ROCKY GAP, MD – If there’s one design goal General Motors is trying to reach with its new 2011 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, it’s for these vehicles to be more “intuitive” for drivers.

“It’s about developing a truck that anticipates the needs of the driver; that conforms to the driver’s style of operation, rather than the other way around,” Mark Cieslak, chief engineer for GM's full-size trucks, told FleetOwner at a ride-and-drive event being held here for both pickup truck lines.

He pointed to a new optional integrated exhaust brake system on the 2011 HD (Heavy Duty) Silverado and Sierra models as an example. For trucks equipped with the optional 6.6-liter Duramax diesel engine and Allison 1000 automatic 6-speed transmission, the exhaust brake delivers the correct amount of braking to assist in vehicle control, regardless of vehicle load.

When the exhaust brake is engaged in cruise mode, it helps the cruise control system maintain desired vehicle speed when travelling downhill. That keeps the driver from having to apply the brakes and exit cruise control to maintain speed and reduces brake pad wear.

“This takes the burden away from the driver of getting the vehicle to behave the way they want it to behave,” Cieslak said. “It’s about giving them design features that both increase their confidence and comfort while driving.”

Gary Arvan, Duramax chief engineer, added that such intuitive design elements on the Silverado and Sierra trucks are largely focused on beefing up vehicle safety and ease-of-use by the driver.

“We’re trying to make driving as ‘uneventful’ as possible, with drivers less fatigued at the end of a work day,” he told FleetOwner.

For example, take exhaust “grade braking,” again a byproduct of the Duramax engine/Allison transmission optional package. Arvan noted it’s a “smart system” that varies the amount of brakes needed for the vehicle, load and grade, with smooth and quiet engagement that enhances the driver’s feeling of control.

Another intuitive feature is a trailer sway-control system that automatically senses conditions of trailer sway and intervenes with braking and/or reduced engine power to bring the trailer under control and keep it on its intended path. The system will use electric trailer brakes when a trailer is plugged into the standard wiring harness of the truck and its performance requires no input from the driver, according to GM.

Hill start assist is yet another example. This system automatically engages when sensors detect the vehicle is on grade of about 5% or greater. It holds the brakes for about 1.5 seconds or until the gas pedal is pressed, preventing rollback. GM said it’s particularly effective when towing, as it gives the driver time to switch from the brake pedal to the acceleration pedal without rolling.

Almost all of these features result from the use of more complex algorithms within software systems, which more closely connect the many disparate major components of today’s pickups, noted Cieslak.

“The evolution of the knowledge transfer into truck systems over the last few years has just been amazing,” he said. “As these many technologies mature, we’re going to keep applying them to improve a wide range of vehicle functionality, from safety to fuel economy and performance.”