General Motors is getting ready to launch its new GMT900 SUVs. This lineup includes the Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV. The shorter versions will be launched in the 1st Quarter 2006 as 2007 model year vehicles. The long wheelbase Suburban, et. al. will be launched in March or April.
Early reviews of the GMT900 provided in Burbank, California (GM’s California Design Studio) and Warren, Michigan (GM’s Design HQ) prove that the GMT900s are an excellent piece of work. While they do not look too much different from their predecessors, they have wider front and rear track and larger tires and wheels. This gives the GM SUVs a very purposeful stance avoiding the undertired appearance some past GM vehicles have had. At the same time, the more prominent tires and wheels actually make the vehicles look slightly smaller even though they aren’t.
Lack of Fold Flat 3rd Row a Major Omission
To keep these comments focused on what we want to observe, lets change the order a bit.
The most glaring omission in the GMT900 SUVs is the lack of a 3rd row seat that folds flat into the floor like the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator and now the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. The key to the Ford system is the use of an independent rear suspension that allows the rear floor to be dropped several inches providing space for the seat to fold flat. GM’s GMT900 management said they “couldn’t break Ford’s code” and it appeared that they were thinking Ford adopted IRS more for ride and handling than for interior package. WRONG. The key all along was the rear seat package.
The resulting seating package is very similar to the GMT800 SUVs. The seats, when folded, rest on top of the floor obstructing the load area of the vehicle.
GM also claimed their research showed that SUV buyers wanted a power folding 2nd row seat more than they wanted a flat folding, power operated 3rd row seat. According to ex-GM researchers who shall remain anonymous, GM’s research actually showed a strong preference for “a seat like in the Expedition in a body like the Suburban”. The real reason, of course, is investment. The expenditures for the combination of IRS and fold flat 3rd row seat has variously been quoted as $165 million or $300 million. Either number would cause a product planner to pause and clearly these very important features were pipped – not easily.
If you are used to reading critiques of new vehicles in USAToday, Jim Healey can often become a curmudgeon over nitpicky details. It’s always interesting to see where his perceptions differ from those of AutoPacific’s staff. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we disagree.
Well, we had the chance to drive the new Ford Explorer a couple of months ago and came to generally the same conclusion as Healey (http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/reviews/healey/2005-11-03-explorer_x.htm). The 2006 Explorer is certainly the best Explorer ever. It is quiet and it rides well. The pumped up 4.6L V8 now puts out almost 300-horsepower and gives the Explorer the ooomph it has always needed. Inside the Explorer has become one of the quietest of the traditional body-on-frame SUV on the market. It will give luxury SUVs a run for the money.
Fusion Hot Out of the Blocks
Fusion is Ford’s new mid-size sedan and is a very respectable piece of work. It has distinctive styling, a good sized interior and a large trunk. This combination puts Fusion in the hunt to attract buyers of mid-size cars that have been unable to consider a Ford since the demise of the easily forgotten Ford Contour (and who can’t forget its predecessor – the Tempo). For the first time in years, Ford has a competitive mid-size entry worthy of consideration. The first full month of sales for the Ford Fusion was October, 2005. Fusion, right out of the blocks, looks like a surprise winner with slightly over 4,000 units sold.
In a departure from conventional mid-size car marketing, Ford says they are not going after buyers who would consider the high volume Japanese entries like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Instead, they think they can have a pretty healthy business selling to Mustang owners who are moving into a mid-size sedan after their fling with the most popular sporty coupe on the planet.
Every month VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) panel members give their reactions to the styling of eight to ten newly introduced cars or trucks and interesting concept vehicles. The Internet panel is shown photos of the vehicles without identification. Their badges are Photoshopped out so only the cogniscenti might really know what the vehlcle really is. At the end of the Beauty Contest the vehicle names and manufacturers are revealed.
Over the months, we have become pretty good at predicting what will juice up the panel members. Usually a really hot sports car will do the trick. The Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice were tops for “great styling” ratings in the months they were shown. Some interesting recent results show the Ford Fusion and Lincoln Zephyr being strongly rated for having “great styling”. This is an impressive result for mainstream sedans.
Azera Tackles The Best from Japanese Mainstream Brands at a Surprising Value
When Hyundai launches its new Azera (http://www.hyundaiazera.com) entry luxury sedan in Fall 2005 it could have a real winner on its hands. The Azera replaces the XG350 with a much more distinctively styled and believable car. Unlike its blandmobile predecessor, the Azera is distinctive. Maybe it’s not head-turning, but it is an excellent piece of work from a company that is now beginning to reach its stride.
Base priced at about $25,000 you can load an Azera up to about $30,000. That is well below cars that may be considered to be competitors (Hyundai thinks it will compete with the Toyota Avalon and the Nissan Maxima). Azera is fully equipped and features safety equipment usually optional on competitive models. Azera has eight airbags, ABS, active head restraints and electronic stability control standard.
Sales Volume Objective Ambitious
“OK, we have given you this very nice car at a very attractive price,” says Hyundai Motor Company management. “Now, Hyundai Motor America, you can sell twice as many.” This means that HMA is expected to sell well over 30,000 units of the Azera and HMC would not be disappointed if they hit 40,000 units. The value proposition is there, the car is pretty darn nice. They just may make 40,000 units.
Has anybody noticed that the styling of the new Honda Civic gives the car a look like it is powered by a Hybrid powertrain? A couple of Honda competitors have commented that the Civic sedan has styling cues that shout “Hybrid” much like the wildly popular Toyota Prius. Of course, Civic has a hybrid model available, but the plain-Jane 4-door sedan could be mistaken at-a-glance for a Hybrid.
In an interesting move, the new Civic is bigger on the outside than its predecessor, but smaller on the inside. Extremely aerodynamic styling with a low cowl and sloping hood give the car its Hybrid look, but compromise its interior spaciousness.
The new Civic goes back to its roots in providing a well-styled, distinctive compact car that its buyers can be proud to drive. It may return to the ranks of the “aspirational small car” that was abandoned by its immediate predecessor – an card-carrying blandmobile.
After the all-new Fusion mid-size sedan, the most significant product in Ford’s 2006 lineup is the Explorer. Ford focused on three primary areas and revised nearly all systems for this heavy mid-cycle change. The program updated power, comfort, and safety.
Its all-new frame borrows engineering tips from the F-150, specifically the larger truck’s tube-through-tube design. This stiffer frame is the base that allows the overall safety and NVH improvements, improves ride and road feel, and should reduce long-term squeaks and rattles. Explorer’s 4.6L V8 is upgraded to three valves per cylinder and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This combination improves power to the tune of an additional 53HP (to 292HP), while improving fuel economy, Ford says, by about ten percent. The six-speed auto performs smoothly and quietly on the road and extra power is nearly always appreciated. Revisions to the V6 result in 74% cleaner emissions, but no extra power.
Exterior changes include a redesigned front grille that clues you in to the trim level you’re seeing. Most models feature a grille with two openings; the larger upper opening holds four bars. The XLS grille is grey, while XLT and Limited get chrome grilles.