GM's pickup money machine gets a technology tuneup
DETROIT, Sept 9 (Reuters) - General Motors Co (GM.N) will give its best-selling Chevrolet Silverado large pickup truck models a makeover next spring to fix competitive shortcomings that have left Chevy in third place in one of the most lucrative vehicle market segments in the world.
Catching up with rival trucks from Stellantis NV (STLA.MI) and Ford Motor Co (F.N), most 2022 Silverado models will get larger dashboard screens and new connectivity technology featuring built-in Google voice commands and software.
Chevrolet also will add a 420-horsepower Silverado ZR2 designed for rugged off-road adventures - or to give the appearance that the owner would have them. The Silverado ZR2 will chase Ford's F-series Raptor and the Ram TRX from Stellantis, which are attention-getting performance models for those brands.
The current Silverado, launched in early 2019, has been outflanked in sales by rival Stellantis NV's Ram pickup. The Ram in 2018 got a makeover with a more refined interior and a 12-inch (30.5 cm) dashboard screen that was closer in style to a Tesla (TSLA.O) Model S sedan than a conventional pickup truck.
The Fiat Chrysler unit of what is now Stellantis also expanded production capacity for Ram pickups in North America, gunning to displace the Chevy Silverado as the No. 2 brand in the North American pickup segment.
That strategy - led by Mike Manley, now head of Stellantis North America - worked. Through the first half of 2021, Ram's pickups have outsold the Silverado and are now in second place behind Ford's F-series trucks, the best-selling model line in the United States for more than 40 years, according to sales data compiled by Automotive News.
Steve Carlisle, head of GM's North American operations, told Reuters GM has learned from the challenge from Ram. "You have to be very agile and react," he said. "And maybe ask different types of questions."
Going forward, Carlisle said GM sees the market moving from "bigger is better" when it comes to dashboard displays to more emphasis on improving the user experience.
Carlisle said his goal for the revamped Silverado is to knock Ford out of the top spot in the segment.
"We will not rest until that happens," he said, though he added, "we are going to do the right thing from a brand point of view."
Ram and Ford have their own upgrades coming for 2022. Ram trucks will get enhanced infotainment systems. Ford is touting a hybrid system available on the F-150 pickup that can power a house, and promoting its all-electric F-150 Lightning coming next spring.
The new Silverados will get other new technology. The redesigned trucks will be the largest-scale application of GM's partnership with Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google to create a more smartphone-like experience in cars. And top-of-the-line Silverados will offer GM's Super Cruise system as an option to enable hands-free driving on more than 200,000 miles (321,869 km) of roads in Canada and the United States.
The Silverado ZR2 responds to a more traditional form of automotive competition. Powerful pickup trucks equipped with tall, beefy suspensions and other modifications to handle racing over rough desert or leaping sand dunes have become the 21st century answer to Detroit's 1960s muscle cars. Ford and Ram had models designed for extreme off-road enthusiasts. Chevy did not. Now it will.
Carlisle said 60% of Chevrolet Silverados sold now are "lifted trucks" with tall suspensions. The Silverado ZR2 will add a 420-horsepower, eight-cylinder gasoline engine to the formula. Carlisle said the ZR2 could account for more than 10% of Silverado sales.
Ford's Raptor has a starting price of nearly $66,000. Carlisle said Chevrolet's ZR2 will be more "accessible" with a lower starting price.
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