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GM gets aggressive on pickup discounts

Keith Naughton and David Welch
Bloomberg News

General Motors Co. boosted incentives on its pickups this month after its biggest foes gained ground, intensifying a price war within the U.S. auto market’s most hotly contested segment.

Discounts averaged about $6,996 for the Chevrolet Silverado and $5,315 for the GMC Sierra this month through Feb. 12, according to J.D. Power dealer data obtained by Bloomberg News.

Incentives on GM’s models surged 56 percent and 82 percent, respectively, from a year earlier as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Ford Motor Co. dialed back their spending, according to the researcher.

GM is being “especially aggressive on incentives,” Brian Johnson, a Barclays analyst, wrote Monday in a note. The carmaker’s incentive spending on large pickups is at the highest level in data going back to 2012, “and the second highest month isn’t close,” Johnson wrote.

The boost in incentive activity also reflects the U.S. auto market slowing following a seven-year streak of expansion.

“It’s taking a lot more incentives now to move the metal than it did last year or certainly the year before,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with car-shopping website Autotrader.com. “Things are slowing.”

GM spent 26 percent more in discounts on each Silverado truck than Fiat Chrysler did for its Ram and 85 percent more than Ford did on its on F-Series, according to the Power Information Network data, which J.D. Power doesn’t release to the public.

The deals from GM are part of a “Truck Month” promotion that includes offers for about 25 percent off the sticker price of some 2016 Sierra pickups or $11,185 discounts for select 2017 Silverado models.

The offers follow sales declines in January for both of GM’s full-size truck models while Ford and Fiat Chrysler’s pickups gained.

“Last month, GM’s pickup sales were down,” Frank Ursomarso, owner of Union Park GMC in Delaware, said in a phone interview. “That’s why they’re doing this. GM has to battle against Ram and Ford.”

GM also lost sales ground in 2016. Deliveries dropped 4.3 percent for the Silverado and 1.1 percent for the Sierra last year. F-series gained 5.2 percent to seal a 35th-straight year as the top-selling vehicle line in the U.S., and Ram pickup sales rose 8.7 percent.

The largest U.S. automaker is responding to competitive pressures with its latest incentives, in particular deep discounting by Fiat Chrysler on the Ram, said Jim Cain, a GM spokesman.

“We wanted to get our fair share in the truck market,” Cain said by phone. “The kind of incentives we offer in Truck Month are not the kind of spending we do a on a regular basis.”

Analysts have estimated pickups can command $8,000 to $10,000 in gross profit per vehicle, generating much of GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler’s earnings.

“If this level of incentives continues, it certainly will eat into profits,” Krebs said.