Dec. 13, 2012 at 12:17 PM ET
Timing is everything, goes the old adage, and General Motors is betting that proves true as it gives the world a first look at its new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups.
Time has been working against the industry giant in recent months, sales sliding precipitously for the outgoing models – the oldest of the domestic full-size trucks. But with signs of an improving economy further buoyed by the latest housing data, GM officials are confident the new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra models will hit the street at a perfect time to ride that rebound.
“There is nothing more core to our business than trucks,” noted Mark Reuss, president of GM’s U.S. operations, during a preview of the two trucks at a movie soundstage in the Detroit suburbs. “And we think we’re timing this very well.”
Gone are the days when urban cowboys routinely parked full-size pickups in driveways of Greenwich, Connecticut or Newport Beach, California. Add in the recent recession and sales of vehicles like the Silverado and Sierra saw a huge slump in sales over the past half decade.
Few expect to see much revival in the so-called “personal use” truck segment, stressed analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting, but he and other observers believe there’s a significant amount of pent-up demand among traditional contractors, fleets and other work truck customers – and that could boost sales sharply in the near-future. Market share that peaked at almost 17% of total U.S. new vehicle volume, plunging to less than 12% during the depths of the recession could again bounce back by a percentage point or two, forecast Phillippi.
Of course, GM has some tough competition from the likes of the Ford F-Series, long America’s best-selling truck – and best-selling vehicle overall – as well as a newly-updated 2013 Ram 1500 from Chrysler. So, GM designers and engineers had to react with more than just a modest “refresh.”
A first look reveals that the Detroit maker has made a significant evolutionary update in the look of the two trucks. If anything, the most significant revision has been the decision to further differentiate the Chevrolet and Silverado models which have long been faulted for being largely badge-engineered products.
The Chevrolet Silverado is clearly aimed at a more rough-and-tumble buyer and while the 2014 truck is more refined and well-finished, it is clearly the more mainstream offering.
The GMC Sierra intends to reflect the brand’s “professional grade” theme and targets a more refined buyer – likely the owner of a successful contracting firm rather than someone pulling a pickup out of the company fleet.
Both models get some distinctive and competitive new features, such as steps built into the rear bumpers that will make it easier to reach into the cargo bed. There are new cargo tie-downs and, taking a cue from the luxury segment, the cargo bed tailgates are now damped, so they’re easier to close and don’t slam down when opened.
The GMC adds a few refinements, such as projector headlamps – a segment first – and protective caps on the cargo bed.
Both models recognize an ongoing trend in the truck market. No longer are buyers of even the most basic models willing to settle for bare-bones interiors. The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra deliver cabins that are easily on a par with passenger cars of similar pricing, with plush finishes and well-padded seats. There’s even a segment-first heated cloth seat.
“From a styling standpoint, the exteriors are evolutionary, but the interiors are a huge uptick,” said Phillippi, who attended the Thursday morning preview.
No matter what segment of the automotive market you look at, digital technology has become a strong selling point and the two trucks both feature the latest infotainment systems, ChevyMyLink and GMC’s IntelliLink. They get new natural voice programming, 8-inch touchscreens and even add optional WiFi capability.
Safety is also a more compelling issue in the truck segment and along with the expected array of airbags and now-mandated electronic stability control, the two brands are offering such advanced features as optional Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert. They even pick up a new feature just introduced on Cadillac’s two latest models, “safety seats” that signal a potential problem, such as an obstacle in the road ahead, by shaking the seat in the appropriate direction.
GM officials revealed three new engines that will be available for the new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, including a 4.3-liter V-6, a 5.3-liter V-8 and a 6.2-liter V-8. All will feature such mileage-enhancing technologies as Direct Injection, Variable Displacement – which allows four of a V-8’s cylinders to shut down when power demands are low – and continuously variable valve timing.
Notably, GM plans to hold back specifics, such as horsepower, torque, towing capacity and fuel economy, until closer to the official on-sale date of the new trucks during the second quarter of 2013.
Jeff Luke, the executive chief engineer on the program, hinted that the maker is aiming to match or exceed the numbers of its two key competitors, Ford and Ram.
Reuss all but confirmed that there will be “more to come” on the powertrain front, and that appears to mean, at the least, a new diesel for the light-duty versions of the new trucks. (The maker has been offering diesel options for the Silverado and Sierra HD, or Heavy-Duty offerings.) Reuss notably sidestepped questions, meanwhile, about the possibility of offering hybrid versions, as well, something it made available in the past.
In all, there will be six distinct versions of the two nameplates by the time they’re fully rolled out. Whether they can catch up to long-time leader Ford’s F-Series is anything but certain, but GM is clearly in the hunt.
For the moment, however, it has to focus on emptying out excess inventories of the old Sierra and Silverado models which has forced it to amp up incentives significantly this month. Buyers appear to be responding – in part to the added cash but also as the overall pickup market starts to pick up.
If things work right, the new Chevrolet and GMC models could roll into the market just as buyers return after a long lull.
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