* GM invested $3 bln-$4 bln developing trucks -analysts
* Trucks could add more than $1 bln to earnings in 2013, '14
* 2014 Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra to go on sale in Q2 2013
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Dec 13 General Motors Co is
counting on muscled up, more refined versions of its lucrative
Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks to
show investors and car buyers the No. 1 U.S. automaker is back
on the right track.
The 2014 trucks are the most critical launch for the Detroit
company since its bankruptcy and $50 billion U.S.
taxpayer-funded bailout in 2009. The trucks are also a linchpin
in GM's perpetual battle with No. 2 U.S. carmaker Ford Motor Co
, whose F-150 truck is the industry's top-selling vehicle.
GM will show off the new full-size pickups in Pontiac,
Michigan, on Thursday and executives are touting the benefits of
the vehicles, which will initially be offered in the most
popular four-door, "crew cab" version in the second quarter next
"We have made significant upgrades in the key areas of the
new Silverado, and improved almost every detail of the truck,"
Jeff Luke, executive chief engineer for full-size and midsize
trucks, said in a statement. "Both Chevrolet loyalists and
competitive shoppers are going to find a lot to love."
GM better hope so. Analysts estimated the company has
invested $3 billion to $4 billion on developing the new trucks
and related new engines, as well as for revamping the plants
where the vehicles are built.
The current versions of the big trucks and related SUVs
generate profits of $12,000 or more per vehicle and account for
about 60 percent of GM's global profit, analysts said. Citi has
estimated the new models could bring the automaker more than $1
billion in additional operating earnings in 2013 and 2014.
That would be welcome news as the last major redesign of the
trucks was in 2006, and delays caused by the bankruptcy in 2009
has put GM at a competitive disadvantage in a segment that
accounts for about 11 percent of the market, analysts said.
GM noted that the average age of big pickups on U.S. roads
is more than 10-1/2 years, and the need to replace those aging
vehicles means there is plenty of room for sales growth.
GM's U.S. dealers are chomping at the bit for the new
trucks, saying the interior design is a big step forward from
the current models. They say the new design will make the
automaker more of a player, especially at the high end of the
market, where prices approach $60,000 and margins are high.
"They're not looking to compete; they're looking to win,"
Jason Brickl, chief executive of Ballweg Chevrolet in Wisconsin,
said of GM.
"Us having a class-leading truck is critically important to
the success of Chevrolet," added Brickl, whose two dealerships
in the Madison area get about a quarter of their sales from the
GM's 2014 trucks will be new "from hood to hitch," including
a trio of new V6 and V8 engines meant to improve power, torque
and efficiency. GM also touted a quieter, more comfortable cab;
improved steering, suspension and brakes; and the use of more
high-strength steel. New safety features will include forward
collision alert, lane departure warning, and front and rear
The company said horsepower, torque and EPA fuel economy
estimates won't be available until early next year. GM also did
not announce pricing for the new trucks.
The current Silverado has a starting price of about $24,000,
rising to almost $44,000, and the most expensive Sierra's price
tag is around $57,000. Ford's F-150 starts under $24,000 and
runs to almost $54,000.
GM's big trucks and SUVs -- Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, GMC
Yukon and Cadillac Escalade -- remain top draws at dealerships
as their combined U.S. sales rose 11 percent last year to more
than 799,000 vehicles.
GM's pickup truck sales fell in November and it blamed
aggressive discounting by rivals Ford, Chrysler and
Nissan. GM has added new incentives on the trucks for
December and executives indicated they will cut production to
In a positive sign for the truck market, however, Citi
analyst Itay Michaeli expects U.S. demand for full-size trucks
to meaningfully outperform the overall industry in the next 12
to 18 months as consumers move to replacing aging vehicles.
Industry research firm LMC Automotive expects total U.S.
sales this year of full-size pickup trucks to rise 8.4 percent
to more than 1.62 million vehicles and hit more than 1.8 million
in 2019. LMC sees GM's combined pickup sales topping Ford's next
year and holding that lead through 2019.
Officials at Ford, which last redesigned its F-150 in 2008,
said the company is happy with F-150's lead over Silverado.
"We're very pleased with the performance of our pickup truck
over the years," Ford U.S. sales analyst Erich Merkle said.
"It's been the best-selling pickup in America for 35 years
The next major redesign of the F-150 will be in 2014,
according to a person familiar with the automaker's plans. One
area of focus will be fuel efficiency through lightweighting,
including extensive use of aluminum, said the person, who asked
not to be identified discussing Ford strategy.
Ford also will push to continue its dominance in the
lucrative high end of the market, said Mike Jackson, director of
North American vehicle forecasts at IHS Automotive. Over the
past decade, Ford "has had a unique opportunity to mint money"
in the premium pickup space.
Meanwhile, GM will stick with its strategy of offering both
full-size and mid-sized pickups as a way to satisfy more
consumers. A redesigned Chevy Colorado is expected in 2014,
while both Ford and Chrysler discontinued their midsized trucks.
"If GM's two-truck strategy is successful, Ford will
probably be forced to reconsider its exit from the compact
pickup truck segment," Polk analyst Tom Libby said.