Sun, Oct 01, 2006 - Page 11 News List

US manufacturers fire the first shots in `pickup wars'

SUPERSIZED Outside the US, there's not much of a market for large-size pickup trucks. But the automotive giants are set to wage a pitched battle for US buyers


This photo made available by General Motors shows the new 2007 Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty pickup truck as it is driven into the press conference introducing it at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas last Thursday.


While much of the auto world's attention was fixed on the Paris Motor Show, US manufacturers were keeping an eye on the Texas state fair that opened on Friday, where Toyota Motor Co was rolling out a new pickup truck.

Texas is ground zero in the pickup wars that are about to break out across the broad US landscape.

Thus, representatives from General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co and German-US DaimlerChrysler AG were all on hand for the annual State Fair of Texas in Dallas, which has become of the biggest stages for new pickup trucks.

The critical segment accounts for 14 percent of all new vehicle sales in the US and pickups remain the vehicle of choice in the wide-open landscapes of the west and south of the country.

Pickup trucks are sold all over the world and compact pickup trucks are immensely popular in places such as Southeast Asia and South Asia, according to Ron Harbour of Harbour and Associates of Troy, Michigan.

However, the larger full-size pickup trucks remain a uniquely US vehicle and Toyota has tried, with only limited success, to master the formula.

So far this year Toyota, even though it was headed for record sales and seemed likely to replace the Chrysler Group as the number-three seller of vehicles in the US, had sold by the end of August a paltry 79,000 full-size pickup trucks.

Meanwhile, Nissan Motor Co has been unable to reach the annual sales of 100,000 that the Japanese automaker's executives had confidently predicted when its truck was launched two years ago.

Toyota, however, is nothing if not persistent and it has built a brand-new factory dedicated to full-size pickup trucks deep in the heart of Texas.

Once the new plant in San Antonio is fully operational, Toyota expects to sell as many as 200,000 pickups annually, according to Brian Smith, Toyota corporate manager for truck operations.

The plant is scheduled to open next month and dealers are slated to begin selling the trucks in February.

Toyota also is planning its largest advertising campaign ever in the US to promote the new Texas-built version of the Tundra.

Smith added Toyota was leaving nothing to chance. The new Toyota Tundra was specifically designed to match the popular trucks offered by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Group.

"This is a truck that was designed in America with Americans in mind," Smith said.

Sean McAlinden of the Center For Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said on Friday that the US truck makers were prepared to defend their turf vigorously. GM alone has set aside close to US$500 million to market its new trucks, he said.

GM publicly unveiled its new Chevrolet Silverado at the Texas fair. The new Silverado is the best truck GM has ever built, according to Gary White, the GM executive in charge of truck development.

"Our full-size pickups, as our highest-volume products, are the most important component of the most important part of our North American turnaround plan," Rich-ard Wagoner, GM chairman and chief executive, said recently.

Mark Fields, Ford executive vice president and the head of the company's operations in North and South America, said that Ford's turnaround plan also hinges on the company's continued success in the pickup truck market.

Thus, Ford rolled out the Super-Duty pickup, which is specifically designed for contractors working in heavy construction.

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