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PUTC: The Ford Super Chief concept is a very nice exercise in super-premium trim levels. Ford is selling every King Ranch and Harley-Davidson it makes. Given this premium market, how do you see Sierra Denali stacking up, considering Ford appears to emphasize unique interiors and Denali’s strong point is the powertrain?
Babiar: Yes and no. Sierra Denali sales are up about 140 percent. We’re seeing that people want a more luxurious version, and we have more things in store to grow our Sierra Denali lineup.
PUTC: Does that include a more distinct interior package, more distinct than an SLT package?
Babiar: Well, it is today. We have a tone-on-tone leather, different instrument panel and different console. Along with the powertrain you also have exterior amenities such as tonneau and body-colored moldings that give you a more European look. So I think it’s on target with the competition.
PUTC: One of the selling points for the Denali was the LQ9 engine. Now that it’s available as the VortecMax option in other parts of the Sierra line, will that diminish the Denali appeal?
Babiar: No, because it’s the cache of the brand itself. The brand equity in Denali, people are still very drawn to it. But it makes good business sense to spread the 6.0-liter out. I’ll give you a little hint. You’re going to see a little more exclusivity to Sierra Denali in next generation, and I’ll leave it at that.
PUTC: On the other side of the market, talking about the working man. What happened to the Pro Plus concept?
Babiar: We took elements of the Pro Plus like the underseat storage that’s now a very successful accessory from SPO. I don’t think the market was willing to pay for the functionality of the vehicle, and you have to weigh that.
PUTC: Can you give some examples of what you’re doing for the working man?
Babiar: For 2007, we’re going to allow—and this is a GMC exclusive—the customer to order power door locks and power windows retail (on SL and Work Truck trim levels). Chevy won’t do it, and that’s another cue for Professional Grade. So for a less expensive price, we’re going to get you in the vehicle but still give you amenities. Also, GMC has the fold-down armrest, Chevy doesn’t.
PUTC: Will Quadrasteer make a comeback?
Babiar: (long pause) We had a highly maneuverable truck to begin with. We added on even greater maneuverability with Quadrasteer. The customers just felt what they had was sufficient and didn’t want to pay the first price point ($7,500 total package) or reduced price points ($4,495 then $1,995). So maybe we’re a victim of our own ability to provide a maneuverable pickup, even without Quadrasteer. It’s great technology, no one denies that. But maybe one of our competitors that’s not as maneuverable than us will have better luck.
PUTC: It appears neither Chevy or GMC will make a big show announcement this year with the GMT 900 pickup. It seems like it will roll out organically. I’m wondering, are you nervous about introducing a completely new pickup when the current one is doing so well?
Babiar: What we have in store is fabulous and wonderful. There’s nothing to be threatened by, only awed by. Being quiet doesn’t mean you lack confidence. Sometimes subtle can be away of boasting. Sometimes you don’t have to boast about what you got coming. Sometimes simplicity is elegance.
PUTC: We’ve the seen the Yukon 900. Given that the differences and similarities between the pickups and SUVs in the past have been fairly predictable. I guess it’s possible to determine what powertrains and features the pickups are going to have based on what’s been shown. Or do you have some major surprises in line for the pickup? Are you going to break away from those traditional differences and similarities between the SUVs and pickups in the GMT 400, 800 and now 900 platforms?
Babiar: You are going to see a higher level of differentiation between the ute and pickup than you’ve ever seen. And higher levels of differentiation between Chevy and GMC. And I got to leave it at that.
PUTC: From a critical standpoint all pickups have shortcomings, and when the next generation comes out the manufacturers makes a concerted effort to correct those shortcomings. So what priorities did you have for the 900 Sierra?
Babiar: I can’t really go there because that’ll give a couple of my cards away. But when you talk about focus for improvement, you don’t have to look much past the SUVs to understand that safety was important, fuel efficiency was important, looking bigger and riding smaller was important. A lot of this is going to transfer over to the pickup but in its own unique way. They won’t be the same features.
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