Between the Lines: Motor Trend on the Chevrolet Tahoe

While the automobile industry gorges on gorgeous, unveiling wild and sexy concept cars in LA and Detroit, the real business of the car business grinds on. GM enters 06 with its financials on the crash cart side of perilous, and it ain t anything a turbo-charged two-door with all the luggage capacity of a grocery bag is gonna fix. Almost all the General s chips now rest on the little square marked GMT900: their new(ish) SUVs and trucks. So, is it a hit? Motor Trend s persistently undercapitalized (first test) chevrolet tahoe tells the tale.

With spiking fuel prices, an onslaught of import competition, hurricanes, and a spotlight on hybrid and crossover alternatives, the full-size truck market- traditionally the source of most of GM s profits- has been hard hit. Several models in the company s full-size range have experienced double-digit sales losses (in some cases 40-percent monthly sales declines) compared with last year. And the incentives to move the iron are large and expensive.
Oh dear. When a brown-nosing automotive buff book feels free to introduce a brand spanking new vehicle by saying its intended market has gone completely to shit, you know there s trouble at the mill. Saying that, MT s Tahoe review lacks a by-line. And this dark days for the SUV set-up could eventually make the Tahoe out to be a hero — if the truck s got what it takes to revive the moribund market for gas-guzzling utes. Which it couldn t possibly, for all the reasons MT cited (and more).

Anyway, as usual, MT immediately softens the blow. To its shame, MT absolves GM from any blame for trucking-things-up, and brings new meaning to the word sycophantic.

To its credit, the General saw the impending problems early in the development process of its upcoming full-size sport/utilities and pickup trucks, which are based on the new GMT900 platform. Insiders said the new SUVs had to be considerably better than the current segment players if GM wanted to maintain dominant share position. As incentives disappeared and employee discounts lost their charm, GM knew it needed to get its new truck platform into the market- fast.

GM deserves credit for foreseeing the SUV implosion and reacting swiftly? Talk about revisionist history. In fact, GM neglected its car business for well over a decade, got caught with pants down and rushed a warmed-over refresh of its existing product line to showrooms in the hopes that it could hold some of [what it has publicly admitted to be] a shrinking market. Does MT really think its readers are both uniformed AND gullible? Or, as Paul Simon asked in a Chevy-truck-friendly song (Loves Me Like a Rock), who do you think you re foolin ?

Nausea prevents me from entering the full third graph of this extended intro, but I will share its last sentence, as it goes straight to the heart of the matter.

Can a single SUV architecture save a company s profits at a time when its most viable segment is shrinking?

Personally, I d put the word no afterwards and call it good. (One big reason why I m writing here, not there.) But MT is finally off, filling-up column inches, testing the tahoe. And they re not afraid to confront the big issue: mileage. Well, sort of.

The anonymous author lauds the new(ish) tahoe s improved aerodynamics for increasing fuel efficiency by almost 12%. (I make that about one mpg.) But hang on, fuel ratings have been bettered in other important ways, too. Yada-yada-yada most fuel efficient engine in its class. And the answer is unadjusted combined-average fuel-economy ratings in two- and four-wheel drive above 20mpg. Oy friggin vey.

By failing to provide real world mileage figures for city, highway and combined driving, by forgetting to put a hard number to the tahoe s improvement in fuel efficiency (more than almost 12% ?), the mag plays straight into the hands of GM s spin machine. More importantly, it s a total abrogation of Motor Trend s journalistic responsibilities to its readers.

At this point, our Between the Lines radar lit-up like a group of pot smokers at a NORML demonstration. Stinger missiles locked and loaded, we cruised through the article s arid spaces, searching for cleverly hidden enemy waffles.

The tahoe s V-8 proved more than adequate for moving through traffic (but less than ideal?). The new(ish) tahoe s quarter mile time was slightly slower than the previous model s. The steering has a soft spot on center. The interior is nothing short of stunning, especially when compared with the previous generation s (how about compared to a Toyota s?). Although it s cumbersome to store [the tahoe s 85-pound rear] seats in a closet when not in use GM expects the Tahoe to get five-star ratings when government crash tests are completed (and we expect MT to make a big deal of it if they don t).

In the main, MT s review makes it clear that GM has addressed all the tahoe s previous shortcomings. But the article hasn t answered the question it raised in the intro: is the new(ish) tahoe good enough to keep the white flag off The General s door? Obviously, there s no way the conclusion can avoid this issue. Or is there?

Has GM hit a gusher? Too soon to say. But the Tahoe is exactly what GM needed - a bigger, stronger, safer, more fuel efficient sport/utility with a decent interior - finally. Let s hope this is indicative of a better planning and development approach that ll produce more competitive products from here on out. Next up? Another high-profit, high-volume, but risk-filled segment: full-size pickups. GM knows the drill.

Many of you have emailed Jalopnik to tell us that this kind of mealy mouthed mush has stopped you from buying car mags altogether. We know the drill. And we share your guarded optimism that the web will eventually force car magazines to recognize that their readers interests should be their primary concern.

Meanwhile, we re willing to go on record and state that the new(ish) tahoe will do nothing substantive to staunch the flow of red ink hemorrhaging from GM s bottom line. If the tahoe was exactly what GM needed, it would be a perfectly packaged, endlessly stylish rear-wheel-drive sedan with a hybrid powerplant.

RF

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

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Between the Lines: Motor Trend on the Bugatti Veyron [internal]