GM to re-enter medium-duty truck market with Isuzu

Melissa Burden, and David Shepardson

General Motors Co. said Monday it reached a deal to re-enter the growing medium-duty truck market, selling a Chevrolet truck made by Japanese automaker Isuzu Motors as part of a joint project.

GM said Isuzu will produce low cab forward models for GM that will go on sale in the United States next year. They will be sold through participating Chevrolet dealers.

The six new models — the Chevrolet 3500, 3500HD, 4500, 4500HD, 5500 and 5500 HD — are based on the Isuzu N-Series.

The automakers said they will explore the use of GM commercial vehicle components for the Isuzu trucks. GM will continue to produce and supply the 6-liter V-8 gas engine and six-speed transmission for Isuzu.

Low cab forward trucks put drivers up front with no engine in front of them and are popular among landscape, food delivery and freight companies.

"Bringing low cab forward trucks back to our portfolio strengthens Chevrolet's commitment to providing commercial customers with more choices and provides customers with a versatile lineup of trucks, vans and crossovers," said Ed Peper, U.S. vice president of GM fleet and commercial sales, in a statement. "This addition helps our dealers satisfy their commercial customers' needs all in one place."

GM is not disclosing production figures or possible sales. But the medium-duty truck volume in the U.S. is more than 30,000 vehicles a year.

The new trucks will be offered in regular-cab and crew-cab body styles.

The GM-sourced 6-liter gas engine and Isuzu-sourced 3.0-liter and 5.2-liter turbo-diesels will be used, depending on the model. Gasoline models will be assembled by Spartan Motors in Charlotte, Michigan.

GM shuttered its medium-duty truck business in mid 2009 after it failed to sell the business, which at the time wasn't making money. GM looked for four years to try to sell its medium-duty truck line, including trying to reach a deal with Isuzu and Navistar International Corp.

The medium-duty trucks had been built on a line inside GM's Flint Truck Assembly Plant; nearly 400 jobs were cut.

GM previously produced the Chevy Kodiak and GMC Topkick medium-duty trucks. In 2008, GM built 22,000 of them.

Last year, GM and Isuzu signed an agreement to jointly develop a next-generation midsize pickup for emerging markets. The companies previously worked together to develop two generations of pickups.

GM and Isuzu have a more than 40-year history of joint efforts.

"This agreement continues that tradition and reinforces a long-term relationship that helps to explore future collaborations in the U.S. commercial vehicle business," GM said in a statement.

In 2006, GM sold its 7.9 percent stake in Isuzu to raise about $300 million. The Detroit automaker also has a 60 percent ownership stake in a joint venture with Isuzu called DMAX Ltd. in Moraine, Ohio. That joint company builds large diesel engines for heavy-duty trucks.

mburden@detroitnews.com