GM restyles trucks to maintain lead

Eager to keep its newfound lead in truck sales, GM will restyle the front ends of its full-sized pickups in the 2003 model year.

The company also will redesign the interiors of Chevrolet's and GMC's full-sized sport-utilities and pickups for 2003.

GM wants to maintain an edge as competitors introduce new full-sized truckmodels, said Gary White, vehicle line executive for GM's full-sized trucks.

For the 2003 model year, White said GM will:

  • Give the interiors of the full-sized pickups and sport-utilities greater refinement.

  • Restyle the front ends of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups to further separate the look of the two brands.

  • Expand its all-wheel steering option to a wider range of full-sized pickups and some full-sized sport-utilities.

    Over the next 12 to 18 months GM also will expand its full-sized truck line, adding several models based on existing vehicles. White declined to be specific but said GM is considering a Chevrolet Suburban derivative for the Cadillac Escalade line.

    Faster freshening

    By restyling full-sized pickups in the 2003 model year, GM is freshening the Silverado 1500 and Sierra 1500 series just four years after they were redesigned. The heavy-duty versions will get new front ends just two years after they were introduced.

    GM's previous-generation pickups were redesigned for the 1988 model year and remained nearly unchanged for the next 10 years.

    Ford's F-150 pickup has remained pretty much untouched since its redesign in the 1997 model year, and the Dodge Ram, redesigned for 2002, carried the same sheet metal for the 1994 to 2001 model years.

    GM passed Ford Motor Co. in truck sales this year. In 2000, Ford sold 2.5 million trucks and GM sold 2.4 million. But through 11 months this year, GM has a lead of 114,416 trucks, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

    Sales of the Silverado and Sierra pickups rose a combined 14.2 percent through November and are expected to top the Ford F series for the first calendar year since 1994.

    Meanwhile, truck competition increases relentlessly.

    "The German and the Asian competitors were talking full-sized pickups and variations of sport-utilities, and we wanted, in essence, to preempt some of the newness of their launches with a freshening on ours," White said.

    Honda, Infiniti, Lexus, Porsche, Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen are planning to introduce sport-utilities or pickups in the next 18 months or so. In addition, Dodge redesigned the light-duty Ram for the 2002 model year, and Ford and Lincoln are re-engineering their full-sized sport-utilities for the 2003 model year. Ford's restyled and re-engineered F-150 pickup is slated for the 2004 model year.

    Redesigned Expedition coming

    Jeff Schuster, director of product analysis for J.D. Power and Associates in Troy, Mich., said the changes to GM's full-sized trucks are not likely "to have a huge impact from a volume standpoint. It will do more for maintaining ground than losing ground" as Ford, Dodge and other automakers introduce vehicles.

    Schuster said that although the Chevrolet Tahoe is outselling the Ford Expedition this year, he expects that to change when the re-engineered Expedition goes on sale next spring and production ramps up.

    Industry sources said GM will give the light-duty 2003 Silverado pickup the same angular front-end styling of the Chevrolet Avalanche. The Sierra's new front-end styling will change more gradually.But the exterior styling of the 2003 full-sized sport-utilities - for example, the GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, and Cadillac Escalade - will be essentially the same as the current models. Those vehicles will be restyled at an unspecified time later.

    Regarding the new interiors planned for the entire 2003 full-sized truck line, White said "our approach was to significantly improve what we call refinement, the perceived quality levels of the interiors.

    "We have been looking at the European manufacturers in trimming out the panels, the clusters, those kind of things. A lot of focus is on improving the perceived quality - the fit and finish, flushness, gap, those kind of things."

    As part of the strategy, full-sized trucks will receive a new family of radios, redesigned air conditioning controls and more comfortable seats.

    In addition, four-wheel steering - which is currently exclusive to the GMC Sierra Denali pickup - will be expandedthis springto GM's half-ton and three-quarter pickups, and then possibly to the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL lines.

    New GM models

    White said several truck models will be introduced in the next 12 to 18 months that are based on existing vehicles.

    He cited the development of the 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT, which evolved from the Suburban, as an example of the way GM will take an existing vehicle and create a model: "Ninety-four percent of the (Escalade EXT) was already engineered, developed and designed, so you were not putting a lot of resources into it."

    For example, "You can take the Cadillac brand and do some things that you won't necessarily try and do with the Chevy brand," he said. With the high-sticker Cadillac, GM's "break even volume (is) way below 10,000 units."

    Asked if that would include expanding the Escalade line to include a Chevrolet Suburban type of vehicle, White said, "I would say the door is open to possibilities along those lines. So, yeah, you are on the right track. There is opportunity there."

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