General Motors uncovered its most important new vehicles Thursday, the 2014 Chevrolet and GMC full-size pickups that were delayed by GM's visit to Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 2009.
From GM's view, they simply must be a direct hit on the truck market. The alternative is unthinkable.
"There's nothing more core to our business than our pickup trucks," said Mark Reuss, president of GM's North American operations, at the unveiling of the new trucks here.
The Silverado and Sierra are the company's biggest sellers -- together generating about a fourth of its U.S. sales -- and biggest earners. And they have perhaps the fiercest competition because of the profits at stake.
Chrysler updated its Ram for 2013 with interior, exterior and drivetrain improvements. Ford updated the styling, interior and drivetrains of its F-150 in 2011, freshened it again for 2013, and advertised heavily. The Ram and F-Series have been tough rivals to GM's aging trucks for sales.
"This (launch) is incredibly crazy-important for GM. These trucks will have to hit it out of the park," says Rebecca Lindland, veteran auto industry analyst at consultant IHS Automotive.
Normally, such marquee machines would make their public debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month. But that'll be the stage for another GM redesign, the seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette. The concern within GM is that Corvette's star would have outshone the financially vital trucks at the show.
Thus, the introduction here at the Michigan Motion Picture Studios a month ahead of the Detroit show. They'll go on sale, beginning with crew cabs, in the second quarter as 2014 models. Pricing wasn't announced. The new trucks also will be the platform for GM's revamped, full-size SUVs coming in early 2014, probably as 2015 models.
The GM trucks lack the eight-speed automatic transmission that gives Ram bragging rights, nor do they have an engine family as easy to market as Ford's EcoBoost.
But truck buyers "won't say, 'I'm not going to buy that truck because it doesn't have an eight-speed automatic,'" or some other specific feature -- as long as it performs well overall, says industry watcher Jesse Toprak at TrueCar.com.
He believes the GM rigs will do well: "Those trucks have loyal buyers; from our perspective, (GM) will have to try hard to mess up."
GM's redone trucks haven't stayed in idle under the hood. Their trio of engines -- called EcoTec3 and bestowed with the auto industry's favorite designator, "all-new" -- have fuel-saving direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation and lightweight aluminum blocks instead of cast iron. The V-6 gets variable valve timing in addition to the other upgrades. The V-8s have had variable valve timing, and that continues.
GM says horsepower, torque and fuel-economy ratings will be announced early next year.
While the engines continue the displacements familiar to GM truck fans -- 4.3-liter V-6, 5.3-liter V-8, 6.2-liter V-8 -- they honestly are all-new, "sharing just a few part numbers" with current engines of the same displacement, says Jeff Luke, GM's executive chief engineer for full-size and midsize trucks. The 4.8-liter V-8 is discontinued.
Taking a swipe at Ford's EcoBoost approach to better fuel economy -- smaller displacement engines using turbochargers -- Jeff Luke, GM's executive chief engineer for full-size and midsize trucks, said at the unveiling, "Some competitors are resorting to smaller-displacement engines from passenger cars. We think cylinder deactivation (running on four cylinders under light load instead of six or eight) is superior."
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