Anytime a manufacturer returns to a vehicle class it left, the assumption is that something changed.
Example: The mid-size that's due to go on sale at the end of this year resulted from dealers pushing to get a U.S. version of the popular global Ranger following the successful (and risky) introduction of the mid-size GM twins, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.
Now it looks like GM has bowed to dealer demands with the introduction of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado as a medium-duty truck at the 2018 Work Truck Show in Indianapolis. It's a class in which GM has not had a player for nearly 10 years. But there's more behind this introduction than dealer pressure. As we understand it, GM's return to the medium-duty class had to do with finding the right partner to defray manufacturing and engineering costs. That's where Navistar and its Ohio production plant comes in.
The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 4500/5500/6500 is not exactly a bold dive back into the deep end of the work-truck pool, but it's certainly cost effective. Nevertheless, we have some reservations about it:
1. Fleet Buyers Have Long Memories
Nothing bothers a fleet buyer or commercial truck business owner more than not being able to depend on their vehicles or suppliers for service. When GM left this market, many of those buyers had to make other arrangements and buy from other manufacturers to fix or replace aging trucks. That very likely left a bad taste that could take a few years to mend.
2. What's Changed?
Following GM's restructuring after its collapse, it's hard to believe that it took this long for the business case for medium-duty trucks to get the green light. More likely, it took GM time to find a partner willing and able to do most of the heavy lifting on this project. Thankfully, Navistar has plant capacity and plenty of experience building medium-duty trucks (think International TerraStar and DuraStar).
3. Doesn't Navistar Have Its Own Trucks?
We're not sure about a strategy that involves entering a truck class with a competitor that is likely to have a vehicle with almost the exact same specifications. It seems likely that International, Navistar's premium truck brand, also will offer a truck in this highly competitive class.
4. Do Customers Want a One-Ton Interior?
No one will tell you more clearly than the drivers of these vehicles that the interiors need to be better. As a rule, they've always been quite functional and designed to take punishment, which includes being easily cleanable. Making the interior of this medium-duty truck look identical to a Silverado 3500 interior could make some of the owners and drivers happy, but isn't there a lot of wasted space with a center console and a conventional dashboard layout?
5. You Can't Escape Your Past
You can bet that competitors will not let fleet and commercial buyers forget how GM abandoned the medium-duty class and suggest that it's possible GM could do it again if the trucks don't turn a profit in a short time. Still, our guess is savvy Chevy dealers will be nimble and humble, reminding customers that they now have a full pickup truck lineup — from the mid-size Colorado to a medium-duty low-cab-forward Silverado — to meet their every need.