GMC Breaks Out of the Mold

FORT WORTH – Not too long ago, making the standard pickup commercial called for mixing outdoor shots with a few rugged-looking men doing construction work.

The spots were intended to appeal to a market made up of blue-collar tradesmen who wanted trucks that were big, powerful and tough.

Roy Roberts’ job isn’t nearly so easy and he couldn’t be happier.

GMC sales jumped 18 percent in 1992, with sales of its Jimmy sport utility vehicle improving 60 percent and sales of its flagship Suburban improving 180 percent. Full-size truck sales were up 21 percent for the year at GMC.

GMC sales jumped 18 percent in 1992, with sales of its Jimmy sport utility vehicle improving 60 percent and sales of its flagship Suburban improving 180 percent. Full-size truck sales were up 21 percent for the year at GMC.

Roberts, general manager of General Motors’ GMC Truck division, says one of the reasons that Detroit’s truck business is booming is because buyers no longer are cut from one simple mold.

Young, old, affluent and middle-class customers have all begun looking at trucks as vehicles with the utility to fit into nearly any lifestyle.

“There are no neat demographics on people that are buying trucks now,” Roberts said.

“Some people will buy a truck for a second vehicle, but others are buying a truck for their primary vehicle. Those people do want their truck to be more car-like, with the appointments and driving characteristics they have found in their cars.

“We’re playing to every group we can.”

One example is GMC’s coming sponsorship of World Cup soccer in 1994 – a sport with its highest popularity among affluent baby boomers.

The quadrennial soccer tournament will be held in the United States for the first time in 1994. Matches will be played in nine cities, including Dallas.

GMC will promote its products at every site and on TV broadcasts of World Cup games.

GMC will reach for the same upscale buyers in its print ad campaign.

An ad for its Safari midsize van states: “Good! Now I can buy a bigger boat.” And an ad for its Jimmy sport utility vehicle reads: “I have nothing against station wagons. My mom used to drive one.”

Said Roberts, “As we continue to look at our demographics and our customers, we’ll continue to zero in on how we might best use our advertising dollars.

“I can tell you that the demographics for World Cup soccer is right on the mark for us. We see soccer as a growth sport and want to be associated with it.”

The surge in the truck market hasn’t passed GMC by. Last year the division’s market share moved from 6.9 percent to 7.4 percent as the division posted its third best sales year ever.

GMC sales jumped 18 percent in 1992, with sales of its Jimmy sport utility vehicle improving 60 percent and sales of its flagship Suburban improving 180 percent. Full-size truck sales were up 21 percent for the year at GMC.

While Ford and Chevrolet own the lion’s share of the market, GM needs GMC to cater to the customers of its other divisions.

And since the demographics are shifting, that means a GMC truck is as likely to be parked next to a Cadillac as an Oldsmobile in its customers’ garages.

“Our charter is to be truck suppliers to Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Pontiac as an independent distribution network,” Roberts said. “Chevrolet develops and markets trucks for itself.

“They have identified their market as the traditional market. Our strategy is to move toward the more affluent buyers.

“That’s important to Chevrolet and it’s important to us. We want to get out of Chevrolet’s way so they can really attack that marketplace.

“At General Motors all of us really know today that we don’t dare cannibalize our offerings. That’s a waste of money. There is no room to make those kinds of mistakes.”

Analysts say that GMC could be a big winner as more buyers are drawn toward trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Alan Young, a GMC dealer in North Richland Hills, says he hopes they are right.

“I think the truck market will be the market to save a lot of car dealerships in the 1990s,” Young said.

“People seemed to have developed a certain bias toward trucks. The minivan and sport utilities all drive more like cars than trucks, and pickups now seat more people and have more of the features found on cars.

“All those things have made the truck more desirable than it was five or six years ago.”

After redesigning its popular Suburban last year, the division plans to release new products about every six months to 12 months, said Roberts, who met last week with GMC dealers in the Metroplex.

First up will be its 1994 Sonoma. It blends aerodynamic styling into a full family of pickups with multiple powertrain and drivetrain configurations and a variety of cab and box styles aimed at appealing to a broad customer base.

The compact truck contains several exterior and interior design changes that will make its stand apart from Chevrolet’s compact S-10 pickup.

The all-new Sonoma will enter dealer showrooms this fall as a 1994 model.

The Sonoma will be followed by an all-new sport utility vehicle to replace the GMC Jimmy.

Few details are known about the new Jimmy, but dealers expect it to be competitive with Jeep’s prized Grand Cherokee.

It will have, analysts say, all-time four-wheel-drive capability, four-wheel anti-lock brakes and a driver-side air bag.

As with the Sonoma, Roberts promises that the Jimmy will be distinctly different from the new Blazer sport utility vehicle that Chevrolet will soon market.

“We think there can be a volume product for that market and a niche product for that market,” Roberts said.

“The sport utility really fits our profile. Quite honestly, those people that are demanding those types of appointments are willing to pay more for them.”

After the new Jimmy, dealers say they expect a new Sierra pickup and are hoping for another niche vehicle similar to the GMC Typhoon and Yukon.

The Typhoon, priced at $29,795, is a compact two-door sport utility vehicle offered with a 4.3-liter, turbocharged V-6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive.

The Yukon, sold at $20,838, is a full-size sport utility vehicle with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine, electronic four-speed transmission. It offers four-wheel drive as standard equipment.

The two sport utility vehicles are not high-volume sellers, but their technological base helps GMC’s image among buyers, dealers say.

“We’re really excited about the future,” Roberts said.

“The corporation and management team today really understand the importance of trucks.

“But we don’t think anybody in the marketplace will lay down and play dead for us. We’re going to go out and work for it.”

March 10, 1993

Author: Michael D. Towle; Star-Telegram Writer

Copyright 1993, 1994 STAR-TELEGRAM INC.