DETROIT -- General Motors plans a luxury trim level for its next-generation Chevrolet Silverado pickup, its answer to the leather-swathed top offerings of its rivals.
GM will name the model the High Country, according to dealers briefed on the plans during a national Chevy dealer meeting this month in Las Vegas.
It's a response to the proliferation of high-end pickup models, such as Ford's F-150 King Ranch and Limited and Ram's Laramie Longhorn, which have sticker prices that can top $50,000. Ford, for example, now offers five luxury F-150 trims that account for nearly one-third of the nameplate's sales.
GM executives didn't describe the new model's content in detail or discuss price, dealers said. A GM spokesman declined to comment on the plans.
"They said it would have a Western flair and unique leather," says one dealer who attended the meeting. "They basically said, 'If it's on the King Ranch, we're going to have it.' "
The planned High Country model underscores the seemingly insatiable appetite for luxury full-sized pickups, as automakers continue to test the price ceiling of the truck market.
In coming weeks, Ford will up the ante with its most luxurious F-150, the Limited, which has a sticker price of $53,450, including shipping, and has a moonroof, heated and cooled seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers and 22-inch polished aluminum wheels. It will join four other F-150 luxury trims: King Ranch, Platinum, Raptor and Lariat.
The 2009 launch of the Platinum, which was the priciest F-150 before the Limited, emboldened Ford to go even further up the premium ladder. Despite hitting the market during a severe recession, the Platinum's sales hit 6 percent of overall F-150 sales -- double Ford's expectation, a spokesman says.
Today, Chevy's priciest pickup is the Silverado 1500 crew cab LTZ, which stickers for $43,435, including shipping, and features standard remote start and dual-zone climate control. That's nearly $4,000 below the Ram 1500's most expensive model, the Laramie Longhorn crew cab, and about $10,000 below the forthcoming F-150 Limited.
Chevy dealers long have clamored for a top-level trim with more bling and a catchy name, says Tom Durant, owner of Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, Texas, one of the nation's largest Chevy dealers. He also owns a Ford dealership.
"It's something we've been asking for for a long time. We don't have a distinctive premium pickup," Durant says. "Customers will walk into my Ford store and say, 'I want to buy a King Ranch.' But when you say 'Silverado,' it could be any number of things."
GM's decision to offer a luxury-level trim for Chevrolet has been complicated by the fact that GMC is the company's premium truck brand. GM execs have been trying for years to create more separation between the two brands.
GMC has had success with its Denali up-level trim on its Sierra 1500, the Silverado's platform mate. The Silverado's High Country model likely would compete in the same price range.
Still, there should be room for luxury offerings from both brands, says Dave Sullivan, a product analyst at research firm AutoPacific Inc. Despite the shared platforms and powertrains of the Silverado and Sierra, the staunch allegiances ingrained in pickup buyers would prevent many from switching between the two, he says.
"A higher-end Chevy gives GMC the ability to move up. And Chevy can also move up," Sullivan says. "There's no reason GM's volume pickup brand shouldn't have something to go up against" the premium offerings of Ford and Ram.
Sullivan adds that the price of the Denali version on the next-generation Sierra 1500 could jump partly because of the expected discontinuation of the Cadillac Escalade EXT pickup, which shares the same platform and is priced at $64,055, including shipping.
EXT production is likely to end after the redesigned Escalade hits the market by late next year. The redesigned Silverado and Sierra are expected to arrive in showrooms in the summer.
High Country resurrects the name of a package on the Chevy Blazer that GM offered in the 1980s. The High Country Blazer had gold wheels and badges with shiny black paint on the upper exterior that faded into gold on the lower body.