GM hopes new version of Chevy Colorado grabs Subaru buyers, other outdoorsy types

DETROIT – GM has reimagined its small pickup truck to cater to outdoorsy folks who haul smelly wet dogs and kayaks. In other words, Subaru buyers.

The new Chevrolet Colorado, to be unveiled Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show, has little in common with the old version, which was noisy with a cheap-looking hard plastic interior that didn’t appeal to many buyers.

The 2015 model weighs 900 pounds less and is 16 inches shorter than its brawny cousin, the full-size Chevy Silverado. And it’s equipped with bike racks and other accessories that GM hopes will lure Subaru customers — relatively affluent people that GM calls “lifestyle” buyers.

To do so, GM knows it must make in-roads in California, Colorado, New York and other places where such buyers are abundant.

Subaru’s sales, led by the Forester small SUV, have grown more than 61 per cent in the past two years. Subaru doesn’t sell a pickup, but its all-wheel-drive hatchbacks are popular with people who spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly on the coasts.

GM wants to replicate that success with a U.S. brand.

“If there was a brand, a domestic brand, that could fill that space and really provide those types of things, we thought Chevy was a good place to do it,” said Alan Batey, global Chevrolet chief, at a preview of the Colorado last week in Detroit where he spoke while standing beneath giant posters of people surfing, skiing and bicycling.

The Colorado, and its GMC sister, the Canyon, also will be aimed at another market: workers who need trucks, but not as big as the Silverado or the GMC Sierra. The smaller trucks, Batey said, do more than look good.

“We didn’t want to just create a really pretty truck that’s accessorized but can’t do anything,” he said.

In the late 1990s, the small-truck market in the U.S. was over a million vehicles, but as automakers like Ford and GM pulled out, it dwindled to less than 300,000 annually.

GM stopped making the old Colorado last year. In the past four years, sales never topped 39,000 nationwide.

The new version is due out next fall. It takes aim at the Toyota Tacoma, the most popular small truck in the U.S. with sales of over 141,000 in 2012.

Here are highlights of the Colorado:

INSIDE: Touch-screen and multiple USB ports for iPods, phones and other devices. Still has knobs and big buttons for climate controls. Six standard air bags, standard rear-vision camera. Interior with far less hard plastic than the old Colorado.

OUTSIDE: Rounded fenders, wheels and tires pushed wide for athletic stance. Low-slung windshield for aerodynamics and sportier looks. Door panels fit into roof line. Step built into rear bumper for easy climbing into bed. Cross members for racks that bolt into bed. Rack options for bicycles, kayaks, skis, etc. Cargo can be stowed beneath the racks.

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 engine will be available. Six-speed automatic transmissions; two- or four-wheel drive.

GAS MILEAGE: Not released. Jeff Luke, chief truck engineer, says GM is expecting best-in-class mileage with the four-cylinder engine. A four-cylinder, manual transmission Toyota Tacoma gets up to 23 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

CHEERS: Trucks look rugged and have great convenience features for people who want to haul bikes or kayaks. GM promises they’ll be capable of towing and hauling heavy payloads.

JEERS: GM has to pay for the capital cost of developing the new trucks. That could mean prices close to competitors’ larger trucks. Pricing announced later. Also, trucks will be available only in versions with back seats. That could add to price.