General Motors is channeling through Jim Mateja that all rear wheel drive vehicles beyond the 2009 Camaro are on hold. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says a timeout is needed to assess the impact of the recent Supreme Court ruling that the federal government must set and enforce limits on the amount of carbon dioxide produced by motor vehicles, and increasingly tougher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks.
So, while this news dampens enthusiasm for a RWD car-based pickup returning, as Yoda said to Obi Wan Kenobi when Old Ben said, “That boy is our last hope.” – No, there is another.
That other hope may be a new compact pickup that would slot into the Chevrolet truck family below the Colorado by 2012. We expect it would be powered by a 4-cylinder gasoline or diesel engine with front wheel drive.
Inspiration for this small truck comes from GM do Brasil’s Sabia Concept that showed off its bow-tie badges at the 2001 North American International Auto Show. The Sabia was both FWD and propelled by a four banger mill. And check out the lack of side mirrors in this article’s photos. The Sabia used rear facing video cameras to reduce aerodynamic drag to further improve fuel economy. Talk about being ahead of its time!
Skeptical? Then, consider the following.
The weight savings from front wheel drive versus a heavier rear wheel drive platform would help GM meet higher CAFE numbers. Since 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) target for light trucks (SUVs, minivans, and pickups) has increased from 20.7 mpg to 22.2 mpg, this year. The average will rise to 24 mpg in 2011. And one bill before Congress (S. 357) calls for a combined car and light truck CAFE target of 35 mpg by 2019. That’s a non-trivial figure to hit when sales of light trucks are a bit less than half of all vehicles sold.
Sales of midsize pickups have been decreasing for years because the overuse of incentives and easy financing for full size pickups resulted in overlapping price points between the two segments. Why buy a Colorado when you could own a Silverado for a few thousand more dollars? With a 60-month loan, it becomes a marginal point in the monthly payment. A new, small pickup would allow Chevrolet, and other manufacturers, to reset the pricing gap between models.
A smaller, cheaper pickup would also encourage new buyers (i.e. Gen Y) to enter the truck market in the hopes they would eventually upgrade to an industrial strength half-ton or heavy duty pickup later. The price point for a four cylinder pickup could start as low as $12,000, up to $16,000.
And how could you build and sell a small truck for only $12K? GM could direct GM do Brasil or GM Daewoo in South Korea to take the lead in designing and engineering this pickup but build it ‘domestically’ in Mexico. A win for GM. A win for buyers. A win for small truck fans. For the UAW, not so much.
Finally, GM is hot on the compact space. At the 2007 New York International Auto Show the General was very proud of its three stylish minicar concepts, the Chevrolet Beat, Groove, and Trax. Even though the Beat seemed to get the most attention and praise from journalists, our bet would be on the more truck-like lines of the Groove crossover inspiring a new pickup.
One way or another, it’s looking a lot like a new, smaller pickup is in the cards for General Motors and other manufacturers.