Five years into a remarkable rebound from near-disaster, the Detroit 3 automakers still count on sales of pickup trucks and SUVs in the North American market for the bulk of their global profits, despite efforts to shift buyers into smaller, greener vehicles as part of a broader move to remake the Motor City.
Reuters reported that promotion of green technologies, notably hybrid and electric vehicles, has been a signature policy of the Obama administration, which oversaw the $80 billion taxpayer-funded bailout in 2009 of General Motors and Chrysler.
Those same U.S. taxpayers, however, have shown a marked preference for big trucks such as the best-selling Ford F-150 over cleaner, more economical “electrified” vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt.
Full-size pickups and SUVs remain a pillar of profitability in Detroit, accounting for more than two-thirds of U.S. automakers’ global pre-tax earnings, a Reuters analysis indicates, even though they make up just 16% of North American vehicle production.
“There is no doubt that full-size trucks are still the single largest component” of pre-tax profits at General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC, a unit of Italy’s Fiat SpA, according to Sterne Agee auto analyst Michael Ward.
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More than 100 Chevrolet dealership product trainers and field reps are tooling around in 2014 Silverados — all with the 4.3-liter V-6 engine under the hood.
As reported by Automotive News, the program is intended to send a message to General Motors’ 3,000 Chevrolet dealerships that the six-banger in the redesigned pickup is a leap forward from that of the last-generation truck, and salespeople need to spread that gospel to prospective buyers.
It has been a tough sell so far. As of early October, V-6 models accounted for just 10 percent of Silverado sales, roughly in line with V-6 sales of the outgoing truck. GM ultimately expects a take rate of nearly 20 percent and says V-6 sales will increase as the rollout of the redesigned ’14s expands.
To move more V-6s, GM last month began offering a $3,000 credit to dealers who put V-6 Silverado models into a daily rental or loaner fleet, for sale as new within a few months.
Dealers “are really rediscovering that V-6 compared to the old one,” Don Johnson, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president of sales and service, said last month.
The V-6 is part of a new family of GM large engines that was upgraded to include direct injection and an improved combustion system that allows more efficient fuel consumption. The V-6 Silverado puts out 285 hp and 305 pounds-feet of torque — up from 195 hp and 260 pounds-feet in the ’13 pickup.
GM also added cylinder deactivation, which shuts fuel to two of the six cylinders under light loads, coaxing fuel economy of 18 mpg city/24 highway for two-wheel-drive models, up from 15 city/20 highway for a comparable ’13.
At recent drive events, Chevrolet marketing reps have occasionally sent test drivers off in a V-6, letting them think they’re behind the wheel of a V-8. They’re usually hard-pressed to tell the difference, a GM spokeswoman says.
Dealers agree that it’s a much-improved engine but say most buyers believe anything but V-8 power just won’t do. And dealers say that Chevy’s 4.3-liter EcoTec3 V-6 lacks the brand cachet of Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6.
“The new V-6 has plenty of power. It’s not tremendously different than the V-8,” says Mike Shook, general manager of Lewis Chevrolet-Cadillac in Garden City, Kan. “But it takes a real salesman to get somebody into one.”
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The autumn pickup wars have been joined, with Ford aggressively defending its segment leadership against redesigned rivals from General Motors and Chrysler Group’s Ram brand.
Automotive News reported that Ford’s F series continues to lead full-sized pickups with 39.4% of the market through August. There’s a lot at stake as football season starts and truckmakers roll out promotional campaigns.
“Ford will defend that turf,” said Tom Libby, analyst for Polk. “If they can’t defend it with the product, they’ll defend it with incentives. The benefits to them of having the most popular vehicle in the country are huge. For the next several months they’ll be in a defensive situation. They now have the oldest product in the segment, so for the next 10 months they’ll have to defend it with other means.”
Ford won’t begin making its 2014 models until late October or early November. Ford is expected to launch the next-generation F-series pickup as a 2015 model in the second half of 2014. Ram introduced its new 1500 in the last quarter of 2012, while the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra began hitting the market this summer.
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Torque and towing, payload and ponies: They’ve long been the weapons of choice in the pickup wars.
But now, according to a report by Automotive News, fuel economy is reshaping the battle lines of the pickup market, and diesel engines are being thrust to the fore.
Nissan last week said it will try to shed its laggard status in the full-sized pickup market by dropping a V-8 Cummins diesel engine into its light-duty Titan for the 2015 model year. The move follows Chrysler Group, which will brandish its first light-duty diesel in decades when its Ram 1500 rolls out by year end with a V-6 from Italy’s VM Motori under the hood.
Next up: General Motors, which is readying plans to offer a diesel in the next-generation Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-sized pickups, three people familiar with GM’s plans told Automotive News. The redesigned pickups are slated to get a version of GM’s 2.5-liter or 2.8-liter, four-cylinder Duramax turbodiesels, which power the Colorado in overseas markets. The diesel option will be added to the U.S. lineup about a year after the fall 2014 launch of the redesigned trucks, the sources say.
The shift toward diesels in full-sized light-duty trucks — or even smaller pickups, in GM’s case — is the latest example of how toughening fuel economy standards are scrambling the competitive strategies of pickup makers, which typically aped one another’s moves with incremental upgrades.
Historically, they sought a competitive edge through ever more powerful V-8 engines, or through nifty features, such as the RamBox storage compartment. But radical departures in powertrain technology were rare.
Now, with the addition of the forthcoming diesels, mid-sized and light-duty truck buyers will have an array of powertrain choices, from four-cylinder and V-6 diesels to turbocharged V-6s and diesel V-8s, coupled with fuel-saving features such as eight-speed transmissions, stop-start systems and cylinder deactivation.
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General Motors Corp. is preparing to put its full-sized pickup trucks on a severe diet to meet future U.S. fuel economy standards and stay competitive with rival Ford Motor Co., according to several people familiar with its plans.
But, according to a report by Automotive News, GM likely won’t be able to implement an extensive weight reduction program until the just-redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra are overhauled again in 2019, according to supplier sources. That is five years after Ford plans to slash at least 700 pounds from its best-selling F-150 pickup as part of a fall 2014 redesign.
More efficient engines and transmissions will help reduce fuel consumption on the big GM and Ford trucks, but the biggest gains are likely to come from shedding weight. The trucks are prime towing vehicles for the RV industry.
Even though GM’s 2014 Silverado and Sierra lost between 250 to 400 pounds as part of a complete makeover this summer, the lightest Silverado still tips the scale at 4,387 pounds.
GM “didn’t go far enough in terms of weight reduction and powertrain improvements” when it developed the 2014 Silverado and Sierra, according to an industry consultant who works directly with the U.S. automakers.
Now, he said, the automaker has no choice, but to “send ‘em to Jenny Craig” — a reference to the popular consumer diet and weight-loss program.
Prior to the 2019 launch of the next-generation Silverado and Sierra, GM is planning a series of rolling changes over the next few years to the trucks, which just went on sale six weeks ago as redesigned 2014 models.
GM will begin to use more lightweight materials such as aluminum and composites, in place of conventional steel, several suppliers said.
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The race to improve fuel economy, especially among 1/2-ton pickup trucks, has become intense. Manufacturers are pulling out all the stops to increase fuel economy without sacrificing performance.
ForConstructionPros.com reported that the push has led to recent innovations in the form of new engine platforms with integrated fuel-saving technology; more aerodynamic chassis with both passive and active aerodynamic devices; more sophisticated multi-speed transmissions; and weight savings through careful material choices. Electric power steering to reduce parasitic loads on the engine, aluminum hoods to save weight and other fuel-saving technologies are also making inroads into the latest-generation pickups.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for a pickup truck remains the powerplant, and the new offerings in the 1/2-ton market are a radical departure from the previous generation. Turbocharging, cylinder deactivation, variable valve timing and direct injection are all becoming commonplace as pickup manufacturers strive to boost fuel economy. There is more than one way to squeeze extra efficiency out of the engine.
Different companies are taking different approaches. Ford offers a choice of options for its 1/2-ton pickups, with a 3.7-liter V6 and a 5.0-liter V8 that both offer twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) technology. This creates precise, variable timing control of both the intake and exhaust camshafts to optimize power, performance and fuel economy. There is also a 6.2-liter V8 available.
But the premium offering leading the charge for Ford’s 1/2-ton pickups is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 — it offers power comparable to a naturally aspirated V8 with the fuel economy of a smaller displacement engine. The EcoBoost is fundamental to Ford’s strategy to provide technologically advanced, high-output, smaller-displacement powertrains that deliver both optimal performance and fuel economy.
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Ford Motor Co., reacting to U.S. pickup sales that have gained momentum for almost two years straight, said it plans to add workers at an F-150 truck factory to boost production of its most profitable model line.
Bloomberg reported that Ford will hire a third crew at its plant in Claycomo, Mo., to boost F-150 output starting in the third quarter, the company said today in a statement. The No. 2 U.S. automaker is adding more than 2,000 employees at the factory for the extra pickup production and to begin building the Transit commercial van in mid-2014.
The F-Series pickup line is a juggernaut for Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford. It’s led the U.S. truck segment the last 36 years and has been the best-selling vehicle of any type in the country for more than three decades. Ford plans to make more pickups to keep up with demand after 21 straight months of increases for the F-Series as rebounding housing and energy sectors lift U.S. market share for Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.
“It’s a huge vote of confidence in our truck, our sales and what’s going on in the industry overall and the economy,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said in a telephone interview. “We wouldn’t be hiring if we didn’t think it was going to last. It is a strong indication of how we feel about our continued leadership in the segment.”
Kansas City Assembly will be capable of operating 120 hours per week after the third crew is added, up from the 100 hours per week that it’s been running with two shifts, Hinrichs said.
General Motors and Ford Motor Co. should see significant profit growth and gain market share in the next couple years in North America, largely fueled by new large pickups hitting the U.S. market.
The Detroit Free Press reported that GM’s new trucks are preparing to roll out this year and the expectation is Ford replaces the F-150 next year. Large pickups represent the primary tow vehicle for the RV industry.
The two domestic automakers are forecast to outperform the industry and pickups will account for the majority of volume gains until 2015, Itay Michaeli of Citi Research said Wednesday during a call with investors.
Citi expects large pickups to grow from 11.3% of the U.S. market in 2012 to 12.8% in 2015 when the total market is expected to hit 16 million sales and pickup sales will account for 2.4 million of them.
While the current average age of cars on the road is about 11 years old, the truck fleet is two years older.
GM has 41% of the trucks on the road and has the highest segment loyalty, all of which adds up to a strong potential pool of buyers for the new trucks preparing to hit the market. For GM, pickups will account for 27% of the mix by 2015 with about 944,000 sold that year. Ford is projected to sell about 920,000 pickups in 2015, representing 32% of their mix.
It’s good business. Profit margins on trucks are double that of small cars. Michaeli said GM could see a $1.1 billion earnings bump from pickups and Ford could expect $400 million once its new trucks hit the road. Before that, Ford could see some negative pricing as it improves incentives to compete with GM’s new pickups.
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Nothing stimulates automakers’ enthusiasm more than a mud-splattering pickup truck war.
According to USA Today, anyone cruising the North American International Auto Show floor at Cobo Center here this week will see the evidence: the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, the Ram 3500 heavy duty, and an as-yet-undisclosed surprise from Ford on Tuesday (Jan. 15).
A segment known for intense buyer loyalty, robust profits and bragging over towing capacity has gotten its mojo back.
“We are calling this year the year of the pickup,” said Michele Krebs, senior analyst for Edmunds.com.
The segment is fiercely competitive and predominantly domestic, said Rebecca Lindland, director of auto industry research for IHS Automotive.
“It is the one vehicle in the global industry that is uniquely and forever American so bragging rights for pickups has a whole different meaning,” Lindland said. “It’s not just profits. It’s rock ‘n roll, apple pie American.”
While General Motors gave reporters a peak in December of the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, today at the show is their first public exposure.
“From hood to hitch, these are the most refined, best engineered pickups ever,” said GM North America President Mark Reuss. “GM has been a truck engineering leader for more than a century. I think we engineer our trucks better than the others guys do.”
The new Ram 1500 pickup has been on sale since October. The upgraded Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy duties go on sale this spring with more muscular towing capacity.
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General Motors is giving its big pickups a much-needed makeover.
The Associated Press reported that the company is unveiling new versions of its top-selling Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra on Thursday. The 2014 models will go on sale by early spring or late summer.
The timing is good. The models roll into a market where truck sales are growing after a five-year slump. And GM’s current trucks are looking dated, hurting sales. The current trucks, last revamped in 2007, are the oldest on the market and have fallen behind newer models from Ford and Chrysler.
The revamped Silverados and Sierras are aimed at putting GM back in front. They look similar to the old models, but are a little more aggressive and aerodynamic-looking. The company also says the trucks will have stronger, quieter cabs, and updated steering, suspensions and brakes.
GM is offering a choice of three revamped engines: a 262-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-6 that GM says can tow a substantial trailer; a 325-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 will get better mileage than the current model, which gets 22 mpg on the highway; and a 6.2-liter V-8 with 376 horsepower.
Gas mileage and pricing of the trucks was not released Thursday.
The trucks should hit the market at a good time. The economy is improving and pickup trucks are starting to sell again. The housing industry, which has a direct relationship to pickup sales, is strengthening and should be in even better shape by springtime when the weather gets nicer. Plus, trucks now on the roads are aging because people kept them through the recession. The average age of a pickup in the U.S. is now 10.4 years, GM said.
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