It's no secret that General Motors' (NYSE:GM) all-new full-sized pickups are a big deal for the company.
The Chevy Silverado and its upscale GMC Sierra cousin are not just high-profile products, they're huge contributors to GM's bottom line in North America. And despite GM's massive presence abroad, North America is still the General's most important region in terms of profits.
That means the launch of these new pickups, which are due to arrive at dealers later this year, is super-important. And GM is pulling out all the stops to get it right.
GM learned from its own experience – and Ford's, too
Last week, I looked at one of the more surprising things that GM is doing to ensure that the launch of its new pickups goes smoothly. GM has brought back 100 of its retired engineers on a temporary contract basis, sending them to work with key suppliers to make sure that the new pickups' critical parts are perfect from the start.
Launches of all-new vehicles are tricky operations involving a lot of moving parts. From expensive new tooling in the factory to major TV ad campaigns, there's a lot of money on the line – and a lot of careful planning and precise timing involved.
Just ask Ford (NYSE:F), which has had trouble with its new-vehicle launches recently. Last year's launch of the Escape SUV was marred by problems with one of the Escape's available engines – problems that led to several separate recalls in quick succession.
Ford also had trouble with the launch of its Focus in 2011, and the launch of the Lincoln MKZ sedan last winter was an expensive and embarrassing mess for the Blue Oval. Ford has learned its lesson, though: After careful study of what had gone wrong, it overhauled a bunch of its internal processes to help ensure that future launches go more smoothly.
Clearly, Ford has learned from its experience. Just as clearly, so has GM.
GM delayed its SUVs to ensure that the pickups are done right
Earlier this month, GM North America chief Mark Reuss told Automotive News that GM had actually pushed back the launch of its upcoming new full-sized SUVs to ensure a "flawless" launch of the new pickups.
GM's big SUVs, the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban and their upmarket GMC and Cadillac siblings, are built on the same platforms used for the company's full-sized pickups. With the advent of all-new pickups, the SUVs will be completely redesigned as well.
The big SUVs don't sell in the same kinds of volumes as the pickups nowadays, but even in an era where gas is over $3, they're important products for the company. Still, GM is more than willing to hold them up to get the pickups' launch right. Originally set to launch in October, the SUVs are now expected in January of next year.
Careful management of a hectic launch schedule
Reuss said that GM did a deep and careful study that led to a "re-cadenced" launch schedule for its new products. Even aside from the pickups, this is a very busy time for GM in terms of launches: The Chevy Impala was just rolled out, the Cadillac CTS sedan is coming this fall, and there are a slew of other new and refreshed products set to hit GM's U.S. dealers between now and the end of next year.
GM needs to get all of those launches right. The pickups are perhaps the most critical new product, but all of these new vehicles are critical to GM in some way: That new Cadillac, for example, is a key part of a multi-year project to increase GM's profitability around the world.
They all have to be right for GM to be successful. And for all of GM's struggles in recent years, it's good to see that the company's current management really is doing everything it can to get them all right.