2010 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

2010 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

In a signal to the U.S. marketplace that the sun has not completely set on the modern full-size pickup truck, General Motors Co. has freed up cash to fund a major update of its full-size pickups on a bet that consumers and businesses will resume buying trucks after a long lull in sales, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Chairman and CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr. has agreed to fund the move, reports Tom Stephens, vice chairman of global product operations. The remodeling could cost the company close to $1 billion and should be generally available in the 2012 or 2013 model year.

GM, which once had relied on full-size pickups such as the Chevrolet Silverado for a major portion of its U.S. revenue and operating profit, had put off redesigning the trucks as its finances collapsed and it underwent a government-backed bankruptcy reorganization last year. Truck sales sagged in the past two years after gasoline spiked to $4 a gallon in 2008 and home sales — a big driver of truck purchases by contractors and builders — collapsed amid the recession.

Now, unlike the 1990s truck boom, the company plans to go in two directions at once by revitalizing its pickup line at the same time it invests heavily in small, fuel-efficient cars and a tiny electric Chevrolet Volt due later this year.

Redesigns of GM’s chief light truck competitors, Ford’s F-150 and Dodge’s Ram, were launched in late 2008 with some features that GM’s Sierra and Silverado — last updated in late 2006 — currently lack.

Stephens said Whitacre approved a top-to-bottom exterior redesign and engineering overhaul to make the vehicles guzzle less gas without giving up capabilties such as cargo capacity.

The makeover is more extensive than what GM had planned heading into bankruptcy and will be one of the company’s biggest upcoming redesign efforts.

Full-size trucks “have been and will continue to be important to us,” Stephens told The Wall Street Journal, noting that while some personal use buyers won’t return to the market, demand among contractors and small businesses will remain solid.