DETROIT General Motors Co's (GM.N) U.S. launch of its redesigned full-size pickup trucks, which is critical to improving the automaker's profitability, remains on track, a top executive said on Friday.
"We're getting close and we're reviewing it on a frequent basis," GM global product development chief Mary Barra said of the launch, which company officials said earlier this month was about a month away. "It's going to be shortly."
The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks are the most important launch for the Detroit automaker since its bankruptcy and $50 billion U.S. taxpayer-funded bailout in 2009. The trucks are also a linchpin in GM's ongoing battle with No. 2 U.S. carmaker Ford Motor Co (F.N), whose F-150 truck is the auto industry's top-selling vehicle.
Analysts estimate GM has invested $3 billion to $4 billion to develop the new trucks and related engines, and to revamp the plants where they are built.
The current versions of the big trucks and related SUVs generate profit of $12,000 or more per vehicle and account for about 60 percent of GM's global profit, according to analysts. Citi has estimated the new models could bring the automaker more than $1 billion in additional operating earnings in 2013 and 2014.
The last major redesign of the trucks was in 2006. Delays in redesign, caused by GM's bankruptcy, have put the company at a competitive disadvantage in a segment that accounts for about 11 percent of the market, analysts have said.
Barra told reporters at a Detroit elementary school, where she was touting the benefits of math and science to a class of third graders, that GM has had no problems as it moves toward introducing the new trucks.
"I'm very confident that everything's on track and moving forward," she said. "It's been the most rigorous process we've gone through to make sure we put a high-quality truck into the marketplace, day one."
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by John Wallace)