GM Studying Reentry into Medium-Duty Segment

Less than a year after General Motors exited the medium-duty truck business, the company is looking at re-entering the segment. “GM has a rich heritage in medium-duty trucks,” Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, told some of GM’s largest fleet dealers and key commercial customers. “We didn’t do well [with the last trucks] but never say never. I’d love to play in the space, but we’d have to do it differently with better use of engineering and other resources if we did it. We’re looking at the business now.” GM ended production of the Chevrolet Kodiak and GMC Top Kick medium-duty trucks in August last year after failing to sell the line of Class 5-7 work trucks to Isuzu or Navistar. The Kodiak and Top Kick had difficulty finding acceptance in the market, competing against Class 4/5 full-size pickup entries from Ford and Dodge and Class 5-7 conventional medium-duty trucks from companies like Hino and International.

GM said it left the segment to refocus on the company’s “core businesses.”

GM could approach medium-duty trucks in several ways, according to Joyce Mattman, GM’s director of commercial products.

“There’s the Top Kick/Kodiak Class 5/6 and above and there’s the black hole, which is Class 4/5. They’re two distinct segments,” Mattman said. “We’ve competed in Class 4 [C3500 HD] trucks in the past. The thing our customers liked about it was that it had a light-duty (pickup) cab, and companies like electric utilities could get back in between houses and alleys [where larger medium-duty trucks can’t go]. But many of our medium-duty dealers would love it if we took our product line all the way back up [to Class 7]. There are two ways to go after the business.”

GM’s fleet dealers have repeatedly asked for a so-called “black hole” truck – since before the Top Kick and Kodiak ended production – to fill the void of a Class 4 product that could compete head-to-head against the Ford F-450 Super Duty and Ram 4500 Chassis Cab trucks. A new GM lower-end medium-duty truck could fill that gap, sharing the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra’s all-new frame.

Other medium-duty truck makers have taken advantage of GM’s absence from the segment. International recently introduced its new Class 4/5 TerraStar work truck at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March with a form factor similar to the Top Kick and Kodiak.

In the meantime, GM’s medium-duty truck outlets are surviving as well as they can. One Buick/GMC dealer we spoke with said it purchased a large lot of leftover Top Kick and Kodiak trucks from Alaska to satisfy demand in California. As those trucks are sold down, the dealer is depending on ongoing service and parts for GM fleet truck owners to help the bottom line until new Buick and GMC passenger cars and trucks can provide increased revenue.