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GM gives its pickups a much-needed makeover

Tom Krisher, AP Auto Writer

The 2014 GMC Sierra debuts in Pontiac, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. General Motors unveiled a new versions of its top-selling Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra on Thursday Dec. 13, 2012. The 2014 models will go on sale by early spring or late summer. The models roll into a market where truck sales are growing after a five-year slump. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors is giving its big pickups a much-needed makeover.

The company unveiled new versions of its top-selling Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra on Thursday, aiming to get them to showrooms by late spring or early summer.

The timing is good. The 2014 models roll into a market where truck sales are growing after a five-year slump. And GM's current trucks are dated, hurting sales. Those trucks were last revamped in 2007, are the oldest on the market, and have fallen behind newer models from Ford and Chrysler.

GM says the revamped Silverados and Sierras, delayed by the company's trip through bankruptcy protection in 2009, should put the company back in front.

The trucks look a little more aggressive and aerodynamic. They will have quieter cabs, and updated steering, suspensions and brakes, GM says.

Gas mileage and pricing of the trucks was not released, although GM North American President Mark Reuss says customers will be surprised by the prices. He says the trucks are 200 pounds lighter than Ford and Chrysler competitors, which will help boost gas mileage.

GM offers three revamped engines: a 262-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-6 that GM says can tow a substantial trailer; a 325-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 that will get better mileage than the 22 mpg the current model gets on highways; and a 6.2-liter V-8 with 376 horsepower

The trucks should close the gap with Ford and Ram, especially if the engines are more powerful and efficient, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area industry consulting firm.

"The focus that they really put into these trucks, I think, gets them there," he said.

He was impressed by GM's attention to detail. For example, there's a step built into the rear bumper to gain access to the bed. And the doors fit into recesses in the body to make the trucks quieter.

GM, which has been building Chevy trucks for 95 years, says the new models should hit the market at a good time.

The economy is improving and pickups are starting to sell again. The housing industry, which has a direct relationship to pickup sales, is strengthening and should be in even better shape by springtime when the weather gets nicer. Plus, trucks now on the roads are aging and need to be replaced because people kept them through the recession. The average age of a pickup in the U.S. is now 10.4 years, GM says.

GM is having a tough time selling its current trucks against Ford's F-150 and Chrysler's revamped Ram. Full-size GM pickup sales fell 8 percent last month while competitors saw increases. At the end of November, GM had enough trucks on dealer lots to supply them for 139 days of sales. Automakers consider a 60-day supply to be optimal.

Reuss says GM raised incentives to match competitors, and sales in early December are strong. The company didn't offer big deals last month and it hurt.

Reuss says GM intends to outsell Ford's F-Series, which is the top-selling vehicle in America, but he wouldn't put a time frame on reaching the goal.

About one in every 10 GM trucks sold this year came with a V-6 engine, and the rest with bigger V-8s. Reuss says he doesn't expect that to change much even though about 60 percent of Ford F-150s have the smaller engines to get better gas mileage.

GM plans to introduce new big SUVs and midsize pickup trucks in 2014, Reuss says. Also, the Silverado and Sierra will be updated more frequently.

The GMC and Chevy trucks, which are essentially the same vehicle, also will get six-speed automatic transmissions on all models, which should improve gas mileage. Some models now have older four-speed transmissions that aren't as efficient. The Sierra, though, is aimed at more upscale buyers who want luxury and practicality.

All three new engines have efficient direct fuel injection, and GM says they can switch seamlessly to run on only four cylinders to use less gas. The engines will have more torque and power than the older models.