A couple of weeks ago, Chevy’s truck team set sail for the Houston Boat Show, eager to tout the new Silverado to people who tow.
They couldn’t linger, though.
Two Chevrolet teams will spend the next five months crisscrossing the state, talking torque and cargo capacity to “truck people” at everything from West Texas rodeos to mud races.
Truck specs will be their mantra.
No state is more critical to the success of the Silverado, and no vehicle is more important to General Motors’ rejuvenation.
With 418,312 sales in the U.S. last year, the big, raw-boned Silverado has long been GM’s top seller and its most profitable vehicle of any kind.
“This is the most important launch in our company’s history,” said Dave Nottoli, regional manager of Chevrolet for the South Central division, which includes Texas. “We’ve got all hands on deck.”
Texas accounts for 16 percent of pickup sales nationally — 260,000 trucks last year. That’s about three times what No. 2 California can claim.
In fact, if the Houston metro area were a separate state, it would be the No. 5 pickup market in the nation, and Dallas would be No. 7, according to Automotive News.
“This is the key launch for GM since its bankruptcy,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive in Troy, Mich.
The truck teams — each towing displays about the Silverado’s new engine, interior and suspension — will stop at gun shows in Central Texas and garden shows in Corpus Christi.
Between now and November, they will visit at least 60 events — tailgating at University of Texas home games, setting up displays at Cabela’s hunting and fishing outfitters in Waco and talking Silverado at the Great Texas Mud Race in Nacogdoches.
“Many of these shows are small in attendance, but they are the right kind of people, the people we need to reach,” Nottoli said.
Some industry observers contend that the 2014 Silverado and GMC Sierra, which were unveiled in December, haven’t really generated much buzz.
Although the trucks are the first new full-size pickups from GM since 2007, they look similar to current models, sporting conservative “evolutionary” styling.
A national ad campaign begins this month. Many consumers, and even a few truck people, might not even be aware of the pickups.
In addition, Chevrolet is storming into the state on a mission.
Though the Ford F-series has been the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. for decades, with the Silverado second, Chevy long prevailed in Texas.
As recently as 2008, the Silverado, Avalanche and Sierra pickups claimed a commanding 38.5 percent market share in the state, compared with Ford’s 31.6 percent share, according to Automotive News.
After GM’s bankruptcy in 2009, Ford took off in Texas, rolling to a 39.4 percent share through April. GM clung to a 34.2 percent share and the rising Ram had 18.4 percent, Automotive News said.
GM wants its truck share back.
“With trucks and [sport] utilities, we in Texas are always expected to carry the ball,” said GM’s Nottoli.
Planning for the Texas tour began months ago, he said. As part of the initiative, Texas dealers are getting a larger supply of new Silverados than their fellow dealers in other states.
Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, the top-selling Chevy dealer in the U.S., and a Car Pro dealer affiliate, has about 200 of them on its lot. Owner Tom Durant agrees that Chevrolet took a conservative approach in restyling the new truck.
“You just have to drive it,” said Durant, who plans to take every new Silverado he can get from the factory. “What they did is just amazing — extra power, better fuel economy, a nicer interior, quieter, better handling, more refined.”
He says the 200 pickups on his lot are probably more “than you could find at all the other dealers in the U.S. combined.”
Analysts say Chevy’s timing for the tour couldn’t be better. The economy is awakening, houses are selling again and full-size pickup sales were up 21 percent through May.
“Many of the changes to the truck are not that apparent,” Schuster said. “I think GM is looking at this and saying the market is recovering and we can’t afford to risk people not knowing about our new truck.”
Although some observers question whether the new Silverado and Sierra are innovative enough to give GM much of a truck advantage, Nottoli sees this as a great opportunity for the automaker.
“We’re back to win,” he said. “The truck market is just exploding, and we want to regain our lost market share.”
Schuster expects the new Silverado to be highly competitive, but he says the battle for market share will be brutal.
“The new trucks raise the bar some,” he said. “What we don’t know is will they be enough? This is going to be all-out war.”