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June 19, 2013 3:29 PM

Why Sierra holds the key to GM denting Ford's premium-pickup reign

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GMC has equipped the 2014 Sierra with whiz-bang safety features that aren't now available on any pickup, such as forward-collision alert and a safety alert seat that vibrates to warn the driver of an impending impact.
 
Mike Colias covers General Motors for Automotive News.

DETROIT -- When General Motors unveiled its next-generation Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra in December, journalists were offered separate, symbolic lunch buffets: bratwursts and baked beans at the Silverado exhibit and pita wraps and beet salad on the Sierra side.

For years, GM executives have yammered about the importance of offering clear distinction between the pickups, insisting that they serve distinct customer bases.

And yet the trucks have been separated by little more than grilles and badges.

That changes with the 2014 versions. And it could be the key to GM eroding Ford's dominance of the high-end pickup market.

Sure, the exterior styling is a more honest effort than ever before at differentiating the look, with the Sierra's more squared-off wheel arches and sleek, industrial-looking grille. But it's the content that marks the real separation between the pickup siblings, which began arriving in showrooms around Memorial Day.

At a media event here today, GMC marketers highlighted some of the standard goodies that will be available on various Sierra trims, but not on the Silverado:

• The base Sierra model (the equivalent of the Silverado Work Truck) gets standard projector headlamps, chrome bumpers, wheel arch moldings and upper tie-down hooks in the bed.

• The SLE model Sierra (Silverado's LT) gets a larger 8-inch color touchscreen; aluminum interior trim and LED lights embedded in the cargo box.

• The SLT (Silverado LTZ) gets power-adjustable pedals and slick-looking LED headlamps.

And GM has loaded the Sierra with whiz-bang safety features that aren't now available on any pickup, such as forward-collision alert and a safety alert seat that vibrates to warn the driver of an impending impact.

Ford now enjoys as much as a $4,000 advantage over GM on average pickup prices, Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson estimates. Here's a big reason why: Ford generates nearly one-third of its F-150 pickup sales from five luxury models, including the King Ranch and Platinum.

GMC has done well with its popular Denali brand. But that accounts for less than 10 percent of light-duty Sierra sales.

Positioning the '14 Sierra as a more premium offering -- even beyond Denali -- is GM's best shot at closing that gap and loosening Ford's stranglehold on the premium pickup market.

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