When GM Couldn't Think Outside The Box: Remembering Pro-Tec

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
when gm couldn t think outside the box remembering pro tec

Divide $64 million by about 10,000. What do you get? I was a liberal-arts major, but I figure the answer is “About $6400.” That’s a lot more than $850, right? Hop into this here Silverado with me, dear reader, and let’s take a ride through another adventure in GM’s mismanaged past.

By 2001, the use of composites in pickup-truck beds had become almost commonplace. Ford’s Ranger “Splash” and F-150 “FlareSide” had featured plastic outer shells, while GM’s own step-side beds had composites below the trim line. The advantages of composite (which is to say, plastic) construction for truck beds seemed obvious: they were lighter, they couldn’t rust, they were dent-resistant, and when all was said and done they would probably end up being much cheaper. The only question was: Which truck maker would pull the trigger on a totally composite bed first?

That question was answered in 2001 when GM completed a $64M expansion at its Fort Wayne, IN plant to build the “Pro-Tec Composite Truck Bed”, as pictured above. It was available as a short-bed only and cost an additional $850 on half-ton (1500 series) trucks. For that money, the Chevy (or GMC, although in my research I couldn’t find a single example of a GMC Pro-Tec) truck buyer received a genuine industry first: a fully composite bed with a built-in bedliner. No rust, no easy dents, no scratches, and no need to Line-X the thing for additional hick street cred. Plus, it was fifty pounds lighter! It was an an improvement in pretty much every sense, and GM went on to beat the competition senseless with it…

…Well, not really. The General’s projections of 50,000 units per year were off by a factor of ten. In his 2003 article Boxed Out, Brian Corbett tries to find out why:

About 5,000 Silverados featuring Pro-Tec have been sold since the option became available last year. GM expected to sell some 50,000 Silverados annually with the $850 Pro-Tec option. It’s another setback for a program that was delayed at launch by several months due to surface anomalies. But past quality issues aren’t to blame for slow sales. GM says it has to do a better job of marketing Pro-Tec. “The dealers that are stocking (Pro-Tec-equipped Silverados) seem to be selling them at a reasonable rate,” explains John Schwegman, Silverado marketing manager. “We’re just not getting enough dealers to take their first one.”

This is a harsh reminder of what every so-called “industry expert” should remember: the customers for GM, Ford, Toyota, et al aren’t people, they are dealers. If dealers won’t buy something for stock, that “something” won’t sell. Plus, they are mendacious:

Also, commissions for sales personnel might be higher for a Silverado with a $225 bed liner that’s mounted at the dealership rather than a factory-installed Pro-Tec Silverado.

As a former Ford salesman, I can reinforce Corbett’s guess here. Selling an aftermarket bedliner was worth $50 to us. Selling an $850 factory option was usually worth absolutely nothing to the guys on the proverbial front line.

The Pro-Tec option lasted two model years before disappearing from the order sheets. Total volume was about 10,000, meaning that GM lost tens of millions of dollars on the operation. Like the other gee-whiz, industry-exclusive system debuted at about the same time — Delphi’s “Quadrasteer”, which was a $5,995 option on trucks during the same period but eventually ended up being discounted to a third of that before being discontinued shortly after Pro-Tec — it was a great idea that didn’t sell worth a damn. Why not?

It’s always easy to Saturday-afternoon-quarterback GM’s ineptitude, but this one seems particularly open to criticism. Why was Pro-Tec sold in one bed length, that bed length being one that rarely appears on work trucks? Why wasn’t it priced more competitively, or included as standard on the entry-level vehicles the way the slugger-proof Work Truck grill was, as seen below?

Had I been placed in charge of Chevrolet at the time, I would have made the Pro-Tec standard on either the work trucks or the very top-end model, with the steel bed a no-cost option for the Cro-Magnon plumbers/gentleman farmers out there. It’s hard to believe that “non-promoted $850 option” was the brightest idea the GM marketing people had.

Among those legendary bottom-feeders of the Internet, truck-forum contributors, Pro-Tec has passed into the realm of legend. A search for “Pro-Tec truck bed” will tell you that:

  • It cost $3000.
  • You had to be a friend of the dealer to get it.
  • Thousands of them have broken into tiny plastic pieces.
  • It wasn’t nothing but that there Avalanche bed.
  • You couldn’t put a cap on it, put anything heavy in it, or LET IT GET COLD.

You get the idea, right? Ten years from now, people will probably think they were “secret GM prototypes that got out of the factory one weekend.”

Pro-Tec turned out to be a costly mistake for Chevrolet and GMC, but that didn’t stop Toyota from being the next up to bat. The current-generation Tacoma has a composite truck bed with steel side skins for aesthetic/paint retention reasons. No extra charge, no other choice, no big deal. Unfortunately for Toyota, feedback has been negative; if you think the GM forum guys hate composite beds and/or don’t understand them, Google “Tacoma cab rattle” and see what you get…

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2 of 33 comments
  • GS650G GS650G on Aug 15, 2011

    Imagine the commercial where a shot putter lands a ball in the back of the truck on one of these. that double walled construction commercial was very effective, I can't remember if it was Chevy or Ford but it would be more impressive than Mike Schmidt using a ball bat. The composite might not hold up so well and it wouldn't get fixed so easy. Mike was a great player and one of my idols as a kid. I was thrilled to meet him in Florida at a restaurant a few years ago.

  • JD-Shifty JD-Shifty on Nov 25, 2011

    I don't understand the "Line-X hick street cred" remark. That's stuff is very good and expensive

  • Buickman the only fire should be in the board room.they just hired an executive from Whirlpool.that should help them go do the drain.
  • Mike Beranek I don't care about the vehicles. But I'd be on board for inspecting the drivers.
  • Art Vandelay Coming to a rental lot near you. And when it does know there is a good chance EBFlex and Tassos have puffed each other's peters in it!
  • Art Vandelay I doubt there is even room for EBFlex and Tassos to puff each other's peters in that POS
  • Art Vandelay The lack of side windows is a boon for EBFlex and Tassos as nobody can see them puffing each other's peters back there!