FLINT, Mich. — General Motors is intensifying its attack on rival Ford Motor Co.'s lead in sales to U.S. commercial fleets to prop up profit margins amid weakening consumer demand, according to executives at the No. 1 U.S. automaker.
GM is counting on new medium-duty Silverados — outfitted as tow trucks, utility bucket trucks and delivery trucks — to lift demand for its light-duty trucks and cars. Automakers estimate for every medium-duty truck a corporate customer buys, they purchase up to six pickups, SUV, crossovers or cars.
The need for automakers to bolster U.S. sales and keep plants humming was highlighted last week when GM slated five North American factories for potential closure, including two making the type of sedan that has fallen out of favor with American consumers. Ford announced it would shuffle workers from slower to busier plants.
Most major automakers on Monday also reported lower U.S. November sales.
But a 24 percent jump in commercial fleet sales in November vs. the same month in 2017 helped GM offset a 1 percent retail sales drop, according to a source briefed on figures GM does not make public on a monthly basis.
GM North America chief Alan Batey told Reuters in a recent interview the automaker has pursued a long-term strategy to cut lower-margin rental fleet sales and boost more lucrative commercial sales.
GM's rental sales are around 10 percent of total sales this year, down from 15.8 percent in 2013, according to industry data. In the same period, GM's commercial sales have risen to more than 11 percent from 7.8 percent of sales.
Batey said production of GM's medium-duty trucks, which begins this week under a partnership with truck maker Navistar International Corp. as an extension of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup line, is a milestone in the automaker's move to increase market share.
GM exited the segment during its bankruptcy in 2009. It originally announced the planned Navistar venture in September 2015.
GM and Ford compete for business from companies like engineering-services firm U.S. Infrastructure Co., which has around 9,000 vehicles, mostly light-duty Chevrolet Colorado pickup trucks. USIC's workers mark cable lines, water pipes and other underground infrastructure before contractors start digging holes in the ground.
USIC fleet manager Phil Samuelson said in a recent interview the company needs around 20 medium-duty trucks, fast. GM won his order by promising to accelerate production of his trucks.
Otherwise, Samuelson would have tried Ford or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
"We have a great relationship with GM and we saw no reason not to continue that," he said.
Satisfying customers like USIC could help GM next year when Ford launches its Ranger pickup, a direct competitor for the Colorado.
Rising commercial fleet sales have lifted GM's net profit by $1 billion over the last five years, according to sources familiar with GM's financials.