DETROIT -- General Motors has been cranking out pickups to stockpile them ahead of factory downtime this summer and fall, as it retools for the next-generation trucks due out by summer.
Now it's crunch time. The company wants to whittle its four-month supply to less than three months by year end. The plan: GM is extending its semiannual truck month promotion, traditionally run in October, over two months and is throwing in big cash for both dealers and buyers.
But GM faces tough competition from rivals Ford, Ram and Toyota, which are clearing out their own 2012 pickups and aren't in any mood to cede market share.
GM kicked off the promotion right after Labor Day and plans to run it through October. Dealers are trumpeting as much as $3,500 in customer cash -- $4,500 for buyers who are trading in vehicles -- on most 2012 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra models. And GM is dangling as much as $1,500 per pickup to dealers who can blow past their sales target for both 2012 and 2013 pickups under a GM stair-step program.
The sales push is one step in a complex marketing maneuver. GM's next-generation pickups, on an all-new platform, are slated for release by late spring as 2014s.
GM had to overbuild its inventory of both 2012 and 2013 models ahead of lost production time at three truck plants -- in Flint, Mich.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Silao, Mexico. The retooling work has been done intermittently since early this year. Several more down weeks are scheduled for this fall. That left GM with a 122-day supply of Silverados and a 131-day supply of Sierras, or a combined 243,400 units, on Sept. 1. In September 2011, that number was 203,900.
Now it's trying to chew through the excess.
"They've pulled forward truck month, so we get both September and October, and they're putting a lot of cash on the hoods," says Chris Haydocy, a Buick-GMC dealer in Columbus, Ohio, whose usual 90-day Sierra supply has crept over 100. "With a little participation from the client, I think we'll be fine."
Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. is hitting the market with its annual F-series promotion in September and October. Chrysler Group is putting cash on the hood of the 2012 Ram ahead of next month's arrival of the re-engineered 2013 Ram, and Toyota has comparable deals on the Tundra, last redesigned in early 2007.
GM's rivals are well aware of GM's lofty pickup inventory. And the threat of their counterattack has added urgency to GM's sell-down.
"When I heard that Ford had announced their truck month [in September], I definitely felt it was the right thing to have also had [the same timing] in our plan," says Alan Batey. The no-nonsense Brit and former Chevy sales boss made the call to start the sale in September in his current role as GM's U.S. vice president of sales and service.