Chevrolet dealers will continue to face a steady flow of older vehicles coming in for recall repairs, but Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award for the new Colorado midsize truck and solid sales of the fullsize Silverado pickup deliver a shot of momentum heading into 2015, Brian Sweeney, Vice President of General Motors’ largest brand, said Wednesday.
“When they write the 2014 story of Chevrolet, the job our dealers have done is extraordinary and they’ll have to continue into next year,” said Sweeney, who took Chevy’s top U.S. job in February after leading Buick-GMC since 2010.
Sweeney and his dealers want to focus on the launch of five new models in 2015, but GM has recalled more than 30 million cars this year, about 26.8 million of which are in the U.S. Chevy’s 3,100 dealers and their service departments, in particular, have been put to a test that Sweeney says they have passed with honors.
About a third of Chevrolet stores have established what the company calls “Business Development Centers.” These are designed to notify recall customers when the necessary repair parts are in, provide them with a courtesy vehicle if the repair takes more than a few hours and, in some cases, encourage them to test drive a new vehicle.
“We call it equity mining,” said Sweeney. “If you come in with a Cobalt or a Malibu, we’ve been able to say, ‘We want your car.’ ” Then they show the customer what the car is worth, and what the financing options are for a new car or a certified pre-owned model.
Through the first 11 months of 2014, Chevrolet’s sales are up 3.1 percent, less than the industry’s 5.4 percent increase. But the strength of such high-profit vehicles as Silverado (up 8 percent year-to-date) and Tahoe (up 15.5 percent) and a more than doubling of Corvette sales (to 31,287 through November) compensate for weakness in certain car models.
“Has it been a great year? No. But I’d say it’s been consistent,” Sweeney said.
Early reaction to the Colorado has been Sweeney’s most pleasant surprise. During next month’s North American International Auto Show, Chevrolet will drape a multi-story banner across the west-facing side of the Renaissance Center celebrating its selection as Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year.
The Colorado and its sister truck the GMC Canyon are part of GM’s “three truck” strategy, meaning they are the only major automaker offering heavy-duty, fullsize and midsize pickups.
What really brings a smile to Sweeney’s face is Colorado’s $33,000 average selling price.
Falling gas prices should ensure that 2015 is another strong year for truck and SUV sales, and not just for Chevy. Ford is beginning to deliver its first aluminum 2015 F-150 trucks.
But Colorado and Canyon give GM a dominating position in a segment where the only significant competitors are the Toyota Tacoma (141,000 sold this year through November) and the Nissan Frontier (68,300 sold year-to-date).
If there is a downside for Chevy from falling gas prices, it will be the challenge they present for the second generation of the Volt, which will be its primary unveiling at NAIAS.
Volt sales have dropped 16.4 percent this year, but the new one will store more energy with fewer cells that will go further between charges. Chevrolet won’t disclose the price of the 2016 Volt until sometime next year. The current Volt starts at $34,170.
“We’re extremely committed to the Volt,” Sweeney said. “It’s the pillar of our technology. Close to half our Volt sales are in California,” where strong tax incentives and access to express lanes support electric vehicles and hybrids even as gas prices drop.