In the world of trucks, automakers have fought door wars and cupholder wars.
The next battle may be over seats.
General Motors has added a third-row bench seat to the redesigned 2000 GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe. The new bench will expand those models' seating capacity to seven - in a pinch (with emphasis on the word 'pinch').
The rear bench is cramped, and a mountain goat probably is best equipped to clamber into it. But GM thinks customers appreciate the extra passenger capacity as a just-in-case feature for short hauls.
'It will be a seat for occasional use,' said Dennis O'Donnell, the Yukon's brand manager. 'It's a great place for the kids.'
GM chose not to make the new Yukon significantly longer than the current version. That meant the rear bench is over the gas tank, rear axle and spare tire mounted underneath the chassis.
In turn, that means less legroom for rear passengers, since the foot wells must be shallow. To compensate, GM squeezed 1.5 inches of extra headroom by raising the roof line slightly and by bonding the headliner more tightly to the roof.
To enter the rear seat, passengers fold the right middle seat down, climb in and fold the seat back again. The rear bench is designed to hold two children comfortably or two adults who are under 5 feet 4 inches.
To verify GM's claims, this reporter - who at 6 feet 3 inches clearly does not meet the seat's design specifications - was able to jam himself into the rear seat with some semblance of dignity. The folding seat also is fairly easy to push forward when rear passengers disembark.
Still, the Yukon's rear seat is roomier than the rear bench found in many extended-cab pickups. But many adults would be uncomfortable on a trip of any length.
Now that the Yukon and Tahoe are ready for a late-1999 introduction, GM is considering a similar rear bench for the next-generation Chevrolet Blazer, due in the 2001 or 2002 model year. But that would require GM to stretch the Blazer considerably, since the vehicle is built on a smaller platform than the Yukon and Tahoe. The Dodge Durango's three rows of seats helped it become a hot seller.
In any event, GM is confident it can sell as many full-sized sport-utilities as it can build. Industrywide, the segment generated sales of 608,700 units in 1998. GM's share, with the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet and GMC Suburban and the Yukon and Tahoe, was 55.7 percent.
GM expects the segment to reach 700,000 units in 2000 or 2001.