General Motors and Suzuki Motor Corp. will switch their small sport-utilities - the Chevrolet Tracker and Suzuki Vitara - to front-wheel-drive crossover vehicles.
Moving the Tracker and Vitara to a fwd crossover platform represents a major shift for the small sport-utilities. The current vehicles are body on frame with rwd, and both makers have touted the truck-like ruggedness of their vehicles.
But GM and Suzuki have seen a new generation of 'cute-utes,' such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, outsell them as consumers seek car-like handling.
The Chevrolet and Suzuki sport wagons, due for the 2004 model year, will be the first vehicles added to GM's new Theta platform created for the Saturn Vue sport-utility coming out this fall. The Tracker and Vitara replacements will be assembled at the CAMI Automotive Inc. plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, according to sources familiar with the product.
GM officials would not confirm the plan, saying only that the Theta platform was being considered for the Tracker and Vitara replacements. But GM spokesman Johannes Reifenrath said, 'It's not very likely that the architecture is being used for just one vehicle.'
Sources close to the project said it has been decided that the new vehicles will be on the Theta platform. The new vehicles will have a GM engine, one source said.
The Chevrolet version is expected to resemble the Traverse concept vehicle and is likely to shed the Tracker name, sources said.
Reifenrath characterized the Theta platform as a 'front-drive sport wagon' platform. But he said GM is creating more flexible platforms so subsequent vehicles could differ significantly from the Vue in track width and wheelbase.
The Vue's wheelbase is 106.6 inches. For comparison, the wheelbase of the Ford Escape is 103.1 inches..
GM is expected in September to designate the CAMI plant, which makes the current Tracker and Vitaras, as the assembly site for the new vehicles. CAMI Automotive is a 50-50 joint venture between GM and Suzuki.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara, a V-6 version of the Vitara, is assembled in Japan. It is unclear if Suzuki will continue building a truck-based Grand Vitara or switch it to GM's Theta platform.
Celeste Speier, spokeswoman for American Suzuki Motor Corp., said it is 'too far out to speculate on future product.' She added that Suzuki is proud of its truck technology.