The Diesel Page

December 8, 1999

Chevy plans 2 new trucks

GM division seeks to reclaim market

Detroit Free Press

December 8, 1999


General Motors Corp. will produce a heavy-duty Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and a full-size sport-utility vehicle mated to a pickup truck bed next year as part of Chevrolet's effort to rebuild GM's crumbled market share.

In the mid-1970s, the Chevrolet division of GM controlled 25 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, a bigger share than Ford Motor Co. had then or has now. Since then, Chevrolet has lost about 10 percentage points of market share, accounting for most of GM's decline.

The new trucks will fill niches in the huge division's lineup while Chevrolet prepares for the introduction in the next few years of so-called crossover vehicles that look like trucks and handle like cars, Chevrolet general manager Kurt Ritter said Tuesday.

One of those crossovers, if it catches on with consumers, could finally give Chevrolet another high-volume running mate to join the Silverado, the best-selling vehicle in the GM fleet.

Other than the big pickup and its sport-utility cousins, Chevrolet has no auto that both captures the public imagination and sells in volumes high enough to significantly lift GM's overall market share.

On the strength of truck sales, Chevrolet is on track to sell 2.7 million autos this year, its highest volume in the 1990s. Its market share has edged a fraction higher this year, although GM's has continued to decline.

GM accounts for 29 percent of the nation's car and truck sales, down from 30.3 percent last year. The slide began in the late 1970s as imports began to gain an edge in a market dominated by GM, which regularly had 41 percent to 46 percent of the nation's annual car and trucks sales.

Ritter said Chevy can improve by bringing out a vehicle whose styling and design produce an emotional response in drivers.

"Chevrolet needs a volume product," said Ritter, who briefly traced the division's product strategy in a speech Tuesday to the Automotive Press Association at the Detroit Athletic Club.

"We need to be in our own area that provides a unique equation of fun and value," Ritter said, adding Chevrolet is known for reliability but rarely strikes an emotional chord in drivers.

Many dealers agree GM has improved the Chevy fleet in the late 1990s with new cars such as the full-size Impala sedan. But the improvements have not lured Toyota and Honda owners.

"The Chevy lineup is pretty good," said a Chevrolet dealer near Flint, who asked not to be identified. "But there aren't any home runs. Traditional Chevy drivers are pleased but the cars aren't attracting any other buyers."

Because almost 60 percent of GM dealers sell Chevrolets, a popular Chevy model can sell thousands more copies than a sister product marketed through another division. That's because 4,400 of GM's 7,700 GM dealers handle Chevrolets, and 2,000 handle only Chevrolet, giving the division one of the largest groups of single-brand dealers in the nation.

In 2000, for the 2001 model-year, Chevrolet will bring out the pickup-sport-utility blend. GM declined to release any other information Tuesday about this vehicle. And it will have the hefty version of the Silverado, equipped with an optional new Duramax diesel made by Isuzu Corp. and a special transmission developed by GM's Allison Division.

Those vehicles will be Chevrolet's chief displays at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which opens to the public Jan. 16. They could help the division pick up another 50,000 to 100,000 sales a year, but to do it they'll have to take business from Ford Motor Co. and Daimler/Chrysler Corp.

Concept vehicles such as the Chevrolet SSR, a high-powered V8-equipped compact roadster truck, also will be shown at the Detroit auto show.

While the SSR can help establish the fun side of the equation for Chevrolet, Ritter noted it could be four or five years before the division can revamp its entire fleet.

By that time, the crossovers will become a sizable segment in the auto industry, and could begin to cut into sales of the bread-and-butter trucks the Detroit automakers count on. While trucks represent about 60 percent of Chevrolet's sales volume now, Ritter estimated new vehicles that resemble trucks on the outside but are built on car suspensions could account for half the market by the middle of the next decade.

"We can and should do better, Ritter said in an interview. "We're 15 percent of GM's 29-percent market share. Obviously, for GM to grow in the long run we have to grow. But market share is not something you can develop overnight."

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