Chevrolet is keeping its aging Blazer sport-utility through the 2003 model year to fill the gap below its new 2002 TrailBlazer.
The repositioned Blazer will compete with smaller sport-utilities such as the new Ford Escape and the Jeep Cherokee.
Chevrolet will concentrate advertising on the cheaper two-door Blazer in spring 2001 and, for the 2002 model year, eliminate the Blazer's top two trim packages.
In April, Chevrolet will roll out the new 2002 TrailBlazer, a larger, more powerful successor to the Blazer. GM is pitting the TrailBlazer and its two sibling vehicles, the GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada, primarily against the redesigned 2002 Ford Explorer, the Dodge Durango and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Russ Clark, brand manager for the Blazer and TrailBlazer, won't reveal how Chevrolet will price the two sport-utilities, saying only that the price difference between the two will be comparable to the Grand Cherokee and Cherokee. Those two are separated by about $8,000.
Clark expects combined sales of the two Chevrolet sport-utilities in 2001 to top Blazer sales for 2000, currently on track to hit 242,000 units. Clark said Chevrolet will sell up to 120,000 Blazers in 2001, but would not forecast TrailBlazer sales.
PLUGGING A HOLE
The Blazer's sibling vehicle, the GMC Jimmy, is being discontinued so GMC can focus on more upscale sport-utilities such as the Envoy, the Jimmy's replacement.
But for Chevrolet, eliminating the Blazer would have created a size and price gap in its sport-utility lineup between the budget Tracker and the TrailBlazer. The Tracker, with a wheelbase of 97.6 inches, has a base price below $15,000. The TrailBlazer, with a wheelbase of 113 inches, will be priced close to the Durango, which starts at about $27,000.
Keeping the Blazer gives Chevrolet dealers a vehicle to compete against lower-priced sport-utilities such as the Escape and Cherokee, two vehicles that are significantly larger than the Tracker.
The Cherokee pioneered the 2-for-1 strategy. Jeep kept the Cherokee when it fielded the Grand Cherokee in 1992.
The Blazer fits in well with 'that younger buyer niche,' said Diane Sauer, owner of Diane Sauer Chevrolet in Warren, Ohio.
Chevrolet will target the Blazer at a younger, more price-sensitive audience. Clark said Blazer marketing will concentrate on the less expensive two-door models, including the new 2001 Blazer Xtreme. The Xtreme features a lowered suspension and ground effects. Despite an onslaught of new small sport-utilities such as the Escape and the Hyundai Santa Fe, Clark believes there still is room in the market for the Blazer and the TrailBlazer.
BETTING ON GROWTH
Sales in the midrange sport-utility segment, as defined by the Automotive News Data Center, grew 12 percent to 2.04 million in 1999. Sales in the segment grew 5.8 percent for the first nine months of 2000 from the same period a year before.
Clark said, 'I don't think we'll have double-digit growth in the segment (in future years), but it will continue to grow.'
Although the Blazer hasn't been redesigned since 1995, it remains a strong seller for Chevrolet. During the first 10 months of 2000, Blazer sales rose 9.5 percent to 201,835 units, putting it on track to hit 242,000 for the year. The Blazer's best year was 1996 when Chevrolet sold 246,307 units.
Chevrolet is offering $3,000 cash back or 0.0 percent financing on the 2000 four-door Blazer.
Beginning in 2001, GM will build 110,000 to 120,000 Blazers per year until it is discontinued, Clark said.
For the 2003 model year, Chevrolet will introduce an extended-wheelbase version of the TrailBlazer with a third row of seats to compete with the Explorer and Durango third-row seats.