Chevrolet launched a grassroots promotional romp through Texas last week, the start of its marketing campaign for the redesigned 2014 Silverado. Chevy's glitzy displays will hit all the well-trodden stops: baseball games, big rodeos, the state fair.
But also on the route are out-of-the-way spots that Chevy reckons are thick with truck buyers: an exposition for oil-field hands, a home and garden show in El Paso, a deep-sea fishing tournament in a tiny Gulf Coast island town.
The statewide blitz across Texas -- General Motors calls the five-month swing of more than 60 stops unprecedented -- is just the start of a national Silverado campaign. And it highlights how this fast-growing state of 26 million people is shaping up as the key battleground in a pickup war that will grow especially fierce over the next two years.
To say that success in the Texas market is critical for truckmakers would be a 10-gallon understatement. It accounts for 1 in 6 pickups sold nationally. More pickups are sold just in the Dallas and Houston areas combined than in any other U.S. state, including No. 2 California, registration data from research firm R.L. Polk & Co. show.
GM believes its first redesigned pickups in seven years and strong underlying truck demand will reverse its sharp losses in full-sized pickup market share in Texas -- share that largely went to Ford.
As recently as 2008, GM held a comfortable lead in Texas, according to Polk, with the Silverado, Avalanche and GMC Sierra combining for a 38.5 percent market share, compared with Ford's 31.6 percent share. But Ford surged ahead in 2009 -- the year of GM's government-led bankruptcy -- and hasn't looked back.
Through April, Ford had a 39.4 percent share, compared with 34.2 percent for GM. No. 3 Ram is rising too, to 18.4 percent through April, on pace for its strongest showing since 2008, Polk data show.
That explains why GM is barnstorming every corner of Texas to reach customers who either defected to rival brands or have been nursing their aging Silverados or Sierras. GM is piping as much as half of its initial national supply of the 2014 pickups to Texas, executives have said.
"We've got to win in Texas to be able to win this game in truck sales," says Maria Rohrer, Silverado marketing director. "It's been seven years since we launched a new truck. We're not going to come back slow. We're coming back strong."
GM's Texas swagger isn't going unnoticed by its competitors.
Doug Scott, Ford's truck marketing manager, says GM's expected marketing blitz actually affords Ford "an opportunity for us to build share" in Texas, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of F-150 volume.
Scott says GM's promotions will flush on-the-fence truck owners into the market, and "we're on everybody's shopping list." He also welcomes the chance to sell 2013 models against GM's new '14s, which will be light on incentives.
And, in a barb that could have come straight from a Ford showroom floor, Scott says GM is at a disadvantage in the crew cab-heavy Texas market because the Silverado and Sierra crew cab isn't as roomy as the crew cab F-150, even though GM repackaged the redesigned models to improve rear seat access. He says crew cabs account for more than 70 percent of the F-150's Texas sales.
Bob Hegbloom, Ram's director of marketing, says: "We've got all the claims we need to continue to go after both Ford and Chevy in Texas."