New Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra stare down rivals at State Fair of Texas

With truck sales generally on the rise, a With truck sales generally on the rise, a new Chevrolet Silverado couldn't come at a better time -- especially when it's full of new tricks. Photo Credit: General Motors

advertisement | advertise on newsday

As Mark Reuss, General Motors Co.s North America president, entered his first State Fair of Texas yesterday, he could see what GM is up against in a crucial battleground state for full-size pickup sales.

He drove past Toyota Motor Corp.s truck display where a Tundra dangled 50 feet overhead; a mechanical bull situated among Chrysler Group LLCs Ram pickups with banners boasting the Truck of Texas award; and finally a towering oil derrick with a Ford Motor Co. F-Series spinning atop with decals reading Best selling truck and 36 years running.

Everybody drives pickups and loves pickups here, Reuss said in an interview at the fair in Dallas, where GM revealed its new heavy-duty trucks. The regular half-ton pickups, all-new this year, began arriving in showrooms in May. It feels bigger than life, and it is.

GM, which hadnt redesigned its pickups since 2006, has seen its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra combined market share slip to 33 percent in the Texas half-ton truck market last year from 36 percent in 2008, according to researcher Polk. That puts it behind Fords F-Series, which is the national leader and top-seller in Texas last year with 38 percent of the states market. Reuss said GM can overtake Ford in Texas.

Taking Texas

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Weve got the newest truck in the market; its been a long time since General Motors had the newest truck, Reuss said. The opinion and recognition of the how good the truck is starts in Texas. If we can win here with a great truck, there are ripple effects here across the whole country.

Texas is the largest market for new pickups in the U.S., representing one in five vehicles sold in the state last year, according to Polk. Its about one in eight nationally. More large pickups were purchased in Texas last year than the total for the next three largest truck markets: California, Oklahoma and Florida.

Theres more at stake in Texas in terms of volume and opportunities, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based website that tracks auto sales. Its looking like its shaping up to be quite the battle between the players.

GMs pickups generated an estimated 16 percent of the companys global earnings before interest and taxes last year and the redesigned versions could boost EBIT by more than $1 billion in 2013, according to a Citigroup Inc. estimate.

Short Window

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Theres inevitably a lift when theres a redesign, said Tom Libby, a Southfield, Mich.-based analyst with Polk. Its now Chevrolet and GMCs turn and they will get a lift, but its a short window because theyve got a new F-Series coming next year.

At Fords 30,000-square-foot display at the fairgrounds, a billboard boasted: We own work. A nearby stadium-appropriate video screen ticked off new F-Series sales under a headline that read: Every 42 seconds, another F- Series is sold. Ford executives wore black polo shirts and khaki-colored pants.

Suits really dont fit at the state fair, Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of Americas, said in an interview after Fords presentation for the 2015 Ford F-Series Super Duty and King Ranch heavy-duty version, which is named after a working ranch in Texas. He noted that Texas is the only state fair where he speaks.

During his presentation, Hinrichs didnt miss an opportunity to highlight Fords success in Texas. He told the crowd that Ford had delivered its 33 millionth F-Series this year at Sam Packs Five Star Ford in Plano.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Demand Drivers

A recovering economy, new-housing starts and pent-up demand are driving demand for pickups, he said.

The energy sector, agriculture sector all of these are big drivers of whats driving the truck market in volume, especially right here in Texas, he said.

Its in that environment that Reuss and his team are fighting for attention. Reuss said in an interview last week in New York that its difficult to convert brand-loyal pickup buyers.

We also know that the government ownership influence is highest among truck buyers, he said. Being owned by the government is problematic for now.

The U.S. has said it will sell all of its GM shares, acquired as a result of the automakers 2009 government-backed bankruptcy, as soon as December.

High Country

GM is bringing out a new high-end version of the Silverado called the High Country in the fourth quarter to better compete against Fords King Ranch. The High Country moniker is embroidered into the headrests of the heated-and-cooled bucket seats. Tom Peters, the head designer for the trucks, estimated that the High Country has about 25 percent more chrome on the outside compared to the base Silverado.

GM revealed at the fair yesterday new heavy-duty versions of its Silverado and Sierra pickups that are set to reach U.S. showrooms in the first quarter.

GM is also spending more time in Texas.

At filling stations, drivers find the ice chests wrapped with pictures of the new truck while ads play on closed-circuit TV screens at the pumps. TV advertising for the new Silverado began in Texas before the rest of the nation saw ads during Major League Baseballs All-Star Game Home Run Derby in July.

The brands goal is to make 869 million impressions with digital advertising in Texas, including a large number of Hispanic shoppers.

Chevy also has 77 Silverado billboards in Texas.

Hot and Heavy

Chevy has 42 events planned in Texas for the Silverado, which is about 33 percent of the 126 planned by years end. GMC has 11 of its 23 planned for Texas, according to GM. Chevy in August announced a partnership with the University of Texas football team and the company held early marketing campaigns to showcase the pickups to journalists at programs in the San Antonio area in May and Austin in September.

Weve never actually done anything like this, where we went hot and heavy in Texas at so many different levels, Maria Rohrer, marketing director of Chevy full-size trucks, said in an interview. Its probably the most intense Ive ever seen.

About 40 percent of the initial production of the new Silverados went straight to Texas double the typical 20 percent that might go based upon sales history, according to GM. About 30 percent to 35 percent of the new Sierras went to Texas.

Most of those first Silverados were special Texas Edition versions. Its a $2,000 option that includes extra chrome, 20- inch wheels and a large Texas Edition badge. About 20 percent to 25 percent of Silverados sold in the state are Texas Editions, according to GM.

As Reuss prepared to leave the state fair, he paused for a moment to reflect on what hed seen:

Theres no other place like this.

You also may be interested in: