Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn, Ford F-150 King Ranch, Toyota Tundra 1794. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a fad. Automakers are cashing in on cowboy kitsch and increasing demand for luxury pickup trucks. Now Chevrolet wants in on this lucrative niche. Late this year, it will offer the 2014 Silverado High Country.
“We see that portion of the market growing, and we want to be there,” says GM marketing manager Lloyd Biermann.
The High Country slots above the $40,910 LTZ Z71 and comes loaded with standard equipment, including an eight-inch touch screen, leather seats that are heated and cooled up front. Options include navigation, a sunroof, and a heated steering wheel. The High Country will only be available as a crew-cab and with a V-8. A 5.3-liter, 355-hp V-8 is standard but customers can opt for a 6.2-liter engine. Buyers can choose a five-foot-eight-inch or six-foot-six-inch bed and either rear- or four-wheel drive.
By the standards of Texas-themed pickups, at least, the High Country is discreet. The chrome grille reminds us a little of the cleanly styled Chevy C/K pickups from the 1990s. Body-color bumpers, unique twenty-inch wheels, and large High Country badges on the doors certainly say premium, but don’t necessarily cry, “Yee Haw!” The interior is similarly restrained. Sure, the saddle-brown leather seats have “High Country” branded on their headrests, but otherwise, the cabin looks like it might belong in any nicely equipped truck (or luxury car, for that matter). Even the High Country name seeks to avoid turning off buyers who might want a nice truck but don’t want to be typecast as a wannabe rancher.
“It’s got to play well in Texas, but we also believe that this vehicle shouldn’t be so centric and appeal to one region of the country,” says Maria Rohrer, Chevrolet’s director of marketing for full-size trucks.
Indeed, there’s more to the recent bumper crop of country-western pickups than a spontaneous desire to celebrate the Lone Star State. Not only are sales for big pickup trucks growing—they were up more than twenty-five percent in April—but they’re happening at higher prices. Chevrolet says thirty percent of pickups now sell for more than $40,000, an increase over a few years ago. That presents a huge opportunity for profit. For a dominant player like Chevrolet, there’s also a threat. Premium pickup truck buyers, as we’ve reported [http://rumors.automobilemag.com/chicago-2013-2014-toyota-tundra-searches-for-its-niche-203969.html], tend to be less loyal to specific brands. That’s why challengers like Ram and Toyota have jumped into the segment with both feet. Chevrolet, which has long offered well-equipped pickup trucks but never anything blatantly luxurious, wants to make sure Silverado buyers stay loyal when they trade up.
“If the customer’s looking for that level and we don’t offer anything, where are they going to go?” asks Biermann.
Still, the High Country stops short of going toe-to-toe with its most luxurious competitors. Shiny fake wood trim and vestiges of old-school GM switchgear look rather cheap compared to the Ram Longhorn’s open pore wood and Jaguar-like rotary shifter. Chevy, which has not yet revealed the price of the High Country, says it doesn’t want to become too fancy lest it turn off its blue-collar customer base. But the brand is also holding back to avoid internal competition:
“We want to make sure we don’t step on our GMC brethren,” says Rohrer.
General Motors makes a lot of money selling “Professional Grade” Sierras, and the existence of an even higher grade Silverado might spoil that. GMC, which chases a more sophisticated crowd, is probably happy to let Chevy take on the Texas-themed niche, but the yet-to-be-revealed Sierra Denali will retain some exclusive features and cost more than the High Country.