All agree the Chevrolet Silverado is a pickup truck. But when you take the Silverado, cut out the rear bulkhead, weld on a roof over the bed, and bolt in two more rows of seats, then the Suburban, is a sport/utility vehicle.
But what if you then lop off part of the Suburban's roof, remove the third-row seats, install an openable rear bulkhead, and fashion something that's a cross between car trunk and pickup bed? Is it a pickup? An SUV? An entirely new species? By early next year, you'll have to decide. That's when the 2002 Chevy Avalanche reaches showrooms.
Chevrolet wants you to call the Avalanche an Ultimate Utility Vehicle. When forced to choose between SUV and pickup, it chooses the latter, despite the fact that the Avalanche will be about 90 percent Suburban and the Suburban is less than 60 percent Silverado.
Chevy allowed us to inspect and drive-albeit slowly-this Avalanche concept. For a show vehicle, it's extremely close to the final production version. Tow hooks, fuel filler, suede seats, and "not for highway use" 18-inch Goodyears won't make the cut. The roof rack will be available as a dealer-installed option.
The Avalanche will be a couple inches longer than a Suburban, but half a foot shorter than a Silverado extended cab. It'll be offered in both two- and four-wheel drive. Engine will be the same 5.3-liter/285-horsepower OHV Vortec 5300 V-8 as in the Suburban and Silverado.
The Avalanche's bed, reminiscent of the long-departed El Camino, is 5 feet 3 inches long. But drop its most significant feature-the "midgate"-and fold the second-row seats, and you've got an 8-foot bed that doesn't have to be made. The removeable rear window pops out and can be stowed in the rear seatback, much like a roof panel on the previous-generation Corvette could be removed and stowed in its trunk area.
The three-piece modular cargo cover can be completely or partially removed, the panels stowed on board. When erected, the cargo cover holds 250 pounds, providing stowage area for dirty toys, as well as access to the roof rack. Integral steps on the bumper and hand-holds aid entry to this area. Lockable storage bins are located ahead of and behind the rear wheelwells.
Price will be more than an extended-cab Silverado, but less than a Suburban. Chevy expects to sell 100,000 Avalanches each year, an aggressive estimate, considering the Suburban and GMC Yukon XL will combine for only about 175,000 units in 2000.
The idea for the Avalanche was born when Chevrolet's market research showed that pickup owners use their truck's beds less than 25 percent of the time. Translated: Most pickup owners use their trucks as if they were SUVs. Well, most SUV owners use their vehicles as minivans. Fortunately, no law requires that vehicle purchases must be logical.
You've got six months to decide: Is the Avalanche a pickup or a sport/ute?