General Motors’ fleet previews are big. So big there are two “waves,” representatives from 50 states, U.S. territories and many foreign countries, and scores of 50-seat buses to shuttle folks from the airport to the hotel and off-site activities. It’s so big that attendees take over a convention hotel and three restaurants at Universal City Walk in Orlando, Fla.
The challenge for an automaker the size of General Motors is to make sure the operation goes off as smooth as possible. It’s a wonder that it actually does. It’s an equal challenge for an automaker the size of General Motors to remain “high touch” with all its fleet customers, and fleet preview is the time and place for GM to demonstrate that it is up to that task.
No one gets lost in the shuffle at GM fleet preview, which is a reflection of GM’s fleet team. With the number of blue-badged attendees, the ratio of GM employees to customers feels almost (if not in reality) one to one. “High touch” starts from the top down, and it’s been one of Ed Peper’s mantras since he took over fleet a year and four months ago.
Peper and his team are omnipresent and accessible, from running the handshake gauntlet before dinner to the press conference in which GM execs outnumbered our (admittedly small) team of journalists that cover fleet. The message resonates: GM has the fleet account executives, district sales managers and dealers to work with fleets of any size, and you won’t get lost in the shuffle. GM is playing off one of its biggest strengths as a fleet provider, and it certainly reinforces that at fleet preview.
Oh, and GM had some new important fleet products to show off this year, as well as a big announcement it saved for fleet preview. The question, “When are you going to get into the small van market?” has been answered. The Chevrolet City Express compact commercial van will be available for sale in the fall of 2014. Produced by Nissan and sold today as the Nissan NV200, this small cargo carrier will go head-to-head with Ford Transit Connect.
The pairing seems like a win-win: Nissan has a great van while GM has the fleet resources and dealership base to penetrate the market. It’s a way for GM to get into the space as quickly as possible. Peper said he doesn’t see buyers abandoning the larger Chevy Express or GMC Savana vans for this van. “We’re expecting the market to be incremental to that,” he said.
More details: the GM version gets a Chevy front end and some different packaging options from the NV200, with an added bonus of GM’s new two-year, 30,000-mile maintenance plan that includes lube, oil and filter rotation, tire rotation and a 27-point inspection. Though the van has a Nissan powertrain, buyers also get GM’s five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
In terms of getting behind the wheel of available product, GM had its 2014 all-new Chevy Impala on hand in both four- and six-cylinder versions. The Impala has gone upmarket, just as the redesign of its full-size competitor, the Ford Taurus had. It’s not a stretch to say that this Impala will have less fleet penetration than previous versions, but it will still be a very important vehicle for fleet. This model – the 10th generation – replaces dated styling with windswept lines, a pleasing dual-cockpit interior with all available tech goodies, a massive trunk and the only vehicle in the segment with 10 standard airbags.
On driving, it feels like you’re hermetically sealed into your personal quiet room. The 3.6L V-6 is more than powerful, which makes switching to the four cylinder a bit unfair by comparison, though the four banger is adequate for fleet drivers and delivers good fuel economy. No more eight-cylinder option, because no sedan, save for a muscle car, needs a V-8 today. While the 2014 model is available now, GM will continue production of the current 2013-MY Impala through 2014 for fleets only, which is good news for rental fleets.
The 2014 Chevy Cruze 2.0L Clean Turbo Diesel gives you the pleasure of a diesel passenger car’s low-end torque with the bonus of a hybrid-like 46 mpg on the highway and up to 700 highway miles in range. The Cruze diesel also comes with GM’s two-year maintenance program.
I’m kicking myself that I didn’t allot myself the time to drive the 2014 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. But those trucks are poised out of the gate to be home runs for fleet: ALG sets its three-year, 36-month residual value projection at 55.1% for the new Silverado, an eye-opening figure, made all the more attractive with the fact that base prices for all configurations carry over from 2013 and come with the two-year maintenance program, as well.
In terms of product features, the extended cab is now called the double cab, which means that the back doors are true second doors with forward hinges and door handles moved from the door to the outside. Around back, the tailgate gets a lock, and there’s not only a tailgate step integrated seamlessly into the bumper but also a pocket handhold on the rail.
Though not a fleet play any time soon (available only in California and Oregon in 2014), the Chevy Spark EV was lightning quick off the line, more so than other all-electric vehicles I’ve driven recently, but with similar range (82 miles).
More importantly for fleets in the alt-fuel department, GM will have compressed natural gas (CNG) bi-fuel engine options for all-next generation pickups, cargo and passenger vans.
Buick also showcased the 2014 Lacrosse and Regal models, which debut GM’s upscale Intellilink infotainment system, which functions on all voice commands. Every Buick is rated a top safety pick from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, and Buick models are loaded with camera and radar based safety options. Buick is famous for introducing GM’s eAssist start-stop technology, which give these near-luxury sedans up to an amazing 36 mpg on highway.
Cadillac’s MY-2014 CTS gets longer (five inches), lower (one inch) and lighter (new aluminum doors saved 55 lbs.) yet somehow roomier. The available 3.6L turbo delivers 420 horses and 430 lb. ft. of torque, its most powerful V-6 yet, and also features, in the “do we really need this” department, a motorized cup holder cover. GM teased us on the completely redesigned Cadillac Escalade, not due until next spring.
In other “coming soon” news, GM mentioned its new midsize pickups, only saying that they are not replacements for Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, but they will be bigger than those models and the manufacturer will be “going after Toyota Tacoma on all fronts.”
So there will surely be some good stuff to chew on next year.