Medium-duty moves: GM, Chevy reenter the truck market with strategic partnerships

Updated Oct 14, 2015
The International WorkStarThe International WorkStar

My Dad was always a GM guy.

He drives a Hyundai now, and he loves it. But back in the day, the bigger, heavier and more powerful the General Motors car, the more he loved it. Our family entered the OPEC oil embargo in the mid ‘70s with an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and a Pontiac Bonneville parked in the garage. There are Russian tanks that get better fuel efficiency than those cars.

A bloated business structure and incredible inefficiencies nearly killed GM back around 2008, when our entire economy was teetering on the edge of disaster. Drastic measures were needed to survive.

So, goodbye, my beloved Pontiac.

Farewell, Oldsmobile.

Hasta la vista, Hummer.

Saturn – we barely knew ya! Don’t forget to write!

Things were equally grim on the truck side of the equation. Chevy and GM wound down its long and profitable partnership with Isuzu. And in a move that showed just how serious things really were, it slit the throat of its entire medium-duty, vocational truck business, essentially surrendering the field to Ford and Dodge.

Trucks are big business today. And not having a robust vocational product in the market is a handicap no car dealer likes to take the field with.

For one thing, vocational trucks are very good for marketshare numbers. For another, if you’ve got a customer who loves Silverados and his wife loves Tahoes, you really don’t want that guy poking around on the Ford lot when he needs new service trucks for his business. Finally, if you’re running ads on TV talking about how tough your trucks are, it’s really a good idea to have some out there working hard in the real world to back that claim up.

So I’m happy to report that GM and, most notably, Chevrolet, are getting back into the vocational truck market here in North America.

Things have turned around to such an extent that General Motors once again has the cash to invest in vocational trucks – although the company is going to go about things a little differently this time.

Today, the development costs associated with new vehicles are so staggeringly high, that bringing everything in-house is simply not an option for many auto manufacturers today. Volkswagen, for example, markets its Transporter vocational van in Europe. The van is a Mercedes Sprinter, built on the line in Stuttgart, with the only difference being the badging and grillwork on the vehicle.

Chevy is already offering the Nissan-built City Express compact van. And in June, it announced that it would renew its long-time relationship with Isuzu, in a deal that would revive joint engine development projects between the two companies and return GMC- and Chevy-badged cabover work trucks to dealer lots around the country in the near future.

On the heels of these efforts we got word last week that General Motors has inked a new deal with Navistar to develop and market a new series of conventional, Class 5 and 6 vocational trucks. The new trucks will feature a Navistar-designed and built body, with GM-designed powertrains and should be a welcome shot in the arm for both Chevrolet and Navistar, which will both sell differently badged versions of the new truck.

Between its popular PowerStroke diesel engine, which was the heart of Ford’s SuperDuty line for many years, and its own successful line of medium-duty trucks, Navistar held a virtual chokehold on the North American medium-duty market in the same way that Mack is basically the Alabama Crimson Tide of the dump truck world today.

Ford eventually decided to bring its diesel engine design and production in-house. And fallout from the Navistar’s emissions technology battles with the EPA has emboldened competitors, who would love to take medium-duty marketshare away from Navistar. So a fresh lineup of conventional trucks would be a definite positive step forward for Navistar. And the underlying message – that General Motors trusts Navistar design, engineering and quality – isn’t a bad one to have out in the marketplace, either.

It’s always fun to see new truck models hit the market. And given the current state of technology today, we could see some very interesting features and systems appear as well. So anyway you look at it, this should prove to be a very positive move for both Navistar and General Motors.