GM’s Product Boss Talks Trucks, Crossovers and Electric SUVs

January 23, 2018 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

General Motors sold nearly 950,000 pickup trucks last year, more than any other automaker and 37 percent of the company’s market-leading U.S. sales of 2.6 million vehicles. Toss in Tahoe, Suburban and other big SUVs based on a truck platform, and the number grows to almost 1.2 million.

Mark Reuss, GM’s global product development chief, approves the design of every truck model the automaker offers, including the redesigned 2019 Chevrolet Silverado launched at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last week.

Trucks.com caught up with Reuss at the show and talked about trucks, the potential for an electric SUV and where auto sales are headed. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

How important is the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado and trucks to GM?

We have always been a good truck company, having made trucks now for 100 years. But we weren’t always a very good car company for a lot of years. You’ve got to do both, and you also have to be able to invest in the future. We look at the truck piece of this as a big franchise player. There’s lots of assembly plants. There’s lots of suppliers involved. This is a core part of our business, obviously. But the crossover piece of the business that’s grown around it has also become successful.

We’re now the fastest growing crossover company, which is really impressive. The car part of the market, it’s changing for everybody, but we make some great cars today too. We’ve become a company that can do all of that, and have the agility to do a really good autonomous vehicle and electric cars. I’m really proud of our diversity and our product development and our agility to do whatever the market demands, but the truck piece of this, it is core for us.

Do the truck profits pay to develop autonomous vehicles, improve the cars and everything else?

I suppose you could look at it a little bit like that. But I would also say that our crossovers are very successful as well. We’re growing the company around the truck portfolio and crossover portfolio right now. I get pretty excited when we work on our new truck programs. I think everybody does.

What are you looking for when GM gets back into the medium-duty work truck market this year?

There’s an adjacency business. Fleet businesses and buyers of trucks that people use to make a living think it’s very helpful to have the service, parts and brand in common. They like one-stop shopping. We will have a commercial piece of that, an adjacent business to our light-duty trucks. That gives us a light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty truck business that people can rely on.

Where do you see auto sales headed this year, next year?

While growth may be a little more uncertain than it was over the last five years, the stability of a high-volume market is good, based on a very solid economic outlook. The fundamental indicators are all there.

If there was some terrible event, is GM positioned for a significant fallback?

We are. If you look at the way we sold our [initial public stock offering,] we haven’t varied from that. Our company still runs at the 10 ½- to 11-million unit break-even point. That type of severity and that type of crisis, that’s a pretty low market and we’re ready.

Passenger sedans are barely a third of U.S. auto sales now. What’s going to happen to that market?

This is obviously a cyclical market. These are long-term capital investments, so you don’t want to do anything too quick on that, because there can be external events that happen, and if you’re not in those markets then you may miss the growth potential of a market switch because of a severe event. We don’t want to do that.

Pickup trucks accounted for 16.4 percent of U.S. auto sales last year. Is there room for growth?

I know there is. That’s because the fastest growing piece of this market is at the upper luxury end. Anytime you have that type of top-end growth going on, there’s room underneath it to grow it as well.

Are you considering an electric SUV or a crossover? Something bigger than the Volt.

We said we would have 20 electrified vehicles by ’23. You’ll start seeing our new electric architecture and our new electric platforms arriving in the ’22, ’23 timeframe. Certainly, because of the market strength of CUVs and SUVs and crossovers, you’ll see some of those vehicles in those segments.

Are you worried about consumer blowback because of efforts to loosen EPA fuel economy standards?

I don’t know how to answer that because there’s so many different factions. There’s the EPA, there’s California. I don’t have all the clear answers, but we’re watching it. We have to plan with assumptions that we’re going to have to meet all those standards, so that’s what we plan.

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