Category Archive:

SUVs are NOT Dead

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SUVs are NOT DEAD – Sport Utility Vehicles Remain Top Considered Vehicle Segment
For as long as I can remember, the New York Times and eastern media have been taking SUVs to task. While many of the people writing these stories don’t own a vehicle or even drive a car or truck, they have decided that the Sport Utility Vehicle is the poster child for social irresponsibility. No matter what they say, folks continue to gravitate to SUVs. We have the data.
For the past thirteen years, Sport Utility Vehicles have been the product segment that is most considered by American driving public. 2006 was a traumatic year for SUVs. High fuel prices dampened demand for large truck-based SUVs, but in 2006 as for more than a decade, demand for SUVs was highest among AutoPacific’s seven macro product segments. When consideration for contemporary SUVs – Crossover Sport Utility Vehicles or XSUVs – is included, consideration goes even higher.

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Sales of Full Size SUVs Like Ford Expedition Have Fallen

Clearly America’s love affair for this Swiss Army Knife of vehicles has not waned, nor has demand by Americans for a vehicle type that can do many different things. We used to say that people bought SUVs because they can go anywhere, go anytime, go with anything, go with anybody… an SUV could do it all. Meeting these criteria – especially the go anywhere aspect of the equation yielded SUVs that were too capable. They could go off-road over rough terrain through tough climate conditions. Even though most buyers never used them for what they were capable of, they were designed to have off-road credibility.

Let it be XSUV:
Let’s officially coin our term for Crossover SUVs. These are not simply “crossovers”, after all, you could have a crossover of almost any two products. We don’t want to call them CUVs – Crossover Utility Vehicles – because that dilutes what they really are supposed to be. The right term is Crossover SUV. This clearly defines that this is an SUV based on a car platform – something not quite as capable as body-on-frame traditional SUVs. So, for now on, it’s XSUVs.
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2008 Buick Enclave – New Generation XSUV Responds to Buyers Demands

Carmakers Responded to Buyers with Crossover SUVs: By the end of the ‘90s, manufacturers began to respond to buyers’ demand for slightly softer product characteristics. For awhile terms like “soft-roaders”, “cute-utes” were used to describe vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and even the Lexus RX300. Inside the car companies engineers and designers were referring to these types of vehicles as Crossovers. And while the buyer rarely refers to his Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, or Honda Pilot as a Crossover SUV, that is what they are. They are not designed for off-roading, but they are designed to provide comfortable, maneuverable, efficient transportation in the suburbs and on vacation.
VehicleVoice internet survey panel members and respondents to AutoPacific’s annual Future Vehicle Survey have responded about what type of transportation they will consider next time they buy. Selected details are below the fold.


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First Drive: 2007 GMC Acadia

As anyone reading this VehicleVoice news section knows, GMC has an all-new crossover SUV. With Acadia, and its Saturn Outlook sibling, GM’s approach for innovative people-moving solutions still relies on a large basic vehicle. The package is well done, but the extra length GM had to work with versus true mid-size competitors helped make it possible. Acadia has the overall length of a Yukon or a long-wheelbase Chrysler Town & Country, about ten inches longer than the Envoy. With Acadia, GMC is targeting mid-size and crossover SUVs. In reality, they will pull buyers from the minivan set and full-size SUVs right along with buyers of the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, or Toyota Highlander.

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GMC invited VehicleVoice and AutoPacific along as they showed off their new baby to journalists along a four-hour drive from Palo Alto to Hollister, California, with a stop at Leal Vineyards (minus a wine tasting), and back again. The weather was spectacular, the roads varied and challenging, and the Acadia a comfortable and willing steed. We’ve also had the opportunity to drive the Saturn Outlook around our town, where it performed about the same as the Acadia around Palo Alto, but roads more challenging were added to the Acadia experience.
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The Acadia and Outlook are powered by the same 275HP 3.6L DOHC 24v V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, with a self-shift feature operated by an up/down switch on the gearlever. There isn’t much difference between Acadia and Outlook suspensions. The engine was tuned for optimum torque and power response geared toward stronger low-end acceleration, enabling the 4720-pound front-drive (4925-pound AWD) Acadia the power to satisfy in its primarily urban jungle environment.


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A Three-Row Triple From GM: 2007 Saturn Outlook, 2007 GMC Acadia, 2008 Buick Enclave

General Motors is rolling out three new crossover SUVs that share an all-new, purpose-built platform. GM has called this platform Lambda for internal purposes. The Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia are on sale now and the Buick Enclave arrives in summer 2007 as a 2008MY vehicle. These crossover SUVs are taking on not only traditional and crossover mid-size SUVs but also full-size SUVs and minivans due to their large size and dimensions (they are nearly as large as the Chevrolet Tahoe). They do not have the towing capability of truck-based SUVs, but do have the other attributes for which buyers go to SUVs, or minivans. They have high seating positions, available AWD, and interiors big enough to hold seven passengers or lots of stuff.
Following the roll-out of the Lambda crossover SUVs, General Motors will kill their conventional minivans (similar to Ford’s strategy of killing the Monterey and Freestar minivans). The Pontiac Montana SV6 is already history and its demise will be followed by the Chevrolet Uplander, Saturn Relay and Buick Terraza. Oh, yeah, Chevrolet will get a Lambda Crossover SUV in the next year or so as well.
AutoPacific and VehicleVoice analysts have been included in the reviews of these critically important General Motors vehicles.

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General Motors describes their current state as an interior renaissance, and these products are examples of smart interior thinking. They include a level of interior detail not before seen from the General. As these products were developed with a clean slate, new platform, new interiors, new powertrain, GM took the opportunity to make sure they will be easy to live with.
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The second- and third-row folding operations are simple and easy to use and the overall package is terrific. One could buy any one of these vehicles and spend the life of the vehicle discovering all the little things that will add up to a product that enhances and eases daily life. It’s taken GM a very long time to get to such a solid package design, but they have finally succeeded.


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Stuck to the Dealer's Floor – Inventory Numbers Tell the Story

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Which cars and trucks are planted to the dealer’s floor? In other words, which vehicles take the longest to sell? Who cars? Why does it matter, anyway?
Well, while it may not seem that important to you, it’s critically important to the industry s a whole… from the manufacturese, component suppliers, dealers and quite a few financial institutions. First, if you know the time it takes to sell a vehicle, you know how much it is dragging on the dealer’s floorplanning costs. Floorplanning is the term for the amount it costs the dealer to finance the a vehicle in inventory waiting to be sold. If a vehicle has been hanging around for weeks, he’ll be more likely to deal aggressively to get rid of it. Also, vehicles that have high days supply may be less popular. From that perspective, they may be the ones you want to stay away from.


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Chevrolet Avalanche 4×2 1500 – Wins Motorist's Choice Full-Size Pickup 4×2 1/2 Ton

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AutoPacific Take on Avalanche Win – Owner ratings of styling and image help propel the tough-looking Chevrolet Avalanche to the top of its class. Its flexible cargo area combined with its innovative mid-gate design make it the Swiss Army Knife of full size pickups. Power and acceleration provided by big V8 engines are icing on the Avalanche cake.
IntelliChoice Analysis – The Avalanche 1500’s Cost of Ownership over the course of 5 years was $42,431, $3300 less than comparable vehicles in its class. Factor in the amazing versatility and passionate owner base, and this is one huge Avalanche whose benefits snowball the competition.


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Chevrolet Silverado 1500 – Wins Motorist's Choice Full-Size Pickup 4WD 1/2 Ton

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AutoPacific Take on Silverado Win –
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is the top rated Full Size Light Duty Pickup with its win driven primarily by owner ratings of how easy it is to use. Silverado’s strengths include its ease of getting in and out, driver’s visibility, instrument layout and easy to use audio system. Its exterior size appears to be in the sweet spot among Full Size Pickups.
IntelliChoice Analysis – Always a strong competitor in the Full Size truck market, as well as within IntelliChoice’s annual “Best Overall Value of the Year” contest, the Silverado was a BOVY winner in 2005. Over 5 years, IntelliChoice rates the Silverado 1500’s Cost of Ownership to be just over $38,000, over $3000 less than comparable vehicles in it’s class.


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Chevrolet Silverado 2500 – Wins Motorist's Choice Full-Size Pickup 2WD 3/4 Ton (Also a 2006 VSA winner)

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AutoPacific Take on Chevrolet Silverado 2500 Win – The Chevrolet Silverado 2500 tops the 3/4 Ton Heavy Duty Full Size Pickup class. Not only did it win the Motorist’s Choice Award®, it also won AutoPacific’s 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Award®. The Silverado 2500 achieves this performance with its strong image for reliability, durability and dependability. Among Heavy Duty Pickups Silverado owners give kudos for Fun to Drive including: power and acceleration, braking and handling.
IntelliChoice Analysis – What else can be said about this perennial workhorse of the industry? It is a reliable and powerful tool of the American economy. The Silverado 2500 was a BOVY winner in 2005, and over 5 years, IntelliChoice rates the 2006 Silverado 2500’s Cost of Ownership to be $39,611, over $1700 less than comparable vehicles in it’s class.


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Chevrolet Avalanche 2500 4×4 – Wins Motorist's Choice Full-Size Pickup 4×4 3/4 Ton

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AutoPacific Take on the Win by the Chevrolet Avalanche 2500 4×4 – The transformer of pickup trucks, the Chevrolet Avalanche, scoops up a Motorist’s Choice award in the 3/4 Ton 4X4 segment. Owners rate the tough truck at the top of its class. Its Vortec® engines and versatility keep this full size pickup at the front of the pack.
IntelliChoice Analysis – IntelliChoice rates the Avalanche 2500 4X4 Cost of Ownership at just $48,906 over 5 years. Owners of the four-wheel-drive multi-tool keep factoring in the benefits, which more than outweigh the costs.


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GM's New Trucks

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We Catch the Summer Reveal of All-New Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra
GM’s leader Rick Wagoner took some time from his work on the turnaround project and the ongoing Renault-Nissan tie-up evaluation to introduce new products critical to GM’s future profitability and success. VehicleVoice contributors Jim Hossack and Stephanie Brinley, from AutoPacific‘s Market Research and Industry Analysis offices, were on hand for a first look. Brinley helps with the overview, while long-time full-size truck owner Hossack tells us what’s missing.

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The current full-size Chevrolet Silverado (image here) and GMC Sierra, developed under GM’s GMT800 program and first introduced for 1999MY, launched to strong reviews and well-deserved praise. Sales increased throughout the lifecycle and combined they outsold their rivals. Even in 2005, GM outsold the Ford F-series by about 80,000 units, according to AutoPacific’s Sales Forecast Service.
The GMT900 pickups offer significant improvements to body, chassis, and powertrain. GM developed them with the eye to improving on every level an already successful truck. We saw them in pre-production form, but didn’t get the chance to drive them. Based on our first look, the trucks will arrive boasting a best-in-class standing. The 1500 series gets to showrooms in November 2006. Heavy-duty (2500 and 3500) models arrive during the first quarter of 2007. Unlike the previous generation, which rolled out over two years, all versions of the GMT900 trucks roll out in five months.
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The Good Stuff
On a bright, hot August morning, dozens of Silverado and Sierras drove up in front of us at the GM Milford, Michigan, proving grounds. Showing off their versatility and working natures, the display trucks towed boats and equipment, hauled hay and horse trailers. The message was clear: Choice and capability. Whatever you need these trucks to do, they can do it. Whatever form you need, they have it. Short beds, medium beds, long beds, crew cabs, regular cabs, extended cabs with a cool new 170-degree opening rear door, all are available from the GM trucks. It was a dizzying array, but all these options keep loyal buyers happy and to prove that GM is dedicated to full-size pickups.
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GMC Acadia: The First Full-Size Crossover

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Back in April the Saturn Outlook was introduced at the 2006 New York Auto Show, and VehicleVoice contributors and AutoPacific staff brought you up to speed quickly (click here). Now we’ve got the chance to bring you the first look at its sibling, the GMC Acadia.

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Unveiled this week, the 2007 Acadia arrives at dealers later this year. Though GM could be said in some ways to be bringing a me-too car-based SUV to the market, as it arrives after the Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Freestyle, Mercedes-Benz R-Class, and Audi Q7, to name a few, the Acadia and Outlook offer seating for eight and a tow rating of 4500 pounds. Though the Acadia may be perceived as a mid-size SUV product, it in fact throws a shadow more near a full-size SUV like the GMC Yukon than a mid-size SUV like the GMC Envoy or the Pacifica. As Jim Hall, AutoPacific’s Vice President of Industry Analysis points out, the Acadia, and its Outlook sibling, is the first full-size crossover SUV.
While Acadia can’t tow as much as the truck-based GMC Yukon or Ford Expedition (both updated for 2007), it can carry more stuff and presumably will give a more comfortable riding experience. Perhaps most important for the real world, Acadia has more space even with the third row up than either car- or truck-based SUV competition. At 19.7 cubic feet behind the third row, Acadia has room for eight (depending on seating configuration) and room for their luggage. (Click here for by-the-numbers comparison of Acadia, Yukon, Expedition, R-Class, Pacifica, and Audi Q7.)
Acadia will be offered in front- or all-wheel-drive versions, with only one powertrain to choose. This is a 267HP 3.6L DOHC 24v V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Though 267HP sounds good, the Acadia is large and heavy, with AWD models weighing in about 4900 pounds.


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