GM faces several challenges as it reveals the new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups today.
The full-size pickups go on sale in the second quarter of 2013. Four-door crew cab models will reach dealerships first, followed later by other body styles and heavy-duty trucks with larger cargo payloads.
"The pickups have to be the backbone of the company's profit," said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics.
GM expects pickup sales in the U.S. to rebound to 1.6 million this year as the economy continues to recover. They hit a modern-day low of 1.1 million in 2009.
The Silverado is GM's best-selling vehicle, and the Sierra is the flagship of the prestigious GMC brand. GM expects the new models to outsell the Ford F-150, which has singlehandedly outsold and out-earned the Chevy and GMC so far this year.
The full-size pickups, codenamed K2XX, will also be the basis for GM's best-selling full-size SUVs, the Suburban, Tahoe and Yukon. Those models go on sale later.
"Full-size pickups are the World Series of automaking," said analyst Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive. "You have to be very good at a lot of stuff for a long time to win. These vehicles are GM's balance sheet and the heart of their customer base... They simply have to get them right."
The trucks feature all-new frames and engines.
GM isn't revealing the trucks' power, fuel economy or towing capacity yet.
"There will always be a good market for pickups, but profit margins will be squeezed by the need to add more technology to meet fuel economy standards and attract customers," Hall said.
Engineers' top goal was to preserve the pickups' capability while improving fuel economy.
The trucks' dimensions won't change much from the current models, but new lights, grilles, doors and flared fenders make the 2014 models immediately recognizable. The crew cabs will offer more passenger room without growing in overall size, thanks to optimized interior design.
The pickups will combine GM's six-speed automatic transmission with three new engines: a 4.3-liter V6, 5.3-liter V8 and 6.2-liter V8. The aluminum-block engines share the same architecture from the new generation of GM's legendary small-block family that powers the new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette that debuts at the 2013 North American International Auto Show next month.
The engines will feature direct fuel injection and cylinder deactivation to reduce fuel consumption. GM expects the 5.3-liter V8 to be the top seller and the most fuel-efficient V8 in a full-size pickup.
GM does not expect any of the engines to top both the fuel economy and towing capacity of Ford's touted EcoBoost V6. The 5.3-liter V8 should beat the EcoBoost's fuel economy, while the 6.2-liter will have more towing capacity.
GM is expected to add a truck that uses new engine technology or an eight-speed transmission later.
New interior features like Chevrolet's MyLink voice-recognition and touch screen controls will help Chevy and GMC add higher-priced models to compete with Ford and Ram's high-end pickups. GMC will reveal the top-of-the-line Sierra Denali later.
Exterior differences between the Silverado and Sierra are limited to grilles, lights, hoods and some pieces of trim.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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