GMC Pickups 101: What’s in a Number? 1500, 2500, 3500?

Translating the ½-tons and 2500s of the Sierra Pickup

 A fender badge from a 1967 GMC 1500 pickup with an optional V-8 engine. 
This was the first year GMC ½-ton models used the “1500” moniker.

DETROIT – When three truck builders – Randolph, Reliance and Rapid – merged to become GMC in 1912, the brand’s range of gasoline- and electric-powered trucks used model numbers between 1 and 12, each denoting payload in thousands of pounds, or how much weight could be loaded on the rear.

 GMC pickup trucks were classified by payload ratings right in the brand’s earliest years. 
This 1913 2-ton model was used for deliveries by the Trappe Canning Company in Easton, Md.

Today, the labels “½-ton”, “¾-ton” and “1-ton” are still used industry wide for fullsize pickup truck classes despite their having little connection to the trucks’ capabilities. For 2013, a GMC Sierra 1500 “½-ton” has a payload capacity that ranges from 1,550-1,940 pounds – considerably more than the 1,000 pounds once implied.  A “1-ton” Sierra 3500HD can haul up to 7,215 pounds; almost four times the 2,000 pounds its moniker suggests.

 In 1936, 1/2-ton pickups grew in popularity to represent 4 out of every 10 GMC sales. These light-duty trucks had many uses, including farm hand duty. While most of these trucks used 85 horsepower engines, this particular model had the added boost of one extra.

“The payload-based naming convention for pickups existed right from the beginning,” said General Motors Heritage Center Manager Greg Wallace. “The ½-ton, ¾-ton, and 1-ton models became most popular with retail customers over a few decades, not just for GMC but all manufacturers. While payload capacities have grown since, those three names stuck.”

 1967 was the first year of GMC’s current model naming for full size pickups, with three models badged as 1500, 2500 and 3500. Pictured is a 1967 GMC K2500, the “K” representing this vehicle’s optional four-wheel drive.

As with payload classifications, GMC helped pioneer other naming conventions for pickups. In 1967, GMC was the first company to use 1500, 2500 and 3500 to designate its three truck models, numbers that were based off the first segment of vehicle identification numbers, or VINs, and denoted hauling capability. Those numbers remain an integral part of the GMC naming strategy and every current fullsize truck sold by an American automaker uses numbers starting with 15, 25 and 35 to denote the three classifications.

In the 1970s, GMC introduced the Sierra name on a variety of trim levels for its trucks. 
Today, all GMC fullsize pickups are sold under the Sierra name and all fullsize trucks
from any American automaker have models starting with “15”, “25” and “35”.

The Sierra name became standard for all GMC fullsize pickups in 1989 after being used for various upscale trim packages through the ‘70s and ‘80s. The 2013 Sierra 1500 represents the core of GMC’s truck business, while the purpose-built Sierra 2500HD and 3500HD models are some of the most-capable pickups ever produced, with class-leading maximum payload.

 2013 GMC Sierra 3500 HD SLT

GMC has manufactured trucks since 1902, and is one of the industry's healthiest brands. Innovation and engineering excellence is built into all GMC vehicles and the brand is evolving to offer more fuel-efficient trucks and crossovers, including the Terrain small SUV and Acadia crossover.  GMC is the only manufacturer to offer three full-size hybrid trucks with the Yukon, Yukon Denali SUVs and the Sierra pickup. The Sierra Heavy Duty pickups are the most capable and powerful trucks in the market. Details on all GMC models are available at http://www.gmc.com/, on Twitter at @thisisgmc or at http://www.facebook.com/gmc.

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