GM's Reuss sees room for variety in U.S. pickup market

DETROIT -- Anyone who's surprised by General Motors' recent decision to remain in the U.S. market for smaller pickups with a redesigned Chevrolet Colorado -- even as competitors flee the segment -- must not have been listening to Mark Reuss.

For awhile now, GM's president of North America has been espousing his view of the U.S. pickup market. And it includes many shades of gray.

Reuss sees ample "bandwidth" within the pickup segment that belies the industry's conventional wisdom: that full-sized pickups can be all things to all people.

The U.S. market for small and mid-sized pickups withered over the past decade as full-sized pickups became cheaper and more fuel-efficient.

Why buy a smaller, less-capable truck when you can get a full-sized one for almost the same price?

A fully loaded regular-cab Chevy Colorado, for example, tops out at nearly $22,000. That's about the same as a base model Chevy Silverado 1500 full-sized truck.

The numbers support that theory.

In 2000, 1.1 million small pickups were sold in the United States, accounting for 6.1 percent of all light-vehicle sales. In 2010, 265,278 were sold -- just 2.3 percent of the market.

But Reuss believes "there's going to be a micro-segmentation of what the bandwidth is of a pickup truck," he said in an interview last week.

"I see huge opportunity there," Reuss said. "There are a lot of people who still earn their living with these kinds of trucks. Within the Colorado, you're going to see some really attractive things from a duty cycle and fuel-economy standpoint that you may not be able to get on a bigger pickup truck."

It's the same reason that, when asked during the New York auto show in April whether the U.S. market might one day see Holden's Commodore Ute, Reuss didn't swat down the idea.

Reuss, who ran Holden, GM's Australian unit, in 2008 and 2009, said the Ute, a car-based pickup, is the sort of versatile vehicle that could make sense for the United States as fuel-economy standards get tougher.

"I think the industry needs to be able to offer those types of microsegmentations on duty cycles that may not be 100 percent of the pickup trucks today," Reuss said in April, "but rather, 'I get my job done, I do it with a lot less operating cost, and I enjoy the vehicle.'"

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