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From GM website

When General Motors Corp. begins replacing its line of full-size trucks in early 2006, it will start with sport-utility vehicles, including all-new versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Envoy, the Free Press has learned.

Those new SUVs, along with an all-new version of the popular Cadillac Escalade and others, will be assembled at GM's assembly plants in Arlington, Texas, and Janesville, Wis.

As part of this next generation of GM's full-size truck line, a major $175-million investment already has been announced for Janesville and an announcement could be coming soon for Arlington, say GM officials, supplier officials and other people familiar with GM's plan.

GM's big trucks are North America's largest and the automaker's most important, vehicle line.

Unlike the rollout of the current line of heavy-duty GM trucks that were unveiled in 1998 and 1999, GM will introduce its new SUVs first, probably around March 2006. This next generation of full-size trucks, code-named GMT 900 within the automaker, will eventually produce at least 1.6 million vehicles a year at seven assembly plants, say insiders.

A lot will be riding on this new line, because its job will be to slowly replace the current generation of full-size GM trucks, which is code-named GMT 800 and has been wildly successful for GM, allowing it to earn multibillion-dollar profits in 2000- 03 while its crosstown rivals at Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group struggled with red ink and restructuring.

Last year, about 1.85 million vehicles were built off the GMT 800 platform, making it the largest vehicle platform in North America and perhaps the world.

"We don't want to take any chances with this. The numbers are so large and the financial impact is so great that we research every step of what we do," said a GM insider who asked not to be named.

After the new SUVs roll out in 2006, GM will then wait about a year to replace its full-size pickup trucks, the popular Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. The launch of the new pickup trucks will start at GM's Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant in early to mid-2007, followed later by rollouts at Ft. Wayne, Ind., Pontiac and Flint.

"The SUVs will go into production first. SUVs are much a more fashion-conscious and profitable part of the market than pickups, so it makes sense to get them on the road first," said Jim Hall, vice president of auto analysis in the Southfield office of consultant AutoPacific.

When the current full-size truck lineup debuted in 1998, GM put the pickups in production first, kicking off with the Oshawa plant. According to GM insiders and others, then-GM chairman Jack Smith asked why SUVs weren't being done first.

GM officials declined to comment on the next line up of full-size pickups and SUVs, saying they prefer to focus on the current lineup. The current platform was the basis for 11 vehicles, ranging from pick ups like the Silverado and Sierra to SUVs like the Hummer H2 and Suburban.

"We have not said anything about future products or any future trucks. We continue to have sales momentum on our current trucks, and we just revamped them last year," GM spokesman Joe Jacuzzi said.

One GM production forecast shown to the Free Press projects about 510,000 SUVs off the GMT 900 line in 2006, slowly rising to about 580,000 by 2008. Pickup production would start around 760,000 in 2007 and move to 940,000 in 2008.

The rollout of the new lineup will make for an interesting clash, as Toyota Motor Corp. plans to unveil its next generation of full-size pickup trucks in 2006, with an all-new Tundra built at a new plant in San Antonio. The next year, Toyota will come out with a larger heavy-duty version of the Tundra, say auto insiders.

At the same time, insiders say they expect Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. will continue to ramp up production on its full-size Titan pickup, built at a new plant in Canton, Miss., and the always-popular Ford F-series pickup truck line will be in its third and fourth year on the market since a major redesign. The battle in the pick-up truck and SUV market is crucial in the auto industry because profits are far bigger there than in cars.

Trucks now make up about 54 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, and analysts expect that to grow to about 58 percent by the time GM's next line is unveiled. Last year, 9.06 million trucks were sold versus 7.62 million cars, auto-sales analysis firm Autodata Corp. reports.

"When GM comes out with that next generation, that will be a time of a real truck war," said Rebecca Lindland, senior auto market analyst with Global Insight, a Massachusetts-based research firm. "There will be tons of truck options out then. I know Detroit likes to bad-mouth the Titan, but it is part of a whole group that is attacking GM's truck dominance."

Much of the emphasis in this new GM lineup will be on the engines, say insiders, with GM focused on increasing horsepower but improving fuel efficiency.

Coming GM engine technology, specifically something called displacement on demand, will also be a big part of the lineup. This technology shuts off half the cylinders in a V8 or V6 engine when they're not needed for acceleration or towing. This can improve fuel economy 8 to 10 percent. The system debuts on some of GM's midsize SUVs this fall.

Insiders say styling of the new full-size SUVs will undergo more radical changes than on the pickup trucks, which GM sees as attracting a more conservative, business-minded, buyer.
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