GMC Canyon offers big-truck looks in smaller package

The 2015 GMC Canyon, unveiled Sunday in Detroit, was designed to resemble a "little Sierra" to attract buyers of full-sized pickups from other brands. Photo credit: GM

UPDATED: 1/12/14 8:57 am ET - adds details on powertrains

DETROIT -- The 2015 GMC Canyon is the bolder, more-chiseled half of General Motors' dual bid to revive consumer interest in smaller pickups.

While the Chevrolet Colorado is sporty and sleek, the Canyon, its corporate sibling, looks a bit like a little brother to the GMC Sierra full-sized pickup. And that's by design.

The Canyon, unveiled Sunday on the eve of press previews for the 2014 Detroit auto show, was designed to resemble a "little Sierra" to attract buyers of full-sized pickups from other brands, says GM North America President Mark Reuss.

Reuss said he believes some owners of bigger trucks such as Ford's F-150 and the Ram 1500 want a smaller vehicle that still has most of the hauling and towing capability.

"We want to steal people from big pickup trucks in other brands with the GMC," Reuss said in an interview in November.

Reuss said the Canyon and Colorado are aimed at slightly different buyer groups. While Chevy will position the Colorado as a sporty truck for active families, the bold-faced Canyon will be for buyers who want capability in a smaller package.

Bucking the trend

With the introduction this fall of the Canyon and Colorado, GM will be zigging while its competitors zag. Both Ford and Chrysler Group have abandoned the shrinking market for mid-sized trucks, leaving the Toyota Tacoma as the dominant force.

GM is betting that improved offerings can breathe new life into the mid-sized pickup segment, which shriveled to just 227,111 sales last year, from more than 1 million in 2000, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

Only the Tacoma, which accounted for 70 percent of the segment's sales in 2013, and the Nissan Frontier remain significant players.

GM touts its "three-truck strategy" of having mid-sized, light-duty and heavy-duty offerings in both Chevy and GMC's lineups as the best way to meet the varying needs of pickup buyers.

"Not everyone needs full-size capability, but they still deserve strength and true truck attributes that come in larger models," GMC marketing chief Tony DiSalle said in a statement. "The Canyon will offer all the capability with confidence."

The powertrain options on the Canyon are the same as those offered on the Colorado. Two gasoline engines are available: a 193-hp, 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine and a 302-hp, 3.6-liter, V-6 engine. Both engines feature direct fuel injection and variable valve timing.

A six-speed automatic transmission is standard and a six-speed manual gearbox is available with the 4-cylinder engine in extended cab models.

GM, aiming for even more incremental sales, plans to offer a 2.8-liter turbodiesel option in both trucks in the second model year.

GM's global product development chief, Mary Barra, who will become CEO of the company on Wednesday, with the GMC Canyon on Sunday evening in Detroit.

Weight loss

The Canyon is built on GM's global mid-sized truck platform, which it launched in 2011 with the Chevy Colorado in Thailand. GM engineers did extensive work to ready the body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive pickup for the United States. It is about 40 percent lighter than the truck sold overseas.

Compared with the Sierra, the crew cab version of the Canyon is 900 pounds lighter, 17 inches shorter and 6 inches narrower. It is expected to get much better fuel economy, but EPA ratings aren't available yet.

A lightweight aluminum hood and aerodynamic grille shutters, which close at highway speeds, aim to improve efficiency.

The Canyon has a muscular, more premium-looking front end than the Colorado. The hood has a subtle power dome to convey capability. It will come standard with C-shaped LED daytime running lamps and body-colored grille with GMC's signature horizontal chrome bars.

GM incorporated some nifty features that debuted on the redesigned 2014 Sierra and Chevy Silverado. They include corner steps on each bumper, which make it easier to climb up into the bed; and a torsion bar that allows for a gently opening rear tailgate.

Speed limit for teens

Inside, GM promises a hushed cabin. An 8-inch touch screen in the center stack will house an improved IntelliLink infotainment system with voice recognition. IntelliLink will include a new feature, Teen Driver, which allows parents to set limits on speed and radio volume. 4G LTE connectivity with a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot will also be available.

Reuss said GM also expects the Canyon will also appeal to Tacoma buyers and owners of older mid-sized trucks whose makers have left the market, such as the Ford Ranger and Dodge Dakota.

GM points out that the departure of Ford and Dodge in 2011 and the planned end of production in June of the Honda Ridgeline leaves 30 percent of the mid-sized pickup market up for grabs. Honda has said it will introduce a second-generation Ridgeline within two years.

GMC's U.S. sales last year rose 9 percent, to 450,901.

You can reach Mike Colias at autonews@crain.com

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