Commentary: The New Chevrolet Blazer and The Future of the Crossover/SUV

2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier – Photo courtesy of General Motors

You know what they say: "just when you least expect it…"

At a private media event in Atlanta, Chevrolet rolled out their latest addition to its lineup of SUVs and crossovers. It was an ongoing rumor that the nameplate would return, but it speculated that it would be a capable SUV built off of the Colorado's pickup truck platform…

We were half-right.

The Blazer's name will return, but not in the way we envisioned. What Chevrolet did was to create a two-row crossover/SUV to slot between the Equinox and Traverse. It will reside in a segment with the Ford Edge and the upcoming 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe.

So far, the new Blazer is a mix of good and "huh?" The design has a bit of Camaro to it – inside and out. This denotes an aggressive approach to the segment and genre. It will offer both a four-cylinder and a V6 for power, both connected to 9-speed automatics and available all-wheel drive. Maximum trailer capacity with the V6 was stated at 4,500 pounds.

While this sounds like a good product for Chevrolet, it raised plenty of feedback regarding it. Certainly, the brand needs a new CUV in the lower-mid segment, but why give it a name with a reputation for not playing nice with the likes of the Jeep CJ-5, Ford Bronco, International Scout, Dodge Ramcharger, and Toyota Land Cruiser?

This is where the disappointment comes in. The TrailBlazer is made on the Colorado's frame for the Asia-Pacific and Latin American markets. It was designed to handle tough terrains stretching from South Africa to Brazil. While the TrailBlazer is no longer sold in several markets, there should be enough tooling to augment the Colorado/Canyon production line in Wentzville, Missouri for a North America version.

One point to be made about the body-on-frame SUV is the sales growth in these kinds of vehicles. The Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner are doing extremely well in the marketplace and we are seeing a rebound in recreational off-roading as a vehicular activity. It will speak volumes if (and when) General Motors returns to this arena.

Secondly, there was much discussion of the choice in the four-cylinder engine. The Blazer gets a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine that provides 194 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque. While that beats the new 2019 Santa Fe’s standard 2.4-liter engine, it lags behind the Edge’s standard 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. I get that the Equinox’s available 2.0-liter turbo is a vastly more powerful engine, but it bests the Edge. The saving grace will be the available 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. I'll bet you that the take on the V6 will be greater than the four-cylinder.

It is not about performance and capability. Rather, it is about customer reaction. How will consumers approach the new Chevrolet Blazer? Is this compact-mid (or, as Chevrolet calls it, a “midsized crossover”) set to win the hearts of those who used to rock a K-5 across the rocks in the High Desert? Or, is it just another CUV is an expansive marketplace?

These are not exactly the easiest questions to answer. Because we know that we could end up being wrong all along and customers will take to the new Blazer as it is. This alone could be a victory for Chevrolet and GM.

The Blazer’s introduction opens up a larger can of worms. A recent report states that we could see more new crossovers and SUVs well into the next decade. We are not talking about replacements for current models, but additional models that are fitting into new segments and niches.

This is where the market is going. Sedans and hatchbacks are being supplanted by crossovers and SUVs at other manufacturers. GM is holding firm to most of their current lineup. Maybe we will see their future when they announce their second-quarter earnings on July 25.

The Blazer is an addition to Chevrolet's crossover/SUV lineup – matching a trend. The same has been said about the Cadillac XT4, which is finally arriving to take its place in a hotly contested segment among premium brands. It’s all about following trends, instead of making them these days.

Think about it, we already have examples of potential sub-segments currently permeating the marketplace in North America. Fastback models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz are one such niche. Audi is about to unleash another niche with its mid-sized, two-row, cooler version of the Q7 called the Q8. Then, you have battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and other alternative propulsion models that are adding to the growing list of choices for the consumer hungry to own a CUV/SUV.

At a recent drive event, Hyundai broke it all down using their own lineup. They distinguished a small Crossover/SUV from a subcompact one by positioning the Kona and Tucson accordingly. This throws all competitive sets into a frenzy. Let me cite this example again: Chevrolet calls the new Blazer a mid-sized and Hyundai calls the newest Santa Fe a compact. One comparative measurement is a telling tale. Chevrolet states that cargo space behind the front row will measure out to 64.2 cubic feet, while a two-row 2019 Santa Fe has 71.3 cubic feet of space. Tell me which segment each one should be positioned? They seem competitive to each other to me!

By one introduction, the future of the North American automotive marketplace has been set for the next 5-10 years. Crossovers and SUVs will be the profit centers that will take generations of families and "active lifestyle" consumers through an uncertain economic future. If that is the impact of the upcoming Chevrolet Blazer, then the can o' worms and Pandora’s box will be left open on the counter for us to enjoy.

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