How to distinguish yourself in a crowded market?
During bankruptcy negotiations between General Motors and the US government, the latter pushed to kill off the GMC brand in order to save money. GM, however, quickly countered by proving it was a profitable brand because it was relatively easy and cheap to make Chevy pickup trucks, SUVs, and crossovers more upscale and then sell them at a premium. GMC survived and today it's thriving. Not only does GMC appeal to many who would never consider a Chevy, but also to many luxury buyers.
Thing is, GMC realized it needed to distinguish itself as a luxury brand not by tacking on tons of chrome and calling it a day (an old GM practice), but rather create a proper identity. The Denali trims alone could not do the job, especially for those with off-road plans in mind. The solution was the AT4 trim, which premiered on the Sierra.
Speaking with Automotive News, GMC designer Carl Zipfel said "it was kind of like an 'aha! moment'" once the AT4 formula was solved thanks to customer feedback. Zipfel describes AT4 as "premium off-road" and that "it's something that really doesn't exist in the segment. If you look at our competitors, their off-road offerings make compromises everywhere." GMC already knows it appeals to luxury buyers because about a third of its sales consist of Denali models.
However, Denali clearly isn't for everyone and not only because of its high prices. AT4 customers, at least so far, are on average eight years younger than most Denali buyers. They did not want a pickup truck that was too high with bulky tires, but rather off-road capability. Instead of flash chrome, GMC gave the Sierra AT4 matte smoke chrome. "That gave this really neat look, something fresh and unique, and it was something they were after with the minimal chrome," Zipfel said. The AT4 trim, currently only available on the light- and HD Sierra and 2020 Acadia, competes directly against the Ram Rebel and Ford F-150 Raptor, although with its own unique and more premium look and feel.
Another huge thing that has helped propel GMC into the spotlight is the MultiPro tailgate, which comes standard on AT4, Denali, and SLT Sierra light- and HD trims. GMC vice president of market Phil Brook describes it as a "game changer" for the truck. "Sierra was on the map, but [the tailgate has] well and truly put it on the map," Brook said. "I travel all around the U.S., and whenever I say I work for GMC, one of the first things anyone says to me is, 'Oh, they've got the cool tailgate.'"
For now, the MultiPro tailgate is not available on Chevy trucks. Combined with the AT4 lineup, which will expand to the Yukon, Canyon, and Terrain throughout this year, GMC believes it has firmly identified itself as a luxury brand that also combines off-road indulgences.