Automotive

Carbon fiber as a pickup truck bed? We test the CarbonPro on a GMC Sierra

Carbon fiber as a pickup truck...
More than a bedliner, the CarbonPro replaces the truck’s bed entirely, putting carbon fiber in place of steel
More than a bedliner, the CarbonPro replaces the truck’s bed entirely, putting carbon fiber in place of steel
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The CarbonPro bed is available on the Sierra 1500 in its AT4 (shown) and Denali packages
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The CarbonPro bed is available on the Sierra 1500 in its AT4 (shown) and Denali packages
GMC's multi-function MultiPro tailgate option is also available on the 2020 Sierra 1500
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GMC's multi-function MultiPro tailgate option is also available on the 2020 Sierra 1500
Indents included in the CarbonPro bed accommodate up to two dirt bikes (left and right) or a street bike (center)
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Indents included in the CarbonPro bed accommodate the front tires for up to two dirt bikes (left and right) or a street bike (center)
More than a bedliner, the CarbonPro replaces the truck’s bed entirely, putting carbon fiber in place of steel
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More than a bedliner, the CarbonPro replaces the truck’s bed entirely, putting carbon fiber in place of steel
The stowable handle (left) allows easier entry to the bed from the MultiPro tailgate while the carbon fiber bed itself adds a full cubic foot of added cargo space
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The stowable handle (left) allows easier entry to the bed from the MultiPro tailgate while the carbon fiber bed itself adds a full cubic foot of added cargo space
The edges of the CarbonPro bed in this 2020 GMC Sierra show how thin the material is despite its high strength and capability
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The edges of the CarbonPro bed in this 2020 GMC Sierra show how thin the material is despite its high strength and capability
Added tie-down points and a 2-inch indent designed to accept common lumber for crossbar support are standard in the CarbonPro bed from GMC
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Added tie-down points and a 2-inch indent designed to accept common lumber for crossbar support are standard in the CarbonPro bed from GMC
Dirt collects on but does not scratch the CarbonPro bed in this GMC Sierra
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Dirt collects on but does not scratch the CarbonPro bed in this GMC Sierra
The corrugations pressed into the GMC CarbonPro bed give the non-slip benefits of a spray-in liner without the added weight
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The corrugations pressed into the GMC CarbonPro bed give the non-slip benefits of a spray-in liner without the added weight
Drain holes throughout the bed, especially at its edges, allow liquids to drain out without need of grommets or a deliberate bed tilt to get things dry
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Drain holes throughout the bed, especially at its edges, allow liquids to drain out without need of grommets or a deliberate bed tilt to get things dry
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One of the options on the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck is a carbon fiber bed called the CarbonPro. This bed replaces the usual steel interior of the truck bed with a specially formulated carbon fiber that’s both stronger and lighter in weight. We talked to an engineer at General Motors, and tried the bed out for ourselves.

To start, GMC made some changes to the 2020 model year Sierra 1500. The truck was introduced for its all-new fourth generation in 2019, with 2020 seeing a new turbodiesel engine option, a 10-speed automatic transmission option, cameras for help hitching to and towing trailers, and driver assistance upgrades. Also new is the optional CarbonPro bed.

More than a bedliner, the CarbonPro replaces the truck’s bed entirely, putting carbon fiber in place of steel. It can be added to either the AT4 off-road package (as we had) or the top-trim Denali package.

Indents included in the CarbonPro bed accommodate up to two dirt bikes (left and right) or a street bike (center)
Indents included in the CarbonPro bed accommodate the front tires for up to two dirt bikes (left and right) or a street bike (center)

How much punishment can it take? A lot, it turns out. GM put the CarbonPro to drop tests, with materials being dumped into the bed from a height. The company also performed corrosion tests, drove a snowmobile into it (tracks and all), exposed the CarbonPro to extreme temperatures for extended lengths of time, and even put a gas generator (with its high heat output) on the bed to see if the carbon would warp. All passed without incident. A quick search of the web shows journalists and others pounding the truck bed with baseball bats, sledgehammers, and more. We threw cinder blocks into it to see if it'd scratch. All proof that GMC's CarbonPro is what the company says it is.

So what makes this CarbonPro bed so great? It’s all in the weave. The formula and weave being used for the GMC truck’s bed is not the same as that used for supercars or for sports car upgrades.

"[Most] exotic bodywork is woven carbon fiber and resin, which is light but doesn’t have the strength necessary to service as a pickup bed," Voss explains. "CarbonPro is made of carbon fiber-reinforced nylon, with the carbon element being 1-inch randomly-oriented fibers. In addition to its strength, this material can be heated and reformed, allowing us to recycle scrap material. A large press allows the material to have the corrugation and grippy texture of the bed’s floor panel.”

This means no bed liner is required, increasing cargo space. GMC says that the total savings amounts to about one cubic foot of extra space in the bed.

Additionally, the unique formulation of the carbon fiber being used in the CarbonPro allows for recycling. "In fact, we’re doing it every day at the production facility,” Voss says. “The scrap shavings from each component are collected and recycled.” These materials, it turns out, are what are used for the corner stakes that join each portion of the truck’s bed.

The corrugations pressed into the GMC CarbonPro bed give the non-slip benefits of a spray-in liner without the added weight
The corrugations pressed into the GMC CarbonPro bed give the non-slip benefits of a spray-in liner without the added weight

Because the carbon fiber being used for the GMC truck’s bed is not just tough, but completely malleable during the production process, we wondered about customization possibilities. Voss says that GM has no plans to offer different bed configurations, but the current design is intended to accommodate the front wheels of two motorcycles at the head and two-by-four lumber crossbars along the truck bed, for securement and customization. The costs of further customization for relatively small markets would be prohibitive, Voss says. He cannot comment on the idea that aftermarket suppliers might be able to license GMC’s formula to do so. He also can't state whether the CarbonPro bed could appear in other trim options for the GMC Sierra pickup truck.

As far as weight savings go, the CarbonPro bed doesn’t do much to reduce the heft of the Sierra. It’s only a 62 lb (28 kg) weight loss to get this bed, which won’t translate to much in fuel economy. Most of the benefits are elsewhere.

For example, the CarbonPro bed cannot be easily scratched (being more durable than even a steel bed with spray-in liner), doesn’t rust, and has drain holes built-in. On the first point, weight savings for the CarbonPro bed versus a steel bed are, as stated, 62 pounds, but a steel bed with spray-in liner would be almost 100 lb (45 kg) heavier. On the last point, drain holes don’t require rubber grommets, or for the truck to be parked on a tilt to get water out of the bed.

Is the upgrade worth it? That’s up to the consumer to decide, but it’s clear that the CarbonPro bed has some upsides. Especially for those who work with their truck for a living.

Source: 2020 GMC Sierra 1500

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3 comments
foxpup
Steel recycles and welds better than carbon fiber. There are millions of people who could repair a metal bed while very few could do so with this product. Now if the tech to craft this material was readily and cheaply available the situation might be different but I think recycling would still be a no-go.
Pablo
Looks to me like another idea GM spent millions on developing, that Execs will get bored with and drop or sell off. Mercedes uses GM technology originally from the Chevy Vega to this day, in nearly every car engine they build.
Douglas Rogers
This represents a small gain over a glass reinforced nylon bed for a large price increase. If there is a small but clear improvement there is a high end market for it. Steel is the economical choice where salt is not involved. Glass composites are the economical choice in salt spray. That is why almost all semi cabs are glass.