Newer is supposed to be better.
In the case of General Motors’ new pickup trucks, it is. At least it is according to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, which named the GMC Sierra their truck of the year, and the North American Car And Truck Of The Year jury, which named the Chevrolet Silverado their truck of the year.
Numerous auto reviewers also felt the Silverado and Sierra, at the very least, drew even with the class-leading Ram truck and superseded the outgoing F-Series, ancient Titan, and oft-ignored Tundra. At best, the quiet cabins in GM new trucks, along with their improved fuel efficiency and overall refinement make the Silverado and Sierra the most highly regarded full-size trucks on the market today.
But there’s one big issue.
Consumers in both the United States and Canada are currently buying fewer GM trucks than they were at this time last year, when GM’s heavily incentivized old trucks were playing a greater role in the market.
From a purely Canadian volume perspective, the Sierra is down 6 percent in Canada this year; the Silverado is down 16 percent. Combined, the twins are down 11 percent to 9,039 units, a loss of nearly 1,100 truck sales for GM’s Canadian dealers during the slowest sales period of the year.
Not only did the all-conquering Ford F-Series outsell GM’s truck family during the first two months of 2014, Ram’s pickup range did as well, and it did so with 2,065 units to spare.
In January and February 2013, GM’s full-size twins owned 27.7 percent of Canada’s full-size pickup truck market, a segment which includes the F-Series, Ram, Toyota Tundra, and Nissan Titan. That figure dropped to 24.8 percent during the equivalent period in 2014.
Even though sales of the Silverado and Sierra increased in the 2013 calendar year, they didn’t fly as high as the overall full-size category. As a result, GM’s share of the full-size market slid from 29.7 percent in 2012 to 28.3 percent in 2013. The Sierra and Silverado’s full-size market share in 2011 was 33.8 percent, down from an even higher 35 percent in 2010.
GM’s share of the market is being eaten away by both Ram and Ford. Between 2010 and 2013, Ram’s share of the category grew from 21.8 percent to 26.9 percent; Ford’s from 39.3 percent to 41.1 percent.
Too many casual truck buyers – the number of which is growing rapidly now that crew cab pickups are fighting minivans for family attention and prices are low enough to make for realistic comparisons – are unable to recognize the new GM trucks for what they are: new.
The design, while difficult to call unattractive, doesn’t show off much of the underlying change. If your neighbour’s four-year-old truck bears more than a passing resemblance to the new truck at the GM store, how new can the new truck be?
GM’s “Strong” marketing campaign stands in stark contrast to the hard-hitting Denis Leary-voiced Ford truck commercials. Rather than emphasizing the Silverado’s capability, as those Ford ads typically do, GM spends a lot of time telling us about the kind of man who drives a Silverado. Neither is it necessarily a good sign when CBC’s 22 Minutes spoofs your ad.
Finally, if newer is supposed to be better, and if newer actually is better, why are more truck buyers currently veering away from Sierras and Silverados toward Rams and Fords? As is often the case, particularly in ultra-price-conscious Canada, “newer is better” can be counteracted by “cheaper is better.” Ford Canada and Chrysler Canada haven’t eased up in a price war that’s brought pickup prices down further and further, but General Motors had initially hoped buyers would be willing to pay more for what they felt was a superior truck.
Perhaps messaging is meaningless. Maybe a vast swathe of the truck-buying populace cares not one whit about exterior styling. But money matters.
If the maths are right, profit can increase even if fewer truck transactions are completed. Yet in Canada’s burgeoning pickup truck market and in America’s reborn truck market, grabbing more market share, not less, is surely the better-paved route to long-term success.