GM to prep plants for next-generation pickup

UPDATED: 7/1/11 2:23 pm ET

DETROIT -- A General Motors executive dropped a bit of news yesterday that's sure to tantalize dealers and truck buyers.

Work to retool assembly plants to build the next-generation of full-sized pickups will begin next year, GM's U.S. sales chief Don Johnson told reporters on a conference call.

"We have some scheduled plant down time in 2012 as we convert to the next generation of our pickups," Johnson said.

Most industry watchers hadn't expected new versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups until 2013. News of an accelerated timeline would surely please dealers, who've been clamoring for the program's acceleration ever since GM's 2009 bankruptcy delayed the plans.

But hold on.

Johnson said only that GM would begin retooling next year for eventual production. He didn't specify when it would launch. A GM spokesman later wouldn't confirm a timetable.

Two people with knowledge of GM's development plans said that production remains slated to begin in 2013 for the 2014 model year.

One of the sources said GM will stagger several weeks of retooling at its truck plants throughout next year and into 2013 to prepare for the next-generation truck. The current versions are built at GM plants in Flint, Mich., Fort Wayne, Ind., and Silao, Mexico.

The source said GM plans a complete re-engineering and redesign that will require major plant retoolings.

That seems consistent with comments from Johnson, who pointed out that GM has fewer plants from which to shift production around as it retools for new launches.

This year through June, rival Ford sold 264,079 F-series pickups, which were redesigned for the 2010 model year. Chevrolet sold 182,785 Silverados; GMC Sierra sales were 67,598. GM's trucks were last redesigned for the 2007 model year.

GM execs have sent mixed signals lately about just how urgently they're working on the truck program.

In January, GM North America President Mark Reuss said the automaker was fast-tracking some truck programs, but he didn't elaborate.

Then in April, GM CEO Dan Akerson seemed to contradict that, saying, "Trucks would not be a program that we'd move up in a mileage-sensitive market."

Johnson's comments yesterday at least confirm that a new pickup is in the offing. Even if it's not as soon as Chevy and GMC dealers would like.

As in yesterday.

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