General Motors Corp. on Wednesday unveiled two redesigned pickups, which the automaker plans to speed to showrooms ahead of their scheduled debuts as it rushes to generate cash and show investors its turnaround plan is working.
The new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra initially were scheduled to go on sale in 2007. But GM, which is fighting to rebound from a $10.6 billion loss last year, moved the launch up by 13 weeks — a change that should boost 2006 results. Light-duty models now are scheduled to go on sale in the fall, while heavy-duty models will hit showrooms in the winter.
The trucks feature completely revamped exteriors and interiors, as well as new powertrain, chassis and safety systems. It is the first time they have been redesigned since 1999.
Though sales of trucks have slumped this year, they continue to be a key part of the lineup for U.S. automakers. Including sport utility vehicles, trucks account for the vast majority of vehicles sold by U.S. automakers and have far higher margins than cars.
While Ford Motor Co. has the top-selling pickup with the F-Series, the combined sales of the Silverado and Sierra are greater. Last year, GM sold more than 935,000 of them.
GM is touting the new designs as “sleeker and more aerodynamic” with reduced wind noise and more storage space.
“While power, pulling and payload used to define the full-size truck segment, today that’s the price of entry, and consumers demand more,” Gary White, GM North America vice president and vehicle line executive for full-size trucks, said in a statement.
The new trucks are important because pickups are “bread-and-butter, margin-producing, huge-loyalty” vehicles for U.S. automakers, said Jim Sanfilippo, senior industry analyst for Bloomfield Hills-based Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. “They are as American as you can get.”
But the segment is getting tougher. High gas prices are pushing down truck sales this year, and Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group are facing increasing competition from Asian manufacturers. The Nissan Titan, for example, has gotten high marks among large pickups, and GM’s new models will be facing off with a redesigned Toyota Tundra, which goes on sale early next year.
GM currently is in talks with Nissan Motor Co., of Japan, and Renault SA, of France, about the possibility of joining their global alliance.
The idea to join the alliance came from billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, who holds a 9.9 percent stake in GM. The proposal has fueled speculation that Kerkorian is dissatisfied with the pace of the turnaround under Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner and wants to carve out a role for Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, a turnaround specialist in the industry.
But last week, GM released an earnings report that blew away Wall Street and bolstered management’s claim that the turnaround is working.