DETROIT - General Motors is half the way to its goal of building 300,000 additional full-sized pickups and sport-utilities in 1999 than in 1998.
By year end, GM expects to have built more than 1.2 million full-sized pickups and sport-utilities, 30 percent more than it produced in 1998 and about 13 percent more than 1997.
'At this point in time, that's beyond a forecast,' said Tom Davis, GM vice president and group executive for the GM Truck Group, in an interview Thursday, July 22. 'We're doing it and running at a rate that gets us there. We're going to get that done, easily.'
GM's top two competitors, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler, sell a greater percentage of profitable light trucks than GM, and GM is trying to catch up.
In the first six months of this year, light trucks accounted for 46.7 percent of GM sales, 59.0 percent of Ford's and 67.9 percent of DaimlerChrysler's, including Mercedes-Benz.
GM built 962,198 full-sized pickups and sport-utilities in 1998; in 1997 it built 1,115,755.
Most of the production increase in 1999, about 250,000 units, will come from the pickup side. When GM switched to its redesigned full-sized truck platform, the GMT800, it reduced production bottlenecks and increased line rates. GM also is using more overtime, said GM spokesman Tom Beaman.
As a result, GM pickup production, which includes the Chevrolet Silverado and C/K and GMC Sierra, is up 23.4 percent for the first half of 1999. Additionally, GM has built 44,634 more pickups than chief rival Ford Motor Co.
GM's overall full-sized truck production during the first half of 1999, including full-sized sport-utilities, jumped 23.7 percent from the year before. Production of full-sized trucks in the first half of last year was affected for several weeks by the UAW strikes in Flint, Mich.
GM's full-sized sport-utilities include the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban; GMC Yukon, Denali and Suburban; and Cadillac Escalade. The Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon move to the GMT800 platform later this year. The Escalade and Denali keep the GMT400 platform until next spring.
Along with increasing production, Davis said the GM Truck Group is improving the flexibility of its plants so they can easily switch between models.
Said Davis: 'So, as the market moves, we can move and try to satisfy more of the market needs based on what's currently hot.'