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GMT900 SUVs Miss Important Feature

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.

Overall GMT900 Product is Excellent
The new interiors in the SUVs are much, much better than the old GMT800s. They are more curvaceous and personal much more appropriate for a personal-use vehicle like an SUV. Also, while the Chevrolets and GMCs share an instrument panel, the Escalades have a unique and more luxurious looking I/P.
The chassis and powertrain of GMT900 is upgraded with the new SUVs getting better fuel economy than the GMT800 predecessors. Gary White, the Vehicle Line Executive, clearly knows his stuff and the attention to detail on the new trucks is apparent.
GMT900 Urgently Needed, but Timing Is Off a Bit
GM actually pulled the GMT900 program ahead by several months because their GMT800 SUVs were getting pretty long in the tooth. This pullahead is great for competitive reasons (and because Ford is launching freshened Expedition and Navigator models in Fall 2006), but they are releasing the new trucks into a period of very high gas prices. It’s interesting to listen to the media criticizing GM for its timing, but once the ship gets moving, it’s tough to slow it down. GM is right to get these new trucks on the road as soon as possible. Sales volumes, however, may not be as spectacular as they might have been two years ago, or even one year in the future.

1 Comment

  • GB| December 9, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    Well, they didn’t ask me about the folding 3rd row. Of course consumers want it, why wouldn’t they. A huge convenience feature. With gas prices high and lots of good competition, GM needs to do everthing they can to be competitive and here they haven’t done it.

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