 4x4; and an I5 Canyon crew cab 4x4 with the Z71 off-road package. Also along for comparison on the ride was a Chevrolet S-10, GMC Sonoma and Toyota Tacoma double cab 4x4.

Reading about the improvements and design changes made to the Colorado and Canyon over their predecessors it’s pretty easy to believe that all of the advanced planning and engineering might be able to catch every single bug in the vehicles prior to production but you still need that human interaction with the vehicle to truly make it come together. It was up to us and several other journalists to help spot those bugs.

The bugs we found on the Colorado and Canyon gamma drive were nothing extraordinary but they were fascinating nonetheless and taken extremely seriously by the engineers for resolution. For example, the digital display for the odometer tended to wash out in direct sunlight and looked dim at other times. On several vehicles at highway speeds a faint whistle could be heard that was traced back to the HVAC system. Two vehicles each experienced a slight hood vibration on the freeway by the driver-side headlights. The stitching on some of the headrests was uneven. But each of these issues is sure to be fixed long before production begins if they haven’t been eliminated already.

We’ll drive the production Colorado and Canyon later this year and report back as to how well GM and the Shreveport team have executed on the final product. If the preparation for the launch of these trucks is any indication we expect to see this plant in business making pickups for at least another 20 years.

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