PickupTruck.com Interview with GMC Sierra Brand Manager Lorraine Babiar
By: Mike Magda Posted: 02-05-06 08:56 ET
© 2006 PickupTruck.com

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In some ways, the fullsize pickup market was quite chaotic in 2005 with volatile fuel prices and wild summer incentives. In other ways, it was quite stable. Sales for the year between the five manufacturers totaled 2,450,948 units, according to figures from Automotive News. In 2004, total fullsize pickup sales were 2,456,656 for a meager difference of just two-tenths of a percent.

Ford F-Series remained the sales leader with 901,463 units but sales were off 4 percent from 2004. Dodge Ram was also down with sales of 400,543 or 6 percent. Chevy was up 1.1 percent with 705,980 units while sister GMC was up 7.4% at 229,488 units. Combined, Chevy/GMC bested Ford by about 34,000 units. Both imports were also up: Nissan 3.7 percent with 86,945 units and Toyota 12.5 percent with 126,529 units.

The domestic Big 3 hold over 90 percent of the market share but Nissan/Toyota picked up nearly a point in 2005. Ford is still the leader with close to 37 percent of the market while Chevy makes up almost 29 percent. Dodge comes in at just over 16 percent followed by GMC at nearly 9.5 percent, Toyota slightly over 5 percent and Nissan at about 3.5 percent.

Considering that the Sierra is based on the GMT 800 platform that came out more than eight years ago, GMC’s “Professional Grade” campaign is working quite well for the pickup. Overall GMC sales were down as there is a definite shift from fullsize SUVs into crossover utility vehicles.
Watching over the Sierra is brand manager Lorraine Babiar. PUTC’s Mike Magda caught up with her at the Detroit Auto Show to discuss GMC’s mission within General Motors and try to pry some details about the next generation GMT 900 Sierra.

PickupTruck.com: Give us the good news about GMC Sierra for 2005

Lorraine Babiar: It was another sales record. Sierra was 7.4 percent, so we’ve grown market share with an aging truck.

PUTC: How were sales before the summer incentives?

Babiar: Sierra sales have been strong all year, even before the employee discounts. (A quick check of sales reports from Automotive News shows GMC Sierra up 7 percent in May, one month before sales exploded by 28% in June when the incentive began.) We’ve increased our market share (in fullsize pickup) by 6/10ths of a percent. That’s really good with an aging truck.

PUTC: How did the NFL promotion help in 2005?

Babiar: I think it went really well. It gave us a different look and feel where people started associating us. NFL is a good combination with Professional Grade.

PUTC: General Motors lost a lot of money in 2005. When analysts and critics look at the business model, some ask, “Why do you need pickup siblings?” So why do (consumers) need a Chevy and GMC pickup?

Babiar: The two markets are different. If you say, “most dependable, longest lasting” usually the person buying the Chevrolet is looking for the price point. It’s a different type of clientele that a person buying a Professional Grade truck. I think the person buying a Sierra would be better educated, a skilled tradesman or a white-collar worker. We have the Sierra Denali that Chevy doesn’t have. The trim levels and how we put our packaging together are different than Chevy. If GM didn’t have Sierra, I think they could end up losing sales to Dodge or any of the imports. It’s always Chevy vs. Ford, but in a lot of ways you could say GMC vs. the imports and Dodge.

PUTC: Sierra/Silverado sales last year combined beat F-Series, but it’s very difficult for corporate GM to brag about it because of the split. Can GM come up with a plan to boast that it beat Ford?

Babiar: That is one of our key messages over and above GMC. We tell that story but it never gets published.

PUTC: Hybrids are making a big splash at the show this year. How’s the response been to the Sierra hybrid?

Babiar: I think the response has been very good. We have it fleets and we also have it in dealerships. We have built the volumes we stated and will continue to do so. It is gaining in popularity and will continue to be there with our E85 strategy.

PUTC: Critics of the vehicle, including PUTC, have a couple problems. First, when people think “hybrid,” they think of 40mpg. They’re not going to get that with Sierra hybrid. A practical criticism is the start/stop; it’s not very seamless. Has there any movement to rectify that?

Babiar: When was the last time you drove one?

PUTC: A year ago.

Babiar: There have been a lot of improvements made. There is a different behavior that is unique to the vehicle that takes some time to get used to. And you understand where GM is at with hybrids. It’s much different in terms of strategy than Toyota. The segment in which the Prius plays is already fuel efficient. We’re addressing the highest fuel-consuming vehicles first: busses, pickups. Obviously it’s a mild hybrid; we don’t need to debate that. But there’s nobody else out there with a hybrid pickup, even mild.

PUTC: The most noticeable trend in pickups is the move to crew cabs. How has that impacted Sierra?

Babiar: The crew cab market has increased. As the analysts have said, people will start moving away from extended cabs. So much so that we’ve added a base level to our crew cab as a price leader to influence the market and give customers more of what they’re looking for.

PUTC: Even with extended cab sales diminishing, in 2006 you’re coming out with a third wheelbase (119-inch with 69-inch bed) for the Sierra extended cab. Isn’t that a lot of investment for a declining market?

Babiar: No, because they meet different customers’ needs. We’re very aggressive about our sales and we want to keep our eye on the ball. If that’s what it takes, that’s what we’ll do. The short box extended cab has a more sporty look, and if you drop the LQ9 engine (345-horsepower) in it, it gives you different capabilities for different customers.

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