Nine years after exiting the segment, GM revealed the all-new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 4500HD, 5500HD, and 6500HD chassis cabs at NTEA’s The Work Truck Show 2018. Along with GM’s launch of its medium-duty Chevrolet Low Cab Forward models in 2016, the automaker has once again committed fully to the medium-duty segment.
Production of the new Silverados is slated for the tail end of the calendar year, meaning dealers and customers won’t start seeing them until the first quarter of 2019. By all accounts, they can’t come soon enough.
“People have been waiting in line asking for this truck,” says Tony Uebelhor of Uebelhor & Sons, a Chevrolet dealer in Jasper, Ind. “We have been getting a lot of pent-up demand for the past 15 years.”
Rightsized and Refined
The dealers Business Fleet spoke to say the new medium duties boast an unexpected level of comfort, accessibility, and maneuverability from Class 4, 5, and 6 trucks — a plus for businesses with small fleets and crossover use.
The new truck uses the familiar light-duty Silverado cab and will benefit from its consumer-designed appointments that include new technology such as Wi-Fi hotspots and updates to OnStar.
“The old truck couldn’t be used as a family vehicle; it was too tall,” says Randy Marion of Randy Marion Chevrolet. Marion says that the truck’s lower frame and cab height combined with a crew cab and pickup bed will provide “a retail truck with a ton of content.”
“The key here is that the truck will do the job, but it’s pretty much like driving a pickup,” Uebelhor says.
Unlike the light-duty Silverado, the medium duty has a new design feature, the tilt-forward clamshell hood, which makes the engine and its components more accessible for servicing.
“GM got the dealers involved and found out what was important to them,” says Brad Sigmon, vice president of Marion Chevrolet. “We didn’t need that big of a truck; we needed one that could do the work, so they made it lighter and gave that payload back.”
The reveal of the new 6500HD model, with a GVW of 22,900 lbs., was an unexpected surprise at The Work Truck Show. Some fleets need a Class 6 because “they’re running out of GVW,” according to John Schwegman, director of commercial product for GM.
He offers the example of energy utility fleets using bucket trucks. They’re buying a competitor’s Class 5 truck — but to save weight, they’re using an aluminum body at a substantial incremental cost.
“They can get the easier step-in height of our 6500HD, along with a smaller cab and more maneuverability, and save that $5,000 to $6,000 for a steel body bucket truck,” Schwegman says.
Other industries are warming to the higher GVWs.
For towing companies, the move away from hook and chain to rollback (flatbed) wreckers necessitates a higher GVW, says Clay Traylor, vice president of northeast sales for Miller Industries Towing Equipment Inc., a tow body manufacturer in Ooltewah, Tenn.
“We have some 3500HDs but they’re too light,” he says. “I hoped Chevy would come back into the Class 5 chassis size.”
The Silverado HD models are powered by a Duramax 6.6L turbodiesel V8 engine paired with an Allison transmission, a partnership carried over from the previous generation.
“There are customers who have been waiting just as long as we (dealers) have because they want that powertrain back,” Marion says. “The Allison is the gold standard for automatic transmissions, and so is the Duramax for diesel engines.”
The new truck’s chassis has straight frame rails, so it’s easy to drop a range of body types on it, according to Schwegman.
As part of The Work Truck Show reveal, GM sent a regular cab 6500HD to Monroe Truck Equipment to design a dump body, thinking it would take Monroe considerable time to complete. Monroe had the upfit ready in three days.
“That was a telltale sign that we made it as simple as possible to put bodies on this vehicle,” Schwegman says.
Although it’s been almost 10 years since Chevrolet exited medium duty, Sigmon doesn’t think it will be a problem to rebuild partnerships with Randy Marion Chevrolet’s old upfit vendors.
“They never got out of the business, so we’re bringing additional business to them,” he says. “It’s going to be easy because the body manufacturers will be able to put the upfits right on these trucks.”
Chevrolet’s re-entry into medium duty officially began when it launched the Low Cab Forward models. Last March, the manufacturer enrolled additional existing GM dealers to sell Low Cab Forwards and Classes 4, 5, and 6.
“For us, GM re-entered the medium-duty market for the ability to be a one-stop shop,” Uebelhor says. “Right now, we can sell you a passenger car, ½-ton or ¾-ton; however, those who want to go to the higher end of the GVW spectrum have to go somewhere else. We’ll now be able to take care of all fleet and small business needs right here.”
To meet the demand for dealer support, GM has created a “commercial college” to ensure its dealer network understands the product, upfit process, and customers. The idea is to educate them and sharpen their skills on how to interact with the trucks, compare their products to the competition, and learn how to fulfill the needs of commercial customers.
Many fleets also run light-duty pickups and cars for their sales reps, so adjacent sales are an important part of the decision to re-enter the medium-duty market and carry the full line of product, according to Keith McCluskey of McCluskey Chevrolet in Cincinnati.
Customers don’t want to have to go to two or three different sources, and up until the new medium duty truck’s debut, they were unable to be a one-stop shop. Randy Marion Chevrolet currently sells about 5,000 commercial units per year, and projects to exceed 7,500 in 2019 with the addition of medium-duty and low cab forward units in 2019.
Despite all the excitement, the truck is not for all GM dealers, Schwegman cautions. Instead, it is intended for those committed to the commercial business and its demanding customer base that requires spec’ing expertise and quick service.
McCluskey Chevrolet has built a 55,000-sq.-ft. facility with a drive-through truck wash and bays 35 feet deep with 14-foot doors. The dealership remains open seven days a week until 3 a.m. and a half-hour early for commercial accounts.
“These guys want to make money during the day,” McCluskey says. “They can drop off the trucks (at night) and we’ll do the preventive maintenance and have everything ready for work the next day. We get them back on the road and to the job site, which means extra business for them.”
For Traylor, it’s crucial to have adequate service support from dealers to minimize downtime if a unit breaks down. With Miller Industries’ specialized bodies, “When one of our trucks goes down, you can’t go to Ryder or U-Haul and rent another one,” he says. “It’s down and it’s lost revenue.”
Winning Back Customers
As chairman of the commercial dealer council before GM exited the medium-duty market, Marion says his dealership’s No. 1 issue was filling the black hole that was created by the lack of a Class 4 to 6 truck. It cost dealers incremental business; not only the business lost by not having a medium duty, but also the relationships with the companies that needed them.
“They went to our competitors,” Marion says.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of pre-2009 GM medium duties on the road. Schwegman says the previous generation — named Chevrolet Kodiak and GMC TopKick — still hold historically high resale values.
“Folks say those trucks are fantastic; they’re not getting rid of them,” Schwegman says. “When we announced we were getting back in about a year and a half ago, they said, ‘good, I don’t have to make a decision. I’m going to wait.’”
Schwegman understands the challenge that lies ahead in reclaiming the business of those customers who went elsewhere to fulfill their medium-duty needs.
“We have to earn back every customer one by one,” he says. “We need a solid network of more than 400 dealers who are trained and ready. Presenting what we think is a great value story with this truck is going to be key. Our dealers will play a big role, especially on the small business side.”
Originally posted on Business Fleet