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Thom Cannell Contributor, GM-Trucks.com January 23rd, 2019 There were good, and less-good things about the 2019 North American International Auto Show. It was smaller than the last few years as, generally, European and premium luxury manufacturers made other marketing decisions. This, of course, left open space which Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC, as well as Ford and FCA used to their advantage. Chevrolet, in particular, had an enormous family-friendly display of trucks. Oh, and some cars. Cadillac had its first bi-level display, with the upstairs reserved for dealer meetings and journalist interviews. GMC’s floor space swept from one aisle to the next, a linear flow of trucks and SUV/CUVS. We had an opportunity to talk with representatives of each brand about plans for 2019, starting with Silverado’s chief engineer. Tim Herrick, executive chief engineer for full-size trucks at GM As background, GM and Chevrolet have recently introduced the 2.7-liter turbocharged I-4 for trucks, the 2.8-liter diesel in Colorado, a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, and a no-details gas engine for the Heavy Duty trucks we’ll tell you about early in February. Our first question to Tim was about the 3.0L diesel, which appears late in the spring. “It’s aimed at both fuel economy and great towing capability. The diesel will be heavier than the 2.7L; it has the whole chemical factory added on and, as I’m driving it now, overall your impression will be it’s super responsive. I love it. You will see it soon; let's say second quarter. Get the government open; I can't post my numbers until then, I'm ready to go!” Tim exclaimed. Tim segued to the 2.7L. “Did you drive the new 2.7 gas engine (yes, we did)? I smile every time I drive it; it's lighter than the other engines, the twin-volute turbo is super-responsive, it spools up fast and it’s fun off the line, nimble.” So some of the nimble is the suspension calibration, we asked? “It’s the overall architecture, when you take 450 pounds out, you can put it back into the fun-to-drive. It's the best driving truck we've ever produced.” With RAM posting record sales numbers we asked if the truck aspect of Chevrolet is fully fleshed out, if there was room for a mini-truck or truck/CUV? “It doesn't feel like it. We have a four-truck strategy with Colorado, Silverado, Silverado HD and medium-duty. We're happy, proud of our strategy and we sold over a million last year.” It's interesting that the previous Silverado, now over five years old, was said to be too conservative, and now "they've gone too far", for instance the hot-button over rounded wheel wells versus squared. Truck customers are conservative and don't welcome change, even though they demand it. “When you examine the whole franchise of the company, it's a marathon, not a sprint. Maybe it's an Ironman! You're just seeing the tip of the iceberg, for instance the Heavy Duty program, and more to come.” What you may not know is that Chevrolet just got to a 50/50 production split between the old truck, K2, and the new truck this month, January 2019. Dealers are just reaching their own 50-percent of new trucks delivered. Tim is extremely proud of the truck and its architecture; this is the largest program General Motors has ever done as it underpins Silverado, Sierra, and both large SUVs. “We'll make more news in 2019 than any other truck company,” Tim said. We turned to customer perceptions and needs. For instance, a 2019 Silverado LT 6.2L we had for photography was, on the exterior, exemplary. On the inside it seemed oriented towards hard- core truck buyers with large, and plain buttons; no glitter. It was entirely about "I've got gloves on and my truck and I work for a living." We asked how these interiors would play versus the competition? In answer, Chevrolet says the vast majority of sales are to Chevy truck loyalists, people who have been Chevy truck owners their entire lives, and are incredibly important to reach and satisfy. Much of the growth in the truck segment is from segment-switchers making their first truck purchase. They have similar needs and wants as lifelong truck buyers, according to the exec. “Customers are at the core of everything we do,” Tim informed us. “We had over 7,000 respondents to our new Silverado truck clinics. When the numbers were summed, we delivered on what the numbers said for exterior and interior. Customer feedback was great. When we took the new truck to clinics and talked to our customers, and yeah, they do wear gloves and they do work hard. They do have expectations; the biggest is that the interior holds up for the life of the truck. Whether that's a three-year lease or six-year note, it's got to look as good on the last day as the day they bought it. The quality and durability of our materials—we have real aluminum—a great layout for functionality that is soft where it needs to be soft. We gave a great lineup in our infotainment systems (8" screen in the center) and the largest HUD (Heads Up Display) in the industry—it's three-inches by seven and you can parse your information. You can put your directions up here, your stereo over there and your speed over here. You get the information you want in three spots. We find that's a great solution for us. When we took the materials to the clinic and talked to customers—they're a working bunch that buys things for value—they loved it. We have seen the competition, and some of the luxury they've brought in. We're not sure it will stand the test of time.” We asked if there is a known stake in the ground where massive changes occur? "I don't know,” Tim continued, “I don't see that (elimination of IC engines) happens. A truck has to do everything. It has to be quiet and comfortable, it has to get good fuel economy on the highway at 80 mph, and it has to tow and haul; it’s the broadest use-range of any vehicle, while meeting government standards. The one that wins is the one that best integrates ride-and-handling, quietness, comfort, technology, usefulness, tow and haul and great fuel economy, while looking great. Chevrolet’s display broke into segments related to vehicles and technology, for instance Silverado, Colorado, the SUVs and a virtual-reality race. Each had it’s own display space and theme. What we found amazing, and not in a good way, was the color choice for the trucks on the main Silverado display space. While earth tones are all the rage in urban environments, on the stage, well, look for yourself (we’ve included Silverado exterior color chips for comparison). The Silverado simply disappears despite thousands of Watts of illumination. Contrast that with Colorado’s display. GMC trucks and full-sized SUVs We next spoke to Stewart (Stu) Pierce, senior marketing manager GMC truck and full-sized SUV. Having participated in the AT4 launch prior to the 2018 Auto Show New York, we were somewhat up to speed with GMC’s recent actions. Our question to Stu was obviously about their plans for 2019. “The big thing is the all-new next-generation Sierra,’ Stu said “though it was introduced several months ago. So far the reaction is enthusiastic, particularly for Denali and the new AT4. The AT4 has been the biggest surprise, as we expected it to be 10-percent of total sales. In fact, orders are coming in around 20-30-percent. Our only problem is fulfilling orders, which is a good problem. The cool thing about the AT4, and why I think its taken off so well is, there were no direct competitors. Every brand has off road trucks; a significant portion of truck buyers want off-road capability. Nobody has done a premium off-road truck. (Ford's Raptor and King Ranch, RAMs Laramie Longhorn would seem to fall into similar categories, however. ED) Sort of, if you take a rugged off road truck and blend it with Denali, you get AT4. AT4 has extremely high levels of refinement and technology, and performance from the 6.2L engine. It's got a 2-inch lift, all the off road parts including Rancho shocks, skid plates, recovery tow hooks, Hill Decent control, dual exhaust, LED headlights, locking differential and more. It's been the biggest surprise to us. Beyond that, the technology we have like the rear camera (with 360° and tow-hook views) and HUD, all have been super-well received. As these trucks become stronger appearing with a big, tall hood and big, tall grille and bold truck appearance, at the same time, you've now got the ability to see all around you so you can park where you need to. It looks great, gives you the kind of presence and image you're looking for, and at the same time its easy to use, easy to drive. I think the biggest GMC truck feature is the MultiPro tailgate, a world's first. Nobody has anything like it. I've been at the show for two or three hours and there’s a constant stream of people coming from other brands, and journalists wanting to look at the MultiPro tailgate. It's got six functions (tailgate, load stop, foldable inner gate for access, full-width step, Inner gate second-tier load stop, inner gate work surface, Ed.) and it's the feature that dealers say customers who would never set foot into a GMC store stop in to see. And it's standard on more than 80-percent of 2019 trucks—all Denali, AT4 and SLT levels.” Having covered the Sierra, we wondered what else might be interesting in 2019. “We've released some new packages for Yukon, a new Graphite Edition in two versions, Regular based on SLT with chrome trim removed and a unique grille and wheels, the other version is Graphite Performance. It has the 6.2-liter. So, you can get a blacked-out SLT with great driving and great power. You also pick up things like magnetic ride control, previously unavailable, and a Head Up Display. We've also got the Yukon SLT Standard Edition, sort of value proposition; it enables someone to get a leather interior, not necessarily the other bells and whistles, at a more affordable price. We're running the plant at full overtime. Terrain is doing well, and to go back to Sierra, we have a new Elevation model which started production in October 2018. Dealers started receiving them 30-45 days ago. It's our new double-cab on the next generation truck platform. Like the Crew Cab, it’s larger and roomier than the truck it replaces. There’s greater knee room, a 6.6-inch bed and the 2.7-liter turbocharged engine is standard. It's monochrome, with 20-inch painted wheels. And it's a bit more affordable without stepping up to the fully loaded trucks.” At GMC the "stay tuned" message was about the 3-liter diesel and carbon fiber box, which will arrive soon and debut on Denali and AT4. GMC’s display feature a new Heavy Duty track concept with no production intent. It’s for you to buy, and compared to SNO-CATs, is far less expensive. GMC added it to celebrate their partnership with Vail, Colorado. Overall, the GMC display was bright, cheery, and sophisticated in its simplicity. Yeah, we’d call it Professional Grade. Cadillac's all-new XT6 three-row CUV Cadillac held an offsite introduction for new product the day prior to NAIAS. We were not invited. The biggest news, other than the 2020 XT6, was a visual-only display of Cadillac’s first full-electric vehicle. Cadillac, as GM’s luxury brand, will receive GM’s first future EV platform model. The platform will, as it must, be flexible and configurable (batteries and e-motors) in front-, rear-, or all-wheel drive. Battery systems will be based on “vehicle and customer needs”. “Cadillac’s EV will hit the heart of the crossover market and meet the needs of customers around the world,” said Steve Carlisle, president of Cadillac. “It will represent the height of luxury and innovation while positioning Cadillac as the pinnacle of mobility.” Nothing more was shared, though continuation of Escalade and an upcoming performance sedan were hinted. In a bad pun, we think Cadillac must electrify their game. BMW’s announced i4 and iX3, Mercedes EQ brand and announced EQC, Jaguar’s available-now I-PACE, VOLVO’s 2019 SC40 CUV and other BEVs (battery electric vehicles) make speed-to-market a necessity. After I received the business card from marketing project manager Cadillac XT6, James Hunter, we began our chat about Cadillac's latest SUV, the 2020 XT6. While not mentioned, the XT6 is based on the crossovers built by Lansing, Michigan's Delta Township and Springhill, Tennessee facilities, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and my research says it's closest in size to the GMC Acadia. Springhill also builds the XT5. "XT6 is all-new, and Cadillac's mid-sized luxury crossover," Mr. Hunter said." It fills a void in Cadillac's portfolio, which is flanked on one side by the (two-row, 4-5 passenger, Ed.) XT5 and the other by Escalade. It's for customers who have need for additional cargo/passenger flexibility. You might carry 6-7 passengers, or fold everything flat for 78.7 cubic feet of cargo (43.1 cubes behind the second row, 12.6 if configured for three passenger rows, Ed.) It will tow 4,000 pounds with the tow package that delivers Guide View for the hitch." We asked if this was an alternative to Escalade? "Sliding XT6 between Escalade and XT5 offers passenger capacity, providing an alternative to customers who don't need a body-on-frame truck. It's a more modern-feeling vehicle, with Cadillac's most modern technology. For example, Infotainment-3.5 and its rotary controller with a jog feature to scroll and navigate more easily. We do maintain steering wheel controls, and at the same time hard buttons and touch-screen options to provide choices. Another example is our family of instrument clusters; they are larger, with higher resolution. We offer a Heads Up Display in our Visibility Display Package that comes with a 360° camera, advanced park assist, pedestrian detection; complementary technologies." Packaging features and options for manufacturing simplicity may not offer the best customer-oriented solution. "We spend a lot of time optimizing packages, leveraging our portfolio and all of our brand’s experience and history. I think we hit the bull’s-eye!" Beyond XT6, what does Cadillac have to provide excitement this year, to an increasingly young customer? "There's the Escalade Sport Package for 2019, and some other things I'm not at liberty to discuss. The 2020 XT6 starts production soon, and vehicles will arrive late in 2Q, early 3Q. The 500+ horsepower CT6 V-8 will arrive in a similar time-frame." We asked about the changeover from sedan-heavy to SUV/CUV-rich. "I think we have a very good start with the current lineup and the addition of XT6 and XT4, plus the higher-capacity Escalade ESV provide a broad range of customer appeal as customers move through various life stages. We are, of course, monitoring the competition." We asked about an XT2, even XT1 small crossover, as these are very hot for Buick, BMW and others. "Going forward, we'll be exploring the needs of customers," which was about the answer we expected. "We recognize that we needed to improve our average age in the marketplace. We didn't have a range of products that appealed to a younger, active lifestyle. With the XT4 and XT6, we expect a reduction in average age as we meet the needs of 40-50-year old buyers." That's good for everyone, as the saying goes, "You can sell an old man a young man's car...'" “Not only are we delivering product to appeal to a younger customer,” Hunter continued, “We are providing trim levels for their tastes. An example, the XT6 offers a Premium Luxury model calibrated for more isolation, or Sport models with active suspension and faster steering for a more responsive ride." Cadillac’s display was, as expected, a bit brighter, a bit more upscale with a raised platform for its all-new 2020 Cadillac XT6. That XT6 was colored in what I think General James Mattis might receive as a gold watch substitute. It’s OD Green, rather than a compelling color like copper, or red, or blue, or white, or black or almost any other color. Cadillac, featuring a drab, dingy, lackluster color for your new flagship product in your hometown display? Shame on you!