- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

YPSILANTI, Mich. — General Motors Corp. is basing much of its 2002 product line on the premise that consumers want anything with four wheels and a bed, extended or otherwise.
"Some ask if the truck craze is over, and while it may be maturing, there seems to be more to come," said Bill Lovejoy, GM group vice president of North American sales, service and marketing.
More indeed is coming, by way of the Chevrolet Avalanche. It will be available nationwide this fall after a "soft" introduction in Texas, Florida and California.
The imposing vehicle's most distinctive feature is the configurable midgate, a rear windshield and bulkhead that flips down to extend the truck bed from just over five feet to over eight feet. The midgate also will be offered on the Cadillac Escalade EXT, which Mr. Lovejoy calls a "cross between an SUV and a pickup."
GM was to unveil the design Wednesday.
The Avalanche also will be available with a powerful Vortec 5300 V-8 engine. GM plans to produce about 100,000 Avalanches for 2002, according to Ed Schoener, its brand manager.
For a pickup truck, the Avalanche is pricey, from $30,965 for a two-wheel-drive model to $37,465 for a special four-wheel-drive North Face edition.
Light-truck sales have been a high point for General Motors this year, outpacing its passenger car sales by more than 38,000 vehicles.
In June, GM's light-truck sales soared 9.25 percent and are down only 3 percent year-to-date from the first six months of 2000, when the industry set a sales record.
GM has wrested the industry's top spot in light-truck sales from Ford Motor Co. for the first six months of 2001, the result of a multimillion-dollar effort to totally overhaul its truck line and support it with aggressive marketing.
But it will face some stiff competition in the 2002 model year from the new Dodge Ram pickup and Ford's enduring F-150 line, the best-selling vehicles of all time.
Some analysts predict the second half of the year will feature more sedate vehicle sales than the surprisingly robust first half, but GM is hoping enough buyers will be attracted to its high-profit line of pickup trucks and SUV's to offset the falloff in volume.
Volatile fuel prices and any uncertainty over the economy don't appear to be quelling the public's desire for the expensive and powerful behemoths of the road.
"Light trucks are 50 percent of light vehicle sales and that's where the profits are," said Bill Seltenheim, an analyst with Autodata Corp., a Woodcliff, N.J., industry consulting firm. "The public still wants them."
GM is making some other changes in its light-truck lineup. GMC's Sierra C3 pickup is being renamed the Sierra Denali for 2002 and will be the first conventional pickup to be equipped with the Quadrasteer four-wheel-steering system.
Powering Chevy's Silverado HD heavy-duty pickup is a selection of brawny engines from the Vortec 6000 V-8 to the Duramax 6600 and Vortec 8100 high-capacity power plants.

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