GM Shows Off Its 'Crazy-Important' New Pickups

General Motors turned the engines on the marketing push for its revamped half-ton Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks yesterday, an event that evidently has been much anticipated in garages and carports not situated within a 20-mile radius of New York’s Columbus Circle. 

The 2014 model year trucks, which will replace beloved models that have gotten a bit long in the spark plug, will make their official debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month. (The media in Texas, which represents roughly 20% of the market, actually got a “special background preview” last week, James Nelson reveals in the San Francisco Examiner.)

“To combat the perception that its pickups are losing ground, GM on Thursday ceremoniously unveiled redesigned versions of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups -- six months before they even hit the market,” reports Bill Vlasic in the New York Times.

“The wait is over,” writes the Detroit News’ Melissa Burden, who reports that GM says its all-new models “are stronger and safer, will generate more horsepower, torque and towing capability, and are more fuel efficient than the generation on the road today.”

“There is nothing more core to our business than trucks,” Mark Reuss, president of GM’s U.S. operations, told the assembled media at a (“struggling”) movie soundstage that has risen from the ashes of a former assembly plant in Pontiac, Mich. “And we think we’re timing this very well.”

The event was quite a spectacle for the hundreds of journalists and bloggers attending in person or online, reports Forbes’ Joann Muller. “Thunderbolts of lightning crashed down on the set, splitting a building in half, as the 2014 Silverado emerged from the smoky ruins. Moments later, a laser beam carved the chiseled silhouette of a truck into another building, revealing the GMC Sierra concealed inside.”

You can take an unadorned peek at them in this Detroit Free Press video on the USA Today website.

While admitting “we have the oldest truck out there, no question about it,” Reuss also proclaimed, “but we think these new models are going to be the best engineered pickups out there.” 

Muller, the Detroit bureau chief for the magazine, points out that the automaker “Isn’t Putting All Its Eggs In The Bed Of A Pickup Anymore,” as the hed on her story tells us. As great as the profit margins on pickups may be, CEO Daniel Akerson “is said to believe that GM needs another, equally rich source of profits -- namely, a strong global luxury brand.” 

It has been a bumpy road for pickups lately. “Sales are up about 9.6% this year through November, a sizable increase but still less than the 13.9% gain for total vehicle sales in the United States,” Vlasic reports. “Even so, GM has not seen its fortunes rise with the rest of the pickup market.”

“Gone are the days when urban cowboys routinely parked full-size pickups in driveways of Greenwich, Connecticut or Newport Beach, California,” writes Paul A. Eisenstein of The Detroit Bureau. “Add in the recent recession and sales of vehicles like the Silverado and Sierra saw a huge slump in sales over the past half decade.”

In any event, analysts such as AutoTrends Consulting’s Joe Phillippi, “believe there’s a significant amount of pent-up demand among traditional contractors, fleets and other work truck customers,” Eisenstein writes –- enough to add a couple of points to the trucks’ current 12% share of market, which is down from 17% in the heyday of personal use.

Although the trucks, at first glance, don’t look all that different, “both front and rear wheel well arches are more defined than those of the older models, subtly suggesting classic stepside pickup styling,” observes New York Times’ “Wheels” blogger Paul Stenquist. “Other visual changes include full bumpers, hood sculpturing, restyled headlights and relocated body side trim.” 

But, Stenquist writes, “the big changes are under the hood,” where there are a lot of things that “breathe new life into the family of GM’s venerable pushrod engines introduced in 1955 but revised many times since.”

Reuss did not disclose projected gas mileage or sticker prices but said customers will be surprised, reports the AP’s Tom Krisher. “He says the trucks are 200 pounds lighter than Ford and Chrysler competitors, which will help boost gas mileage.” Both trucks, “which are essentially the same vehicle,” Krisher says, “will also get six-speed automatic transmissions on all models, which should improve gas mileage.”

"This (launch) is incredibly, crazy-important for GM. These trucks will have to hit it out of the park," veteran IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland tells USA Today’s James R. Healey. 

Vroooom, vroooom.

Tags: automotive
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