GM banks on refinement to lure buyers to GMC Canyon, a new small pickup truck

DETROIT – General Motors says don’t blame consumers for the shrinking market for small pickups. The trucks haven’t been very good.

So, in hopes that better quality will win back buyers, GM is rolling out two new small trucks in a segment that Ford and Chrysler have abandoned and Honda and Nissan are struggling with.

GM Sunday showed off a more upscale GMC Canyon ahead of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It already unveiled the Chevrolet Colorado in Los Angeles last year. Both are due in showrooms in the fall.

In the 1990s, Americans bought more than 1 million small pickups every year, attracted by their reasonable gas mileage and ability to haul light loads. But big trucks hauled more, and eventually caught up to the smaller ones in gas mileage. Sales plummeted. Last year, Americans bought only 227,000 small trucks, 14 per cent fewer than in 2012.

Tony DiSalle, vice-president of GMC marketing, said research shows consumers quit buying small pickups in favour of big , crossover SUVs and midsize sedans because the trucks didn’t offer comfortable and quiet interiors, advanced features and good fuel economy.

The Canyon, he said, has those features, yet is still a real pickup truck.

Mark Reuss, GM’s incoming head of product development, said the Canyon gives the company “an alternative to a big pickup truck.” Reuss helped unveil the vehicle at an event Sunday.

Here are the highlights of the Canyon:

INSIDE: Sculpted door panels for easy entrance and exit. Aluminum accents and soft plastic materials that are more upscale than the Chevrolet Colorado. Touch-screen and USB ports. Six standard air bags, standard rear-vision camera.

OUTSIDE: Rounded fenders, wheels and tires pushed wide for athletic stance. Aluminum hood for weight savings. Door panels fit into roof line. Step built into rear bumper for easy climbing into bed. Front grille shutters that close at highway speeds.

UNDER THE HOOD: Two aluminum-block engines in first year, a 193-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and a 3.6-litre V6 with an estimated 302 horsepower. In second year, a diesel will be available. Six-speed automatic transmissions; two- or four-wheel drive.

GAS MILEAGE: Not released. GM expects it to be best in segment.

CHEERS: GM went to great lengths to make the interior comfortable and to make the trucks quiet.

JEERS: Canyon is essentially the same truck as the Chevy but is nicer inside. Might not be worth the added price. The price wasn’t released.