GM unveils redesigned SUVs to be made in Arlington

Posted Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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General Motors on Thursday unveiled its line of quieter, safer and more efficient full-size SUVs that will be made at its expanded Arlington plant — 2015 Suburbans, Yukons and Tahoes.

They offer an array of gadgetry including jimmy-proof doors, a security system that makes it nearly impossible for thieves to start or move the vehicles, radar-equipped collision avoidance, and a driver’s seat bottom that quivers and shakes to warn of a possible crash.

The high-end SUVs, aimed at buyers earning $112,000 or more, have had their biggest makeover since 2007, said Mark Clawson, GM’s marketing manager for full-size Chevrolet SUVs and crossovers. The redesign includes an all-new interior, exterior and powertrain, along with a highly updated chassis and transmission, he said.

The Arlington plant will also assemble a new Cadillac Escalade SUV, but it will have a separate unveiling. The 2015 Suburban and Tahoe models will hit showroom floors during the first quarter of 2014.

GM spent $500 million on renovations and additions to its Arlington assembly plant, including a $40 million stamping plant, and added 1,000 workers. GM now employs about 4,200 in Arlington.

Plant manager Paul Graham said the facility has run three shifts since January, turning out 1,203 SUVs a day. He said the 1,000 workers are being trained.

Clawson said hundreds of test models will be assembled in Arlington starting next week, to be used internally by GM. Commercial production of the new models will begin early next year.

Significant improvements include the new EcoTec3 engine family, with direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation, and continuously variable valve timing, and new tires with lower rolling resistance.

GM said that along with improved aerodynamics, fuel efficiency will be better than in the 2014 models, which get 15 miles per gallon in city driving (21 on the highway). But it hasn’t released the figures yet.

Whatever the mileage, Clawson said, fans of large SUVs will not be dissuaded.

“Fuel economy is not a top priority for these consumers,” he told the Star-Telegram. “They tell us they are going to drive them forever despite the price of fuel.”

During a PowerPoint presentation, GM disclosed the “psychographic” profile of typical Suburban buyers: 45 to 50 years old, earning $135,000. Fifty-five percent are male.

These consumers are described as “extremely hardworking, self-reliant men and women with a keen sense of how far they’ve come in life.” They see their “achievements as individuals first, and their accomplishments as parents second.”

So while a minivan might fulfill the same practical needs for these drivers and their families, such a vehicle doesn’t jibe with their self-image. Putting it bluntly, Clawson told reporters: “He wouldn’t be caught dead in a minivan.”

While the epitaph for the hulking SUVs had been written, especially during the recession and periodic gas price spikes, Chevrolet sold more than 117,000 last year and sales were up more than 16 percent in the first six months of 2013, GM said. Sales of the GMC Yukon, including the upscale Denali model, were up 24 percent for the first eight months of this year.

Clawson predicted that the collection of innovative safety and anti-theft devices will lower insurance costs. When the key is removed, he said, the vehicles are practically impossible to start or move. The marketing manager said details will be disclosed to the insurance industry but not to the general public so as not to tip off potential car thieves.

Standard and optional features include forward collision alert, the new vibrating “safety alert” seat, a front-seat center air bag, sensors that will set off an alarm when a window is smashed, and interior and vertical motion detectors.

“I’ll sell everyone I can get, undoubtedly,” said Eric G. Bryant, general sales manager of Grapevine’s Classic Chevrolet, who explained that sales always jump with major redesigns.

Bryant lauded the new models’ push-button fold-down of the second- and third-row seats, as well as other gadgetry like Bluetooth connectivity and LEDs. He predicted that Classic would sell about as many 2015 Tahoes and Suburbans in nine or 10 months next year as he would in 12 months this year.

Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said that while sales of large SUVs are down significantly from their pre-recession peak, they still have a dedicated following.

“GM remains a heavyweight in the space and we expect that they will maintain their position of leadership with the introduction of the latest and greatest Tahoe and Suburban,” he said in an email.

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718 Twitter: @bshlachter

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GM unveils redesigned SUVs

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