Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why does GM need GMC and Chevy Trucks?

GMC Yukon
In GM's recent government-forced purge of unnecessary brands (Pontiac, Hummer, Saab, Saturn, not to mention Oldsmobile a few years ago), I am very surprised GMC survived. For as long as I can remember, GMC has been an unimaginative rebadging of Chevy trucks. GM's rationale has always been that it makes sense for volume and distribution: there are Chevy / Cadillac dealers and Buick / GMC dealers. Why not turn Buick / GMC dealers into Chevy / Cadillac dealers? As an aside, I love Buick's new designs, but I still don't see where they fit in the GM product strategy, as they overlap with Chevy's top-of-the-line cars and Cadillac's low-end cars. And GMC trucks barely have any differentiating factors from their Chevy counterparts, yet GM has 2 separate ad campaigns that could easily be consolidated. Recent efforts to retool shared platforms to give GMC an identity have been lukewarm at best (e.g., Terrain). Click through for the rest of the discussion:

GMC Suburban

Chevy Suburban
Since practically the beginning of time (!) GM offered the Suburban under the Chevy and GMC brand. They didn't even bother to change the name! That's how lazy their rebranding efforts were. In 2000, they switched GMC's name to Yukon, but otherwise the SUVs are still nearly identical. Besides dealership location convenience (e.g., the GMC dealer is closer to a customer's house than the Chevy dealer), I can't understand why someone would be attracted to one brand over the other.

GMC Typhoon
GMC Syclone
In the early '90s, GMC came out with high-performance turbocharged versions of the Chevy Blazer / GMC Jimmy and Chevy S-10 / GMC Sonoma called the GMC Typhoon and Syclone, respectively. Back in the day, both cars' acceleration stats were compared to Porsches and Ferraris - now that's a cool value proposition. Both models were very limited in production, and GM should consider doing something like this today...a high performance tricked out version of the GMC Canyon or Acadia to compete with the likes of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 or now dead Chevy Trailblazer SS.

GMC Terrain
Chevy Equinox
I really have to applaud GM for trying to differentiate their latest rebranding efforts for the Equinox. The Terrain (as well as the Cadillac SRX) look nothing like the Equinox. When GM tried to directly port over the last-gen Equinox to the Pontiac Torrent, things didn't work out so well...and I'm sure did not help the brand's viability in its final days. But I digress. The Terrain, while a noble attempt to differentiate GMC's otherwise clone-like brand, is quite ugly (matter of opinion) compared to relatively attractive Equinox. The Cadillac SRX beats both of them. It looks like GMC tried to go after the Jeep / Hummer demographic looking for a boxy, rugged design. However, you can tell that the designers were bound by certain rigid parameters set by the Equinox platform, and certain angles of the Terrain look odd, such as the flared wheel arches, which I feel should flare out more; the grille, which is too toothy (reminds me of the ugly Pontiac G6 GXP schnozz). While I really like the back end, it looks like they copied the Jeep Grand Cherokee / Dodge Durango. And the interior - while very attractive - is identical to the GMC and Cadillac (extra shame on you Cadillac...NO excuse).

GMC Yukon Hybrid
The fact that GMC offers the Yukon Hybrid is irrelevant for a couple of reasons - 1) Chevy and Cadillac also offer it through the Tahoe/Suburban and Escalade and 2) the bump in fuel efficiency is insignificant compared to the higher price.

GMC Granite Concept
What is my recommendation? I believe GM has a number of options, some more compelling than others. The first one is the most likely outcome, and that is to change nothing - the brand is relatively easy to market, development is likely part of the Chevy cost center, and it is probably a steady cash cow for GM. If GM wanted to get more creative, here are a couple other strategies: 1) turn GMC into a light truck company. I'm usually unimpressed by concept cars, but this Granite Concept from last year is pretty intriguing - why not create a series of ultra-fuel efficient small SUVs that are nimble in the city and rugged off road. 2) go the complete opposite direction and pump up the ruggedness of the brand, positioning GMC as a premium off-road SUV to compete head on with Land Rover, Ford Raptor, and fill the spot now left by Hummer. The Hummer brand was synonymous with anti-environmentalism, but the demand was fairly high pre-recession. I bet a reincarnated Hummer-like GMC brand would fare well in today's market. If either of these strategies fail, they could always go back to cloning Chevys...


  1. I always thought GMC sales were all fleet related. It seems like brand loyalty comes from hotels, airports and the government. Doesn't the secret service move the president around in a GMC? Because it looks like something institutions buy in numbers I have always discounted it the same way I do not pay much attention to uses for Crown Victorias other than as police cars or taxis.

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