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  • Whale Watching: Two Obits--One Expected

Whale Watching: Two Obits--One Expected

July/August 2005 Edition

G.R. Whale
Aug 21, 2005
Last spring, GM announced that Quadrasteer--the four-wheel-steering option for full-size trucks and SUVs--and the Envoy XUV have been killed. I will miss only one of them.
The XUV's demise is no surprise: According to GM literature, the XUV weighs only 30 pounds less than a Tahoe, carries 300 pounds less, and has a towing capacity that's 1200 pounds lower, the trade-offs being roughly one mpg, a few thousand less to buy, and a two-year-older platform. I'd bet what could be transported upright in the XUV's open roof would lay down in a Yukon with the seats folded. The XUV is unattractive, and its headlights are a nuisance in inclement weather.
GM claims the XUV is popular with pet owners, contractors, and antique dealers. Seems to me that antique dealers might not be a big enough audience to market a vehicle to. I never saw a contractor in one, nor have I seen a dirty XUV for that matter. And most pet owners probably want their pets inside the vehicle with them.
To put more nails in the XUV's coffin, the sport/ute sold roughly one-third what GM predicted (the three-row XL did sell better). Although GM denies giving the roof-mechanism builder any sales projections, the supplier invested $10 million in a factory to build 500,000 roofs. With 35,000 sales to date, it would take more than a decade for the XUV to reach that number--and January 2005 Envoy sales were down more than 50 percent from a year ago. I wonder if people expect room, payload, and towing capacity for their substantial gas money? Common sense would say so, and I'm guessing GM is starting to figure that out as well.
Quadrasteer was a better idea, although steeply priced initially and not ideally marketed. Four-wheel steering was irrelevant on small, easily parked cars, so why add the cost, complexity, and weight? Big pickups aren't as maneuverable, so Q-steer is sensible, except most American roads are so spacious it might not seem necessary.
Tight-turning ability is easily shown in commercials, but the steering's greatest advantage--stability, especially when towing--is too difficult to convey in a 30- to 60-second video, even with a fast narrator. Until you've driven a Q-steer truck towing a trailer, you can't fully appreciate its impressive capabilities. It's cliche, but one drive is all it takes, and it's superior to any high-tech trailer hitch costing the same money. Some comments suggest that GM believed the steering was valuable only to trailer pullers, but couldn't say how many of its trucks are shipped with tow hitches.
Part of the problem was its limited availability. Quadrasteer-equipped trucks didn't have the big-block or diesel option boat and RV pullers require. Essentially a front Dana 60 axle swapped around, the Q-steer rearend can't cope with the torque output of the larger motors; buyers were left with a choice of engine grunt or maneuverability. Not surprisingly, people who tow chose grunt. When was the last time you heard turning circle come up when guys talk about their rigs?
Another problem was lack of vehicles to drive. Pickups with four-wheel steering weren't prominent in dealer inventory, and, at the initial price ($3995), few dealers wanted them without a sold order. The price later got cut to roughly $2000, but that's still a significant percentage on a $30,000 truck. Further compounding the problem is that many RV owners tend to be traditionalists and don't embrace new technology as readily as other segments do. They're also likely to be budget-conscious (and practical) and expect a lot for their money.
Delphi, the brains behind Q-steer, also contributed--it put all its eggs in one basket and gave GM an exclusive for three years. The technology made its debut on a platform already a few years old and therefore missed the mass advertising any new model gets. It'd be great if Delphi could pitch the componentry to another manufacturer, but with Ford and Chrysler almost out of solid-axle SUVs, don't hold your breath.
Perhaps GM should've tried XUV and Quadrasteer on the Oldsmobile Bravada first--it would've made for a lot less bad news.



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