General Motors’ premium-priced pickup truck, the GMC Sierra Denali, is getting an electric upgrade.
The Sierra EV will launch in early 2024 in the popular (and pricey) Denali trim, with an estimated 400 miles of range and a fully optioned suggested price of $107,000. The following year, GMC will offer more moderately priced AT4 and Elevation trims, the latter of which is expected to start at $50,000.
The Sierra EV Denali will arrive amid a multidecade love affair between American car buyers and trucks, with pickups accounting for five of the industry’s 10 bestselling vehicles in 2021 despite their increasingly higher prices. GM in particular is predicting that electric trucks will sell just as well as their gas counterparts, if not better. The company is the latest to bet big money that electric trucks will lead the way in the shift to zero-tailpipe emission vehicles.
The Sierra EV Denali will arrive amid a multidecade love affair between American car buyers and trucks
The Sierra EV will be the third electric vehicle from GMC, following the Hummer EV pickup and SUV. And when it arrives in mid-2024, it will join the Chevy Silverado EV in GM’s growing electric truck portfolio. At first glance, the GMC Sierra EV shares a lot of similarities with the Chevy Silverado EV: both are big high-riding electric trucks with boxy front ends and large, heavy batteries.
But while Chevy envisions the Silverado EV as the electric truck for the masses, with both passenger and commercial versions, GMC sees the Sierra EV as geared toward more affluent buyers who want the good stuff. Think quilted leather seats, a large portrait-style touchscreen, hands-free driver-assist technology, and even some quirkier features, like CrabWalk Mode. And of course, it had to be Denali because, as GMC’s head of marketing Molly Peck put it to me earlier this week, “Denali signals the best.”
Specs, specs, and more specs
We talked about the price and the range, but there are, of course, many more specifications to consider with the Sierra EV.
All versions of the truck are expected to come with dual motors, one in the front and one in the rear. It will be capable of charging at rates of up to 350kW, which would add about 100 miles in under 10 minutes.
Like most electric vehicles, the electric Sierra will be incredibly quick, able to sprint from zero to 60mph in less than 4.5 seconds. That’s quicker than the RWD single-motor Cybertruck and about on par with the Chevy Silverado EV, Ford F-150 Lightning, and the tri-motor Cybertruck. But that would also be slower than the quad-motor Cybertruck (2.9 seconds) and the launch edition of the Rivian R1T (3.3 seconds).
Like most electric vehicles, the electric Sierra will be incredibly quick, able to sprint from zero to 60mph in less than 4.5 seconds
The Denali version sounds like it could easily knock the wind out of you, with an estimated 562kW of total power (754 horsepower) and 785 pound-feet of torque while in Max Power Mode.
The Sierra EV will not have the Hummer EV’s “Watts to Freedom” launch-control start. Instead, it will have a Max Power Mode that drivers can stay in indefinitely, unlike Watts to Freedom, which only stays active for the initial acceleration. Other drive modes include Standard, Tow / Haul, Off-Road, and a customizable MyMode.
But the Sierra EV will have CrabWalk Mode, allowing it to move across the terrain diagonally at low speeds like a sand-dwelling crustacean. CrabWalk Mode is enabled by the electric truck’s four-wheel steering capability in which the rear wheels turn at the same angle as the front wheels, allowing diagonal movement of the vehicle.
What electric vehicle in the Year of our Lord 2024 won’t come with these features
Those wheels are 24-inch monsters that ride on an adjustable air suspension framework that can raise or lower the truck a total of two inches. One-pedal driving and regenerative braking are also included because what electric vehicle in the Year of our Lord 2024 won’t come with these features?
The GMC Sierra EV Denali will be capable of carrying 1,300 pounds of payload and towing up to 9,500 pounds. No word on how much range you’ll lose when you start hauling heavy items.
And it will serve as a mobile generator thanks to 10.2kW of outboard power. That’s enough energy to power most essential devices in a home during a blackout for up to 21 days. By contrast, the base trims of the F-150 Lightning can put out 2.4kW of onboard power, and the more expensive Lariat and Platinum trims offer a total of 9.6kW of onboard power. (Base model Lightning buyers can get up to 9.6kW of onboard power, but it costs extra.)
Step inside (or poke your head inside like I had to do because I wasn’t allowed to sit inside the truck) and you’ll immediately notice the large 16.8-inch floating portrait touchscreen that absolutely dominates the center stack. A knob is embedded in the bottom of the screen to control volume. And a smaller 11-inch screen sits behind the steering wheel to display relevant information like speed, drive mode, and directions.
The Sierra EV Denali will have a lot of built-in Google apps on its infotainment screen
The Sierra EV Denali will have a lot of built-in Google apps on its infotainment screen, including Google Maps, Google Assistant, and Google Play — but it won’t run on Android Automotive, the tech giant’s native operating system. GM made a deal with Google to run Android apps in its cars via the Play Store without requiring the use of an Android smartphone.
I couldn’t help but wonder what the engineers at Ford will say when they see this very F-150 Lightning / Mustang Mach-E-like setup in the GMC Sierra EV. The portrait-style screen, the embedded knob, and even the row of configurable buttons at the bottom all seem directly lifted from Ford. Gone are the more integrated landscape screens that are found in the gas version of the Sierra Denali. GMC is supersizing its screens.
“I think the brand really wants to focus on the right way of telling the story on technology,” said Chris Hilts, head of GMC’s interior design. “And we do feel like right now. It’s through large displays.”
Beneath the screen is a lot of open-pore wood trim, including an induction charger for your smartphone built right into a sliding wood panel in the center console. GMC says it is the first to build a wireless charger into a sliding wood panel.
The Sierra EV Denali will come standard with Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free driver-assistance technology, allowing drivers to travel hands-free on more than 400,000 miles of compatible roads across the US and Canada. And thanks to some new wide-angle, long-range radar sensors, Super Cruise can also be used while trailering.
There are a total of 14 cameras embedded around the truck for added visibility. (Of course, the Sierra and other half-ton trucks like it wouldn’t need so many cameras if they were designed a little safer, but I digress!)
Speaking of weight, GMC wasn’t able to tell us how heavy the electrified Sierra Denali will be — but I bet you can guess. The gas-powered version can tip the scales at nearly 7,100lbs at its heaviest, and lithium-ion batteries are significantly heavier than a full gas tank. I don’t expect the Sierra EV Denali will be as heavy as the Hummer EV and its Honda Civic-scale battery, but it will come close.
Okay, let’s talk design because that’s probably where the Sierra EV Denali departs most significantly from its internal combustion engine counterpart. The hood features a centerline that GMC’s design is calling “Fist of the Wind.” And the standard grille has been replaced by a broad shield with the GMC logo offset by two upside-down L-shaped headlights. Shockingly enough, there’s no light bar.
The front end is intended to “make sure that we have that confident, brutish presence on the road”
The front end is intended to “make sure that we have that confident, brutish presence on the road,” said Holt Ware, head of exterior design. (To which I would say, ask the pedestrians who have to cross the street in front of one of these trucks whether they appreciate the “brutish” appearance.)
Of course, without an internal combustion engine under the hood, there’s no reason for the Sierra EV Denali to be as tall and brutish as it is. It could have been much shorter and less deadly to anyone unfortunate to be struck by one of these trucks. Studies have shown that tall, flat-nosed trucks are more likely to cause serious injuries and death when they hit pedestrians. But American truck buyers have grown accustomed to high-riding vehicles, and GMC was unlikely to deviate much from the design playbook.
What’s underneath that skyscraping hood? Nada. Like most of the electric trucks before it, the Sierra EV Denali features a pretty good size frunk — or e-trunk, in GMC parlance. There are power outlets and a drain in case you want to fill it up with ice and your favorite drinks. GMC didn’t say how much cargo you could carry in the Sierra EV’s e-trunk, but it was definitely more than a six-pack.
On the road again
When it eventually hits dealerships in 2024, the Sierra EV Denali will find a number of electric trucks already on the market, including the Rivian R1T, Ford F-150 Lightning, Hummer EV, Chevy Silverado, and likely the Tesla Cybertruck.
The Sierra EV will be built on GM’s Ultium battery pack and electric drivetrain that is also being used to power the Silverado, Hummer truck and SUV, Cadillac Lyriq and Celestiq, and other upcoming EVs. (The Sierra will use a 24-module Ultium battery pack similar to the Hummer and Silverado.) GM has already made some big promises around its Ultium generation of electric vehicles, even while it struggles with its first generation thanks to a massive recall of the Bolt EV.
When it eventually hits dealerships in 2024, the Sierra EV Denali will find a number of electric trucks already on the market
It will be built at Factory Zero, GM’s EV plant in Detroit, alongside the Silverado, both Hummer EVs, and the Cruise Origin, the automaker’s purpose-built autonomous shuttle. GM is also planning to build two battery factories in the US as it continues to vertically integrate new elements of the manufacturing process.
Pickup trucks are the biggest sellers in the US. And despite improvements in fuel economy, pickup trucks still consume the most gas and have the most carbon emissions. So, the electrification of the pickup truck market could have a significant impact on the environment.
Trucks are huge sellers and profit generators for automakers, and they have extremely loyal customers. Let’s see what the Sierra owners have to say about this battery-powered version.
Photography by Andrew J. Hawkins / The Verge