Chevrolet S-10: Killing Rumors and Beefing Up the Buyer Base

Copyright July 2000,
By BJ Killeen

Related Articles:
First Drive: 2001 Chevrolet S-10 Crew Cab

Trying to compete with the best-selling Ford Ranger has been the eternal struggle for the Chevrolet S-10 pickup. Determining buyer demographics, powerplant choices, model lineup, regional sales distribution, and all the other nuances of marketing a successful product are the responsibilities of not only the brand team, but other GM managers as well. We had a chance recently to quiz some of the GM internals about the S-10, including Dora Nowicki, S-10 Brand Manager, about the company's plans for the compact pickup.

The target audience for the S-10 remains largely unchanged: young, single males looking for a vehicle with some utility. According to Nowicki, the majority of purchasers use their compact trucks mostly for commuting, with a need for occasional utility and recreational purposes. Chevrolet admits that the S-10 is a life-stage vehicle, meaning those who purchase it usually buy something more in line with later needs, such as getting married and starting a family. The

good news for General Motors is that approximately 70 percent of S-10 owners move into another GM product. When asked how the four-door model will affect these demographics, Nowicki noted that the new vehicle will bring
in owners with higher incomes, more college education, and a 20 to 25 percent increase in female purchasers. According to Nowicki, the S-10 appeals to females more than any other truck in its segment due to a lower step-in height, outstanding safety record, a tight turning radius, car-like ride, and the fact that the package comes fairly complete with few options. In addition, the added benefit of putting kids and car seats in the back also will help increase sales numbers in this ever-growing segment.

Although second to the Ranger, the S-10 has sold well, with 240,000 units in 1999 and over 200,000 unit sales or better since1996. The Crew Cab is expected to sell between 20,000 and 30,000 units during its first model year; optimistic, but with the projected increase in female buyers, Chevy should easily reach this target.

But who gets what and when largely is determined by two things: geographic areas where the respective brands are targeted, and dealerships that have sold a high number of related brand products. To a lesser extent, but important nonetheless, is that the customer satisfaction index is tied into vehicle distribution. According to General Motors, the general philosophy is to target fertile markets and distribute in large numbers to dealers who have the largest customer base; this gets the most product to the most potential customers fastest. But at some point shortly after the launch, the distribution becomes national and every single dealer is included. Those dealers in areas that cater to a youth-oriented target audience will be among the first to receive the new Crew Cabs, as well as the next-generation S-10 set for launch in early 2003.

Speaking of the next-gen trucks, the official words is there has been no confirmation that the new inline engines will be powering future S-10s, but everything is under consideration.
If the engines do get the go ahead, we will see either four- or five-cylinder versions that now are being used in the 2002 GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada SUVs. But what about rumors of a V-8 in the S-10? According to Nowicki, you probably will never see one. "It's not that we can't or don't want to, but there are reasons we choose not to. She continues, "From an affordability perspective, compact pickups are the entry into the truck world, and customer resistance and the payment points are just a few of the reasons it couldn't support a larger engine." Nowicki also understands that the S-10 plays an important role in GM's Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements. "If you look at a balancing act for CAFE, there has to be a continuum of negative to positive, a means of balancing those vehicles that have to have a V-8 in order to do the work they were designed to do. We [manufacturers] all meet out CAFE requirements in similar ways, and most of us, the majors, depend on the fuel economy of compact pickups to offset the huge volume and fuel economy of larger pickups. When it comes to fuel efficiency, according to GM, its truck lineup beats both Ford and Chrysler when it comes to fuel economy leadership. And this is expected to remain the same even with the alliance with other manufacturers.

Also in keeping with fuel economy, when we asked about using composite boxes on the S-10, we were informed that the steel frame box on the compact pickup still performs a key role in ensuring strength and toughness that pickup customers demand. Engineers and designers are looking into more usage of aluminum components to lighten the vehicle.

Rumors have circulated that the next-generation pickups that will be engineered by GM partner Isuzu have been subjected to delays, but these delays, according to GM truck operations, are false, and the S-10 replacement is on schedule. This partnership with Isuzu is greatly anticipated, and will help provide a global partnership that will bring engineering as well as assembly expertise to the fold, according to Nowicki.

With the new S-10 Crew Cab coming up and the redesign not far behind, Chevy's compact pickup has a good chance of catching up, and possibly even passing the Ford Ranger for best-selling compact truck. GM has set many targets for its divisions, and expects them all to be successful. The S-10 should be one of the shining points of light for GM's future.