Detroit's biggest seller of luxury vehicles isn't Cadillac anymore. It's GMC.
GMC's high-end Denali and AT4 lines are outselling General Motors' traditional luxury brand in the U.S. this year, according to figures from GM and the Automotive News Data Center. The automaker is building on Denali's ability to command luxury prices by expanding the AT4 off-road subbrand and planning a pair of high-performance electric vehicles that will revive the Hummer name.
"People are coming in writing $80,000 to $90,000 checks for these trucks," said Inder Dosanjh, dealer principal at Dublin Buick-GMC and Fremont Buick-GMC in the San Francisco Bay area. "There's so much demand out there."
In a year when U.S. auto sales are down 18 percent, most Denalis and AT4s arrive at Dosanjh's dealerships already sold, and customers are willing to open their wallets during a recession to load them up with extra features.
"We can't get enough of them," said Will Churchill, dealer principal at Frank Kent Country in Corsicana, Texas.
GMC, whose vehicles were often criticized in the era of Old GM as being just dressed-up Chevrolets, has grown in recent years into a "stealth luxury brand" that appeals to a wider swath of the market than the legacy competitors in that space, said Jeff Schuster, president of the Americas operation and global vehicle forecasting at LMC Automotive.
"Having the luxury features and content in a brand that isn't necessarily thought of as luxury is appealing to some buyers," Schuster said. "It's addressing part of the market that wasn't getting fully addressed previously. Consumers are gravitating toward these subbrands."
GMC will complete its rollout of AT4 in 2021 by offering it on the Terrain compact crossover. AT4, which was introduced in 2018 on the Sierra full-size pickup and added to everything else except the Terrain this year, has become the brand's fastest-turning trim.
Customers are so enthused about Denalis and AT4s that they'll pay sticker price, Churchill said. The trouble is overcoming inventory shortages created by last year's UAW strike and two months of production lost to the pandemic in the spring.
"It's not even a question," he said of buyers' willingness to pay what GM is asking. "It's a matter of who has them."
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