Amid climate change concern, GM rolls out big new Chevy SUVs

Source: By Tom Krisher, Associated Press • Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2019

GM on Tuesday rolled out the next generation of its big truck-based SUVs with more space and features. They’re also heavier with only a small improvement in gas mileage.

The 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban will come out in the middle of next year. They’ll be longer and weigh more, because customer research showed a need for more interior space.

“People wanted a greater ability to haul families and their cargo, so that was the baseline that set our decisionmaking process,” said Dwight Schoenefeld, lead development engineer on the SUVs.

But Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, a Washington environmental group, said GM and other automakers spend billions on advertising to convince people to buy the thirsty and highly profitable trucks and SUVs.

“GM claims that they are merely meeting consumer demand for gigantic vehicles, but most consumers don’t use their pickups and SUVs for lumber and machinery but to haul lattes home from Starbucks,” he said.

The length of the Tahoe will grow nearly 7 inches to almost 211 inches. The Suburban gains just over an inch in length to nearly 226 inches. The extra length, though, enabled engineers to raise the Tahoe’s cargo space behind the third row by 67% to 25.5 cubic feet. Suburban rear cargo space rose about 5% to 41 cubic feet.

The Suburban and Tahoe also get a raft of new features including standard automatic emergency braking and a 10-inch touch screen.

All of the features will add 50 to 200 pounds, depending on options, to the SUVs.

Yet even with the additions, mileage will get “incrementally” better, Schoenefeld said. GM said it doesn’t have government-certified mileage numbers yet. All versions will have 10-speed automatic transmissions, more efficient than the current six-speed gearboxes. GM will offer a 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8; a 420-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8; or a more efficient 277-horsepower, six-cylinder, 3-liter diesel engine.

The new SUVs, unveiled Tuesday night at an arena in Detroit, also will get stop-start technology that shuts off the engine at stop lights, and the engines will be able to run on as few as two cylinders to save fuel.

Currently, the GM SUVs are among the least-efficient new passenger vehicles on the road, and the mileage hasn’t improved much in the past decade. For instance, a two-wheel-drive Tahoe in 2010 with a 5.3-liter V8 engine and six-speed transmission got 15 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway, according to the fueleconomy.gov website. The 2020 version of a two-wheel-drive Tahoe with the same engine and transmission got the same city mileage but improved by 1 mpg on the highway.

Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said climate change may be a concern for some buyers of truck-based SUVs, but it’s not the biggest factor. Most big SUV buyers, she said, need space and towing capacity.

“As long as fuel prices remain relatively low, buyers are less likely to go out of their way to seek alternatives,” she said.

U.S. government fuel economy standards haven’t forced mileage of truck-based SUVs to improve very much, said John German, a senior fellow with the International Council on Clean Transportation. Big trucks only have to improve about 1.5% per year from 2017 through 2021, versus about 4% for cars, he said.

 

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