The pickup truck segment has never been more competitive in the United States, and General Motors is betting a "smaller is smarter" strategy will help lure new buyers into its fold with the additions of the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon to its lineup.
"For this customer, smaller is smarter. " – Rich Latek.
The trucks are launching this fall, and except for a minor recall this month, they've received positive publicity for their looks, capabilities and drive character. The trucks are slightly shorter, narrower and sit lower to the ground than their fullsize brethren. At first glance, it doesn't seem like much – these are still big trucks with considerable presence – but the dimensions make the Colorado and Canyon easier to maneuver and park. GM expects this buyer to use their truck to commute to work, yet still occasionally need to tow and haul on weekends.
"For this customer, smaller is smarter," said GMC marketing director Rich Latek.
It's a strategy Ford and Chrysler have questioned, and they've notably gone their separate ways with the aluminum-bodied F-150 and the diesel-powered Ram. But GM argues the smaller dimensions of its midsize trucks have a big business case. Its research estimates there are 12 million midsize trucks on the road, but only about 250,000 new trucks, like the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, were sold last year.
"We think this is an artificially low number," Chevrolet truck marketing director Sandor Piszar said.
That means most midsize truck owners are driving an older vehicle, and their choices for replacements have been limited. It's a segment of the market that simply hasn't had an injection of new product in recent memory. Ford and Chrysler dropped the Ranger and Dakota several years ago, and the Frontier and Tacoma haven't had major updates in years.
"This is one of the most dissatisfied segments," Piszar said.
It's analogous to an army trying to outflank its enemy, and bring the fight to an area where an offensive is unexpected. Theoretically, GM's competitors are vulnerable.
The potential flaw in this strategy is that midsize trucks are a miniscule part of the market right now – there's a reason companies have quit the segment or let their existing entries languish. Other automakers aren't voluntarily giving up sales. They say there's no demand. GM counters that there's few choices to drive demand, and many consumers who would have considered a midsize truck turned to crossovers.
That's where this whole scenario gets interesting: If the Colorado and Canyon are successful, they'll have given GM a considerable advantage in the cutthroat truck market and revitalized a segment that was left for dead.
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