GM aims to take on Toyota Tacoma with new midsize trucks

GM aims to take on Toyota Tacoma with new midsize trucks
Wed, Apr 17 detroitnews.com

“Don’t think of them as Canyon and Colorado replacements, because they’re not,” GM’s Mark Reuss says of the new pickups. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)General Motors plans to return to the midsize truck market next year with two trucks

a little bigger than Toyota’s Tacoma, targeting younger, more active buyers.

GM North America President Mark Reuss said Tuesday the new trucks

likely will be revealed in the fall, but it’s not been decided whether the debut will be at the Los Angeles Auto Show, whose press days are Nov. 20-21.

None of the Detroit automakers currently makes a smaller-than-full-size truck: GM phased out production last year of its smaller trucks, the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado; Chrysler ended the Dodge Dakota in 2011; and Ford produced its last Ranger for North America that same year. The domestic automakers have left the segment to Toyota’s Tacoma and Nissan’s Frontier.

“Don’t think of them as Canyon and Colorado replacements, because they’re not,” Reuss said at a breakfast of auto industry professionals in Detroit.

He said the new trucks will be a “different size than the (Toyota) Tacoma” and Colorado and Canyon. GM declined to provide more detail on their dimensions.

But Detroit-based GM sees an opportunity to go up against the Toyota Tacoma and revitalize the midsize truck segment, Chevy spokesman Tom Wilkinson said.

Reuss said GM expects to target the midsize Chevrolet truck as a lifestyle and sport truck, while the GMC midsize truck will have “95 percent duty-cycle of big Sierra with a lot more fuel economy.”

“We’re going to really target different buyers with these two trucks,” he told reporters after his speech.

“We’d love to have a truck like a Chevrolet midsize truck go really attack the West Coast with a lifestyle truck that is really beautiful and fun. It’s a different positioning than a semi-serious, duty-cycle truck that we might do with a GMC Canyon.”

The new midsize trucks also will get better fuel economy, giving customers a clear choice over the larger full-size trucks, Reuss said. They will not share powertrains with the larger trucks, he said.

Analyst: Pricing will be key

LMC Automotive analyst Jeff Schuster said he sees GM using all four trucks — including the full-size Silverado and Sierra — to compete with Ford’s F-Series in a “one-two punch.” Ford is expected to launch a redone F-150 in 2014.

“We see this more as a strategy … to use these two (smaller) trucks as entry-level trucks and allow the Sierra and Silverado to move upstream,” he said.

Schuster said there remains an opportunity for automakers to offer some type of smaller pickup below midsize trucks, as “no one is really in that space.”

Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs said that pricing GM’s new midsize trucks will be a key; in the past, many lower-end full-size trucks overlapped in pricing with higher-end smaller trucks.

“Sales of small and midsize trucks have had a roller-coaster history, and whether there’s a market there in the future remains to be seen,” she said. “GM sees one, Ford does not; and Toyota has enjoyed good success with the Tacoma, but will the pie expand?”

Sales of the Tacoma this year are up 22.9 percent, through March.

Krebs called GM’s previous smaller midsize trucks “subpar,” and said the Detroit automaker will need a strong product and good marketing to go head-to-head with the Tacoma.

“It seems like smaller trucks could do well as the U.S. downsizes its vehicles for buyers with the so-called active lifestyles who need a truck for its utility, such as kayaks and bikes,” she said in an email.

Smaller pickup sales slow

Sales of smaller pickups, though, have fallen off sharply over the past decade. Last year, the U.S. industry sold more than 1.6 million full-size trucks, but only 264,000 smaller trucks, according to Autodata Corp. and the market share for small pickups has fallen from about 8 percent in 1994 to less than 2 percent last year.

For that reason, Ford has no plans to return to the smaller truck market.

“We’re investing in F-Series for North America because the compact pickup segment in the U.S. has declined steadily,” Ford spokesman Mike Levine said. Levine added that in March, 26 percent of Ranger buyers contemplating a new vehicle bought an F-150; 12 percent opted for a new compact pickup.

Chrysler believes there is a good business case for a midsize truck and is considering a Ram pickup for the U.S. market that could serve as a global pickup truck

.

GM’s new midsize trucks, which will be built at its Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri, also may get new names because they are so different from the Colorado and Canyon, Reuss said.

“We’re researching the names, as we do any new products, to see where the legacy names are, do they mean something to people,” Reuss said.

Reuss: ‘Unmatchable’

Reuss said the new midsize trucks, coupled with all-new 2014 full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra launching this spring, will give GM a truck lineup “that’s unmatchable in the industry.”

GM is testing the new full-size trucks and if the company is satisfied with the miles the vehicles are driven, they likely will go into production in the next month for consumers, Reuss said.

“But we have to pass these gates,” he said.

“We are not going to fill yards with things and not pass quality gates.”

GM in 2013 and 2014 will launch 29 new or significantly refreshed cars, trucks and crossovers in the U.S., Reuss said.

“This is unprecedented in the industry,” he said.

mburden@detroitnews.com

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