At the dawn of the new millennium Chevrolet had an epiphany: “People love pickups but don’t really use them.” So it lopped off the back of an SUV and created the Avalanche; a vehicle with trucky pretenses but Suburban practicality. Slow sales killed it in 2013 and now the concept is back. Backwards.
The old Avalanche was a truck’d SUV, the new Silverado High Desert is an SUV’d pickup truck. It’s also the first time GM’s magnetic ride control makes an appearance on a Chevy truck. Yes, that’s the same suspension technology that you find in Ferraris and top-of-the-line Cadillacs.
“The High Desert package blends the capability and utility of Silverado with the refinement and luxury of Suburban,” said Chevy Truck Marketing Sandor Piszar in a press release. If I could find the press release from the Avalanche’s 2001 introduction, I’m sure it would say the exact same thing. After all, it was quite literally a Suburban with a cut cargo area, a Silverado face and extra cladding.
Oh, the Avalanche is back, only now it’s going to make Chevy more money than ever before. We’ll circle back to why in a few paragraphs.
It might be hard to imagine in today’s golden age of $60,000 pickups, but back in 2001 a full four-door luxury truck (like this new High Desert package Silverado) seemed about as reasonable as a Toyota smoking a Ferrari.
At least, that’s the only reason I can think of for GM sucking up the significant expense and complexity of turning a Suburban into a tough guy-chic truck like they did with the original Avalanche instead of just dressing up a pickup like they’re doing with the Silverado High Desert.
GM’s efforts paid off! For a while. The Avalanche and enjoyed a solid 11 model-year run with two generations and close to 600,000 total sales. Consumer interest eventually dropped off... right around the same time leather and chrome started showing up as common equipment in “real” trucks.
Suddenly the hassle of bastardizing Suburbans stopped making sense, and in model year 2013 “the SUV with the capability of a truck” (or was it the other way around?) was put on the funeral pyre.
The Avalanche was a watershed moment in automotive history though; a true industry harbinger. Don’t believe me? Count the four-door trucks your local Chevy dealer has in stock. Good luck finding half as many two-doors on the same lot.
Speaking of today, this High Desert package tells me Chevy’s product planners have been busily stoking their beards.
Everybody’s still buying trucks for all the wrong reasons, but GM’s not about to say you don’t need a three-ton 4WD V8 utility rig to pick up mulch at Home Depot once every two years. GM is selling a flat box slapped on a steel frame a car company can sell for the price of a decent Mercedes. Can you imagine those profit margins? If you can’t, the ever-creeping transaction prices of new pickups is in the news all the time.
So in a market supposedly driven by dirty greasy details like “payload ratings” and “pulling-power,” automakers are really warring over in this space is refinement.
Every pickup truck presentation I’ve been to in the last three years has had the same PowerPoint slides: “Feel how smooth!” “Listen how quiet!” “Look, a place for your groceries!”
I won’t even bother talking about the Ford F-150's massaging seats, GMC Sierra’s acoustic laminated glass or the Ram Laramie Limited’s leather so soft you’re inclined to check it for a pulse because none of that is nearly as ironic as automakers desperately trying to come up with ways for a pickup truck to hold your stuff.
This is the great misery of the urban cowboy, my friends. Not the aircraft carrier pace of fuel consumption. Not the inability to park at an airport terminal without paying a commercial vehicle fee. Despite an abundance of cargo capacity being a truck’s main selling point, most owners are constantly left scratching their nuts wondering where they can put their valuable items that are smaller than a wood pallet.
Consumers have to get fed up with this eventually. “Peak pickup truck” is an inevitability and automakers are wise to it. Look at the ongoing extinction of the single cab. The invention of bed gunwale storage. Flat floors and under-seat storage. Heck–look at the entire concept of the Honda Ridgeline. It starts to make sense that we’re getting an unofficial return of the Chevy Avalanche in this Silverado High Desert. Trucks are becoming cars, people. But with the added benefit of costing more to buy and operate.
So, why is the Silverado High Desert that much better than the original Avalanche? Simple; it’s easier to make.
Instead of having to poach Suburban platforms to build a unique truck, Chevy can just slap these plastic bed pieces onto the Silverado and voilà—a pickup truck as useful as a sedan!
Packages and special editions are great ways for automakers to squeeze even more money out of the extremely profitable pickup truck platform and Chevy is one of the most ambitious re-packagers in the industry. They send us press releases almost weekly of a new sticker or badge-coloring kit you can order at your local dealer. But the High Desert caught my eye, since it’s particularly representative of what I think is The Next Big Thing in trucks: useable storage.
Trucks are as leathered and chromed as they can physically get. They’re getting the same suspension tech as the Camaro ZL1. Capability levels are creeping up on dangerous. The only thing left to add is making them halfway practical for the vast majority of people buying them!
I reckon we’re going to start seeing a lot more trucks with tricks like the Ram Box, Honda’s “in-bed trunk,” and yes, this Chevy Avalanche Redux so we can all stop feeling like idiots when 2,000 pounds of payload capacity can’t accommodate 20 pounds of groceries.
Or, we could just buy a car.