GM’s 2018 Storyline: Trucks, Trucks, More Trucks

GM’s sales reflect weakening consumer demand over the period, but also the automaker’s decision to slash production of passenger cars out of favor with Americans and requiring costly incentives to move off dealer lots.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

January 3, 2019

4 Min Read
Second Chevy Silverado assembly plant begins production of redesigned model this month to bolster availability.
Second Chevy Silverado assembly plant begins production of redesigned model this month to bolster availability.

General Motors closes the year unable to eclipse 3 million U.S. light-vehicle sales, a streak dating back to 2014, but says it largely kept year-end incentive spending in check while maintaining pace with the industry and taking advantage of hot crossover demand.

The No.1 U.S. automaker delivered 2.95 million cars, trucks and CUVs in 2018, just shy of the 3.0 million it sold in 2017, according to Wards Intelligence. The totals include a handful of medium-duty, cab-forward commercial trucks.

GM’s sales reflect weakening consumer demand over the period, but also the automaker’s decision to slash production of passenger cars out of favor with Americans and requiring costly incentives to move off dealer lots.

Fourth-quarter sales fell 2.7% to 785,229 from 806,739. GM held its retail market share steady at 17.5%, and incentives on key products such as its best-selling large pickups fell compared to competitors despite repeating for a second year its popular employee-pricing program in December.

Average transaction prices on those products increased, the Detroit automaker says, and end-of-year fleet sales fell 4% against an industry up 13%. As with much of the industry, trucks were the central theme to GM’s storyline in 2018. It sold 1 million CUVs, 974,000 pickups and 280,000 large SUVs.

“We have built the most successful pickup, SUV and crossover business in the industry and we gained considerable momentum in the fourth quarter of 2018 as dealers began delivering the all-new Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Cadillac XT4,” U.S. sales chief Kurt McNeil says in a statement.

“We feel confident heading into 2019 because we have more major truck and crossover launches coming during the year and the U.S. economy is strong,” he says.

GM continues to ramp up production of its redesigned 2019 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra big pickups, while still selling down previous-generation models. The automaker’s second light-duty pickup assembly plant in Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico, will join its Fort Wayne, IN, facility to make the new Silverado and Sierra this month.

Silverado sales slipped 3.6% to 161,178 in the fourth quarter compared with 167,274 in the same period last year, while Sierra deliveries improved 6.1% to 67,312 from 63,467. The Silverado closed the year on sales of 585,581 units, which closely matched last year’s total, and Sierra sales gained 0.7% to 219,554. Both trucks saw blowout year-end demand last year.

“The new truck is doing great,” GM spokesman Jim Cain says, noting Silverado and Sierra year-end inventories were fewer than 70 days’ and 60 days’ supply, respectively, when 90-100 days’ is seen as optimal to meet demand.

GM has additional trucks coming, too. Heavy-duty versions of the Silverado and Sierra come later this year, along with large SUVs such as the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon off the light-duty truck platform. Additional CUVs also launch this year with the Chevy Blazer, while rollout of the Cadillac XT4 continues and GM’s luxury brand looks forward to the launch of the all-new XT6 and redesigned Escalade large SUV.

“We are very bullish on pickups heading into 2019,” says McNeil, vice president-U.S. sales Operations. “The light-duty launch has been one of the best in our history, with a very smooth production ramp-up of the new models and a faster than expected sell-down of the old models.

“We are following that up with all-new HD trucks, and the first-ever Chevrolet Silverado medium-duty chassis cab trucks for commercial customers,” he adds.

Each of GM’s four brands saw sales decline last year. Chevy deliveries were off 1.4% to 2.04 million units; Buick sales tumbled 5.6% to 206,863; GMC demand slipped 0.8% to 556,449; and Cadillac fell 1.1% to 154,702. Fourth-quarter Chevy sales were down 3.2% to 531,985 units, Buick declined 13.7% to 51,257, GMC gained 3.5% to 160,525 and Cadillac slid 2.7% to 41,462.

Cadillac’s performance over the past 12 months hints the struggling brand may have stopped, or at least stemmed, its bleeding. Cadillac’s latest reboot has been hindered by a car-centric lineup in a market calling for trucks. GM plans to consolidate Cadillac’s car lineup to one vehicle, the CT5, and focus on the crossovers its competitors seemingly continue to roll out one after another.

Five CUV nameplates recorded record calendar-year sales, GM says, including the GMC Terrain, Chevy Traverse, Chevy Equinox, Chevy Trax and Buick Encore.

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