The Silverado launch is General Motors' most important
event of 2013.
Not only is the pickup the company's best-selling vehicle in the U.S., it has been a catalyst in GM's slingshot comeback from bankruptcy nearly four years ago.
GM plans to start selling the 2014 Chevy Silverado and its sister, the 2014 GMC Sierra, within weeks. Production began last week at its plant in Silao, Mexico, with additional plants coming online in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and Flint.
"It's an absolute cornerstone foundation for this brand," said Maria Rohrer, Chevrolet trucks marketing manager, at a Silverado preview in central Texas.
The economic signs are positive. The housing market is gaining momentum. The average age of all pickups is 11 years.
So far this year, U.S. pickup sales are up 20%, quadrupling the overall industry's 5% increase.
"It's a very good time for us to launch," Rohrer said. "A lot of people are in the market ready to trade in their very old trucks."
Barclays analyst Brian Johnson said in a research note that he expects GM to meet its target of selling more full-size pickups than Ford, the current industry leader.
The Silverado won't have the spotlight to itself for long. In 2014, Ford is expected to roll out a redesigned version of its F-Series pickups, the most popular vehicle line in the U.S.
GM's full-size pickup market share fell from 29% in 2008 to 25% last year. Bringing customers back won't be easy in a segment where customer loyalty is higher than among passenger cars.
It's all about Texas
To give the trucks a strong boost out of the gate, GM is devoting 50% of initial production to dealers in Texas, which buys 15% to 20% of GM pickups, said Lloyd Biermann, Chevrolet marketing manager.
Texas pickup sales are especially lucrative. For example, about 40% of Texas Silverado buyers choose the Texas Edition of the Silverado, an option that comes with a $2,000 premium. It includes a Texas Edition badge on the Silverado, chrome accents and 20-inch wheels.
During a ride-and-drive at the sprawling Knibbe Ranch in Texas hill country, GM showed off the Silverado's towing strength, off-road agility, upgraded interior and engineering dynamics.
The Silverado's active fuel management technology -- also featured in the Corvette Stingray -- allows the vehicle to flow seamlessly from 8-cylinder mode to 4-cylinder mode in congested traffic then back to 8-cylinders. The flexibility saves gasoline.
On a rugged off-road environment, Silverado Z71 owners can activate an automated option allowing the truck to cruise down embankments at a controlled speed.
Jeff Luke, executive chief engineer for the Silverado, rejected suggestions that GM played it safe with the new design, choosing not to deviate too much from the previous generation, which was last redesigned in 2006.
Rather, the major changes are inside. The cabin is significantly quieter.
"When you see the two of these together (2013 and 2014), it really hits you how much change there is," he said.
Other revisions will come after Silverado's launch. GM North America President Mark Reuss has dropped hints of a refreshed powertrain option.
In contrast to Ford, which has touted its smaller, but more efficient V6 EcoBoost as the choice of more than 40% of its F-150 buyers, GM is sticking with the tried and true V8.
Chevy expects three-quarters of Silverado buyers to choose the 5.3-liter, 8-cylinder engine. But they claim that engine will get up to 23 m.p.g. on the highway, slightly better than Ford's F-150 EcoBoost V6.
A 4.3-liter V6 will be available later this summer, while a muscular 6.2-liter V8 will hit showrooms in the fourth quarter.
The crew-cab version starts at $32,710, compared with $24,585 for the regular cab.
Although the new Silverado's base price is the same as the 2013 model, Rohrer is hoping to boost its average transaction price -- and profits -- by nudging more buyers into crew cabs. On the 2013 model crew cabs were about 50% of sales, below the industry average of 60% to 65%.
(c)2013 the Detroit Free Press
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