By on August 22, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Travel back in time and tell someone that luxury pickup trucks will one day become the auto industry’s biggest money makers. They’ll laugh, but you’ll have the last one.

As the Denali sub-brand grows in importance for parent General Motors, the luxo treatment applied to GMC trucks and SUVs has never been in more danger from rival automakers in Dearborn and Auburn Hills. Keeping Denali healthy and growing means walking a thin line. Still, there’s those who fear the sub-brand isn’t realizing its true potential.

GMC’s director of exterior design, Matt Noone, admits it keeps him up at night.

“The growth of the premium truck segment outstripped our expectations,” Noone told TTAC. “We don’t want to relinquish our position to anyone.”

One nagging thought plagues Noone: Is GMC doing all that it should with its Denali sub-brand?

The 2019 GMC Sierra, with its available magic tailgate (“MultiPro” in GMC parlance), reshaped sheetmetal, reduced weight, and added content, is currently entertaining journalists on the faraway, misty isle of Newfoundland. There’s black Denali models crawling all over the Rock, as well as a handful of new AT4 premium off-roader models and a lone SLT with X-31 off-road package. A low-class pickup jamboree this ain’t.

While yours truly is not at liberty to tell you how the new Sierra Denali handles on the road (not yet, anyway), suffice it to say the overall recipe is a logical progression from what came before. Avoiding the polarizing styling choices of its Chevrolet Silverado twin, the Sierra’s modernized take on the previous generation’s styling surely generates fewer night terrors. There’s acres of chrome drizzled all over the Denali, and the new AT4 cuts a muscular figure — just avoid looking at the awkward mix of optional 20-inch wheels, a 2-inch suspension lift, and oddly shaped wheel arches.

The AT4 exists because GMC doesn’t enjoy being in second place (behind Ford) in the premium truck segment, Noone said. Even more worrying is the prospect of falling behind amid new competition, and ceding market share to its rivals. As the AT4 gets ready to woo ungentrified premium truck buyers with its Denali trappings and butch exterior, Ford has a return salvo loaded and ready: its F-150 Limited. For 2019, the priciest Ford half-ton welcomes the F-150 Raptor engine. That means 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque awaits big-bucks buyers via the Raptor’s upgraded 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 — greater power and twist, it should be noted, than GMC’s top-flight 6.2-liter V8.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Meanwhile, Ram has a new 1500 from which to build its own luxo barges. It got an early taste of that action with the 2018 Limited Tungsten Edition. For GMC, the self-described premium truck maker, the battleground is fierce, and growing fiercer.

“I feel we need to do more to keep our position,” said Noone, adding that GMC customers regularly claim they’ll happily pay the cost of added glitz. “The demand is there.”

Already, the brand is doing more, and it’s paying big dividends. Some 30 percent of GMC’s U.S. sales in 2017 were Denali models, a take rate that rises to roughly 60 percent when you consider the Yukon and Yukon XL. The Sierra HD approaches this take rate, while the Sierra 1500’s Denali popularity hovers around 30-35 percent. The same figure applies to Acadia. Naturally, average transaction prices are skyrocketing.

According to Richard Latek, GMC’s U.S. marketing director, sales of Denali models over the first half of 2018 amounted to 28 percent of the brand’s volume. The addition of the AT4, essentially a rough-and-tumble Denali for customers who don’t like being seen as “city,” should benefit GMC’s premium truck volume, Latek said. GMC projects an AT4 take rate of 10 percent for the Sierra line, but Latek believes the company’s lowballing.

Sweetening the AT4’s proposition is an available nylon-based carbon fiber bed (“CarbonPro”) that shaves 62 pounds from the truck’s mass. Available in the second quarter of 2019, the optional bed features a corrugated surface that’s six times more resistant to deformation than a conventional bed. Availability extends to Denali and SLT in 2020. Those three trims also see the addition of GMC’s trick “MultiPro” six-position tailgate for 2019, after which the brand might choose to make it more widely available.

So, where does GMC take Denali from here? Demand at the lower end of the market, for obvious reasons, remains limited. The Canyon Denali’s take rate is about 18 percent; the Terrain, about 15 percent. “Price point is a sensitivity in the compact segment,” Noone says, adding that midsize truck buyers largely prefer a rugged product. “Some appetite” exists for a premium focus in that segment, he claims.

As GMC weighs its options at the smaller end of the market, the Denali badge seems destined to reside mainly on hulking, ever more lavish full-size pickups and large SUVs.

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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46 Comments on “The Perils of Second Place: Denali Is GMC’s Biggest Worry, Greatest Asset...”


  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    When you say “GM Sub Brand”, start the death watch. Remember how GM decided that they didn’t like the Cutlass Supreme being America’s best selling car, so they had to systematically destroy Cutlass and then Oldsmobile to prove the Blue Borg was all that mattered.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    That is ONE UGLY F**KING A$$ VEHICLE.

    Worst yet, it’s chock full of PROFESSIONAL GRADE CHINESE AND MYANMAR ABSOLUTE LOWEST-COST BIDDER SUPPLIER PARTS.

    GMC. We are professional grade CHINESIUM!

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Thank G*d!!!

      DW is back !

      GGM is sheet.

    • 0 avatar
      dont.fit.in.cars

      Blew a front tire curbing my Impala. Rim sliced through the bead effectly destroying a new shoe.

      Wrestled the spare and used bow tie supplied tire iron. Stamped on it, clear as day, MADE IN CHINA.

      Rear hubs humming at 67k. Done buying American engineered, Chinese supplied cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      YOU CAN’T SPELL “DENIAL” WITHOUT “DENALI!!!”

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Here is the American Made Index Score for the Love You Long Time foreign parts assembled GMC Sierra/Chevrolet Silverado, according to American University Kogod School of Business “Made In American Index”:

      Rank: 38

      Make: Chevrolet/GMC

      Model: Silverado/Sierra

      *AALA: 0.38

      *TDC: 55

      Roll dirty with 45% pure, un-American, sweatshop and back-alley (probably commie, too) supplied parts/components every time you see the USA in your Chevrolet Chineserado/GMC Chinerra.

      A Ford F-150 has 85% AMERICAN MADE PARTS/COMPONENTS CONTENT (and bonus, it’s also assembled in the U.S.).

      A RAM is also way more ‘Murican, with 72% AMERICAN MADE PARTS/COMPONENTS CONTENT, and the newest gen (both classic and New Gen) have even a higher % of USA parts content (and the new gen is assembled in Sterling Heights, Michigan).

      AND THE KICKER IS – WITHOUT ANY DOUBT – THE FORD AND RAM ARE BETTER TRUCKS!

      Buy trucks assembled in the U.S., of far more American-made parts and components!

      Don’t let the Chinese GGM win!

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Part of me, no I admit a lot of me, hopes that China brings over the Dongfeng Xiaokang K01, tarts it up like GM’s done with this mundane work truck, and blows this thing into the weeds in sales. it’s not like it’s hard to make one of these vehicles.

      My only pause is GM wil come begging on their knees for our tax dollars once again, in our politicians would probably look into their corporate puppy dog eyes and give it to ’em. Awww.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    Crazy how the Silverado finally lost the squared-off wheel arches yet GMC opted to keep them (now with added asymmetry!)

    Do Sierras still include the traditional GM truck misaligned steering column, too?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    When I see my first “sub-Terrain” sized GMC with Denali package then I will know the end is nigh.

    In my area it seems that the GMC product mix (across all current production vehicles is 60% SLE vs 40% Denali with strangely almost no one buying the mid-level SLT. This is only odd to me because you can get 80% of the Denali content minus the ridiculous bling by purchasing an SLT.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      Obviously unnecessary or unattractive “bling” to you are necessary and attractive product features to most of your neighbors, probably better to demonstrate their ability to buy/lease a $70,000 vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        One of the neighbors has a 1st gen Terrain SLE that must have been in an accident at some point because the grille and front bumper are totally DENALI.

        It always makes me laugh because it is all flash in the front view and subdued from any other angle. (Plus it is a 4 cyl FWD model)

  • avatar
    ernest

    Good writeup. I’m not sure where the AT4 fits into this- Denali’s mean chrome, and in the premium pickup segment chrome is still king. No matter, GMC is GM’s premium brand. Do Corvette’s and Escalades count as sub-brands too?

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      Nothing says “premium” like oodles of plastic chrome.

      • 0 avatar
        ernest

        It’s what THIS market segment demands. Look at the top line Ford’s and Rams- same thing. That’s why I was scratching my head over the body color grill/bumper. The only expensive Ford that doesn’t have tons of chrome is called “Raptor.”

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          This is why the best-looking F-150 isn’t the expensive versions but the Lariat with Sport Appearance Package. And it has nearly all of the content of the Limited, save the HO engine and some materials upgrades.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            C’mon! I’m no fan of 20s, but the STX makes the rest of the F150 lineup look like refugees from a geriatric convention…

  • avatar
    OzCop

    That Denali pic at the top is a bit over the top, adorned with too much bling in my opinion…OTOH, I like the look and design changes.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    Denali was unique when it came to market and when it took off years ago. The problem now, the competition is strong and I would argue offers a better interior experience. The new Denali interior looks terrible and no more premium than its Chevy sibling or even an SLT version.

    The gimmicky features are fine, but would the Denali benefit more from having a unique interior experience. Whether that be large infotainment, pano roof, different dashboard layout…etc. I know that costs a lot more money and this is GM after all, but I feel they are missing an opportunity to take that premium brand equity and make something great

  • avatar
    IBx1

    What a great last name to have.

    *movie announcer voice*
    Nobody thought luxury pickups would ever take off, but luckily for GM, Noone had a plan. No one thought it would be this lucrative, but Noone thought otherwise.

    I can sell an $80,000 pickup truck – said Noone ever

    • 0 avatar
      ernest

      “I can sell an $80,000 pickup truck – said Noone ever”

      Said Ford when they marketed the first King Ranch packages. They led the charge- no one else thought it’d sell.

      • 0 avatar
        IBx1

        No no no ernest

        The guy’s last name is “Noone”

        Read the article and say it in your head as “no one” like this line:

        “One nagging thought plagues Noone: Is GMC doing all that it should with its Denali sub-brand?” It plagues Mr. Noone or it plagues no one?

        Now that I’ve dissected the joke for you, feel free to laugh.

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    My main concern about the Denali name is that its significance gets lost. I’m a car guy and I don’t know what is a Denali and what isn’t. Give Denali models immediately distinctive grills, badges, and tailgates.

    Most of those who spring for the cache’ of a Denali want others to know that they did. I’ve always felt that there is very little outward recongition of a Denali…quiet understatement is not in the recipe with these products. Currently, the question of buying a Denali could easily be morphed into, ‘Why not just buy a Cadillac’?

    I always felt that Ford does a good job of letting John Q. Public that a buyer stepped up to an F150 Platinum trim. I think GMC would do well to figure out how to do that with the Denali.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Meretricious (Hubcap, 2018).

  • avatar
    redapple

    Super premium jumbo pick ups that are so big they dont fit in a normal spot – so the macho man F250 driver dings YOUR car.

    Average F250 driver is shorter than the average F150 driver. True. Do your own survey (sample size of at least 20)

    Section 179 takes money out of my pocket and I m pessed. Real pessed. They get to deduct the price of the $70,000 pick up and the tax payers (me) pay for it (pick up the slack)

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      This is a bizarre rant. F250s today use the same cabs as F150s so they are the same width. Their heights are within 2-3 inches of each other for comparable trims.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Those 2-3 inches, in 4×4 trim, is the difference between fitting into 90% of San Francisco parking structures, and crashing into them…. The new Superduty’es, in 4×4 trims, are pretty much low-roof Transit height. Relegated to commercial floors. Ram and GM HDs have so far managed to fly under the beams, thank goodness.

        Heck, since I’m on a roll ranting about Superduty’es: They should have kept the old body. If necessary, stretched it a bit to compete on rear legroom. It was noticeably wider inside. You could easily convert the rear seat area into a DOT compliant sleeper, without bumping sheetmetal in the doors. On a Ram, you can’t easily do that even in a Megacab. That’s a genuinely meaningful reason to have a big cab. As opposed to impressing rappers and fat people with “more legroom than a limo.” Ford sells enough of the thing, to justify a separate bodystyle. It used to be the Superduty’s USP, versus the two Mom-and-Pops. One shouldn’t be so quick to walk away from USPs in a competitive environment. Rant out.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      HD buyers are older than halftonners. That’s why they drive an HD: They are retired and pull a 5th wheel around. That’s why they are shorter. Not on account of cheesy pop-psych nonsense.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    ‘Travel back in time and tell someone that luxury pickup trucks will one day become the auto industry’s biggest money makers. They’ll laugh, but you’ll have the last one.’

    Yeah, I have whiffed on a few doozies in my day….$5 cups of coffee; what idiot would do that? Turns out a lot. Bottled water? You have got to be kidding me, use the drinking fountain…

    Personally, I would take the naturally aspirated 6.2L with less power (on paper) than a tuned up ecoboost. That is a lot of high pressure systems working together to make those 450 ponies, that I am not convinced will stand the test of time. I will, gladly admit I was wrong in ten years, when I see them showing up with 200k miles and enough owners professing they had little issues other than maintenance. I am fairly certain one can achieve this with 6.2L without any great self sacrifice. Finally, moving the 6.2 into 500 HP or better is not all that tough to do anymore and you don’t have to sacrifice at the altar of reliability or mpg to do it.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “I am not convinced will stand the test of time”

      Probably not, however I’d expect most buyers of the Raptor and Limited trims are more interested in maximum power over heirloom-tier longevity.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        That may be true for the Raptors and some of the GM trucks however GM trucks lease for crap so most are purchased and largely kept for quite awhile. I think it would be interesting to know which are kept the longest by the original purchasers.

    • 0 avatar
      RangerM

      “when I see them showing up with 200k miles and enough owners professing they had little issues other than maintenance.”

      By now, you should be seeing a number of those, given they’ve been making them for 7 years, and doubling down with the 2.7L.

      Maintenance with the Ecoboost is the key. They’re reliable engines, so long as you maintain them.

  • avatar
    Dan C

    why can’t gm make a nice interior? the trucks look so cheap, crappy plastics, column shifter!!! and just 10 years behind everyone. copy the materials from dodge or toyota, the mechanics and quality are great, but the interior is just blah would love to buy a denali over a foreign brand but a loaded yukon is like the same as a land cruiser

    • 0 avatar
      ernest

      And yet the Escalade outsells it’s competition COMBINED. GM’s got the luxury SUV market figured out the same way Ford figured out the pickup market.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      Why?

      GM outsells ford and ram. The new version increased the margin by I think 5 grand per vehicle?

      I think GM has got to be bringing in 2 times the total profit off their trucks as even the mighty ford.

      When it comes down to it, they are all BUSINESSES, and GM is winning the business game.

      Why make a better interior when you are so dominate?

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Average transaction prices may tell a different tale. And the Ford is now a 4 year old model.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          @arach – GM only beats Ford pickup sales when combining midsize/fullsize pickup sales. And you’re misinformed about fullsize pickup profits. Ford greatly kills GM here.

          It must be GM pickup sales are very fleet-heavy. GM sells a lesser ratio of HD pickups and less of those with diesels, probably thanks to fleets.

          Plus Canada and Mexico favor F-series over GM fullsize pickups by a much wider margin than the US.

  • avatar
    arach

    Kept reading the references to “noone” as “No One”.

    Its a lot more amusing when you read this article with all the statements by “no one”, which conveniently doesn’t change the interpretation of this one bit… but makes it more intriguing.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Last year, at the auto show, I sat in a new GMC Canyon Denali. The shifter in the console had a “wood” surround. And by “wood” I mean a sticker with wood grain. It was incredibly tacky.

  • avatar
    padou

    I bought a ’14 Sierra new off the showroom floor. One thing I can say about GMC is that they had an excellent recall notification system. During the first few months I received three notices to bring my truck in for various issues. One such time, they even called me personally. I was driving down the road developing long-term spinal issues from the constant adjustment to the off center steering wheel and my phone rang.

    “Hi, this is Ms. So and So from the dealership. We were calling to notify you about a recall on your truck and would like you to bring it in for repair as soon as possible.” This was the third recall and I was at this time tired of having the privilege of driving whatever econobox the dealer deemed suitable as a loaner vehicle in place of a crewcab 4WD pickup.

    “What’s wrong this time? Is it gonna catch on fire? Because if you say I have one of those that are just spontaneously combusting, you can forget it. I’ll call you when I see flames!”

    The girl snickered. “No sir. There is an issue with the transmission.”

    “Hell yes there is! It feels like I’m going to be thrown from the vehicle every time it downshifts to a lower gear. So you have a fix for that? I’ll be right over.”

    “No, they haven’t figured that out. From my understanding, that is the way it is supposed to work.”

    “Whatever, so what is wrong with the transmission?”

    “Well, it was discovered that your truck and a couple more may have incorrectly bolted transmissions…”

    “What does that mean?”

    “Well, there may not be enough bolts in the transmission brackets and it could maybe fall out going down the road.”

    “What the hell? I’ll be there tomorrow.”

    Last GM product I owned. To add insult to injury, the wife had an Enclave. It was a decent vehicle but apparently there was an issue with the pigment in the leather that induced fidelity issues in redheads. It caused her to end up screwing a co-worker in the third row seat. After that, I swore off GM vehicles and redheads.

    Never looked back.


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