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Exhaust Note #31: Goodbye, TrailBlazer and Envoy!

Oh, and Saab 9-7X, too
Last week was full of horrible sales results. The worst single month of sales since February 1993, in fact. In the midst of abysmal sales and the brouhaha to get the financial sector bailout passed, for better or worse, General Motors said production of the GMC Envoy and Chevrolet TrailBlazer will end in December 2008. This is two years earlier than once planned, though not much earlier than many guessed. Are you sad? Saying goodbye to a truly American vehicle?


2009 GMC Envoy Denali: The end of the line.

We’re not, really. The TrailBlazer and Envoy have come to their logical end, not for being badly drawn or executed products, but because the General’s offerings today are better suited for real life. Envoy sales for 2008 are down 44.1% and TrailBlazer down 36.9%. In a tough economic situation where leasing and credit are more difficult to get and buyers seem perfectly happy to delay big-ticket purchases, why continue them for another year?

2009 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS: Will you miss the 390HP stompin’ SS? Or just move on to a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8?

The only reason that comes to mind would to keep the 1100 UAW workers building them employed, but that only delays the inevitable. Writing from Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, we sympathize with the concerns of those whose jobs go away in a couple of months instead of years, but keeping the plant open to build products not enough people are buying has proven to be a very poor strategy by all who have tried. GM cannot afford to lose money selling dying products now (as if they ever could).
The Beginning of the End
Looking back, these products were descendants of the Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Jimmy, which helped Americans learn to love these rough-and-ready SUVs back in the 1990s. Launched for the 2002MY, TrailBlazer and Envoy had the bad luck to be introduced the same fall that saw the nation grappling with 9/11 and its aftereffects.
Since then, manufacturers have developed SUVs in line with our lives rather than the advertising images that sold them, and most are unitbody solutions that trade off better ride and fuel economy for lesser towing capacity.
The last iteration of TrailBlazer and Envoy were launched to critical praise and were well executed for the expectations of the day. But by 2008…heck, by 2006, they were getting long in the tooth, vehicle advances and consumer preferences were passing them by, and they were being dropped in favor of more comfortable as well as more efficient products. TrailBlazer’s best sales year was back in 2004, and the truck has notably struggled since 2006.


2009 Chevrolet Traverse LTZ: The Future of Chevy People-Hauling

In nameplate count, price point, and seating configuration, the new-for-2009MY Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia replace TrailBlazer and Envoy; the newer products are better suited to the actual duty cycle of SUV-shaped vehicles, but they are huge…Traverse is slightly larger than the Tahoe! The size allows the space and comfort of minivans, without the penalty of looking like one. They get better fuel economy, offer a more comfortable ride, sport an excellent interior package, and can tow a respectable 5700 pounds.
For TrailBlazer and Envoy, though, the writing was on the wall with the Chevrolet Equinox/Pontiac Torrent twins. Equinox and Torrent are smaller than their truck-based brethren and without the capability to replace them, but they helped GM learn that customers may not need all the capability that was offered, and that on-road manners and a usable interior might count for more than being perceived as a truck-tough product. Keep watching: Tahoe and Yukon face the possibility of similar extinction.

2009 Chevrolet Equinox Sport: This model pointed to the future of GM SUVs.

Will Tahoe/Yukon Go Next?
Common wisdom is that there are enough buyers out there who really do “need” to tow boats, drive up rough mountain roads to ski lodges, or otherwise use the full capacity of the Tahoe/Yukon and even-larger Suburban/Yukon XL. But are we clinging to what we know rather than recognizing that there is a whole generation who may buck the system? And even if there are enough buyers to support some examples of type of vehicle for the next ten or fifteen years, how many can really survive? Will the field be narrowed to Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition, much like the traditional full-size van segment has shrunk to the Ford E-Series/Econoline and Chevrolet Express/GMC Savanna twins? Will Tahoe and Yukon fall away in favor of Traverse and Acadia?

2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71: In danger of becoming another dinosaur?

The beauty of the fragmenting market, for the customer, is that the answer to the above questions is probably yes. Yes, we are clinging to what we know. But, yes, there are likely to be enough buyers for whom full-size SUVs are the answer to support two or three models for many years. And, still yes, the Tahoe and Yukon are in danger of being superceded by entries like Traverse.
Not All About Fuel Economy
Before you go praising Americans for getting on board with a lifestyle less dependent upon fuel, consider that fuel economy isn’t the only factor taking the TrailBlazer down. If the TrailBlazer were a better fit for consumer needs than Traverse or Equinox, the 3 mpg penalty would not be enough to dissuade buyers. Assuming a 15,000-mile year, $4/gallon, and all city driving, the penalty for choosing a TrailBlazer over a Traverse is only $63 a month. And though the Acadia and Yukon have similar base prices, incentives are available that easily make up for that penalty if you really want a TrailBlazer.
With more newer and cooler and comfortable options that fit more easily into your life, buyers are skipping over the old-school TrailBlazer. It isn’t for the fuel savings as much as it is that the new-century products are a better fit for most lifestyles.

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