Car News

General Motors Riding High On Truck Sales

General Motors Canada saw truck sales jump almost 25 percent in 2017 and Steve Carlisle wants to make sure they keep that momentum going in 2018.

Carlisle, president and managing director of General Motors of Canada, said new products such as the Equinox, Terrain and Traverse were a big reason for the sales growth.

“We had good growth across all brands last year, and good growth in trucks and crossovers,” he said, adding that he expects that growth to continue in 2018.

“We are just getting started with the Equinox and Terrain. I think Traverse is a vehicle that we have been very encouraged by the early response,” he said of the first few months of sales.

But some stalwarts also helped propel the brand, notably the Silverado pickup, which was the brand’s major reveal during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week.

Carlisle believes the redesigned truck will help keep the automaker’s truck momentum going, even though it doesn’t go on sale until later this year.

“For us, it’s another significant pivot point with the improvements we are making to the Silverado,” Carlisle said.

The next generation of the Silverado has been reworked from the ground up. Weight has been reduced by 450 pounds through the use of different materials, and it will be offered in eight different trims.

The Silverado will offer six engine and transmission choices, some of which have not been announced yet. What we do know is that the choices will include an all-new Duramax 3.0L inline-six diesel version, as well as 5.3-litre and 6.2-litre V8s.

The big news for the V8s is that they will come with what GM is calling an industry-first, Dynamic Fuel Management.

The technology can shut down between one and seven cylinders, in a multitude of combinations, to maximize fuel efficiency.

The diesel and 6.2-litre V6 will be paired with a new Hydra-Matic 10-speed automatic transmission and start/stop technology, the automaker said.

“There are some very significant improvements to the vehicle,” Carlisle said. “The 450 pounds of mass reduction is significant. Improvements to aerodynamics, so you can read into that (better) fuel economy, while at the same time making the vehicle larger.”

While GM has seen growth in the sale of trucks in Canada, the brand’s Bolt and Volt are also increasingly popular with consumers.

Carlisle said that in 2017, GM sold roughly a combined 6,400 Bolt/Volt models, making the brand tops in Canada for EVs.

“We were No. 1 in sales and share, about 2.1 percent of our mix,” Carlisle said. “The industry in total is doing less than one percent.

“I think what we are demonstrating is that we can grow the popularity of EVs and get them out there.”

However, consumers remain concerned about charging infrastructure, he said. “The extent to which we can continue to accelerate that (charging stations) is going to help the adoption process.”

“We are starting to get into different kinds of consumers from the early adopters and getting more into mainstream,” he said.

That is why Carlisle welcomed last week’s announcement by the federal government to invest $120-million in EV charging and alternative refuelling technology.

General Motors is also on the verge of rolling out autonomous vehicles in some North American cities, but Carlisle was non-committal as to when we might see them in Canada.

“The idea of robo taxi fleets in defined geographical areas that have had good attention to high-def mapping, it’s almost within sight. Just over the horizon in 2019,” Carlisle said.

No Canadian markets for the autonomous robo taxis have been announced, but Carlisle said that would come “soon.”

“The Canadian environment brings into it some other factors, like weather,” Carlisle said, adding however that New York City will be a test market and its weather can be just as problematic.

“When we can do it there, then Toronto is starting to creep into the feasibility window.”

Carlisle said GM is making investments in Canada for autonomous driving, with the opening of a software centre in Markham, Ont., this month. Software engineers and computer scientists there will be working on new infotainment technology, but also on autonomous driving and active controls.

“We are going to go hard at this whole idea of smart mobility in Canada,” he said

GM’s luxury brand is also anticipating autonomous driving, even if Cadillac’s approach may be different, said Hoss Hassani, managing director of Cadillac Canada.

“I am excited about what this means,” Hassani said. “What it’s going to mean in terms of transforming urban streetscapes and landscapes is significant and far reaching.”

“Cadillac’s view may be a bit different,” he said. “Passions really drives Cadillac. For us, we see autonomous as being another way of giving customers a choice of an experience in the vehicle.”

A small step toward autonomous driving in current Cadillac models is the super cruise feature on the CT6.

 “It is the first true hands-free driving system on the road,” Hassani said of the technology, which is considered Level 2 autonomous.

Eventually, Hassani said, when there are autonomous vehicles with no steering wheel or pedals, Cadillac will be innovating “what the experience is for customers inside of self-driving vehicles.”

In the present, however, consumers seem to like the experience of the brand’s SUVs, which propelled Cadillac to its fifth consecutive year of sales growth in Canada.

“By far our biggest success story was the Cadillac XT5, our crossover SUV, that represents about half of our volume right now. So that is a good indication of just how much the market has shifted and continues to shift to crossovers and SUVs in Canada,” Hassani said.

Hassani believes that the XT4, which will be revealed in New York and go on sale later this year, will help Cadillac build on that momentum.

“XT4 is going to usher in a series of product launches every six months for the next several years,” Hassani said.