DETROIT -- Onstage alongside the next-generation Acadia crossover that bowed at the auto show here last week was a subtle statement about GMC's ambitions to encroach on the turf of the fast-growing Jeep brand.
GMC, which has downsized the 2017 Acadia to about the size of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, also will sell a new All Terrain model. While the unibody crossover isn't for extreme, Jeep Wrangler-style off-roading, it includes an all-terrain mode that works in conjunction with a new twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system for better grip.
Asked whether the model could be seen as an early step in an effort to position GMC as more of a Jeep fighter, global product chief Mark Reuss replied: "It is." The Acadia goes on sale this spring.
The awd system is "not so much some of the ultimate rock-crawling capability, but rather some very sophisticated, engineered applications of all-wheel drive" that improve hill-climbing capability, Reuss told reporters. It also looks the part, with a body-color grille surround, black chrome trim and alternate wheels.
Ever since GM pulled the plug on Hummer in 2009, there has been talk about whether one of GM's brands could pick up the Jeep-fighter mantle. GMC chief Duncan Aldred stoked that chatter in 2014 when he said he could see a "Wrangler-esque type vehicle" as an addition to the GMC lineup some day.
Last week, Aldred said the All Terrain model is aimed at outdoorsy types looking for "rugged excitement."
"There are so many crossover entries with different characteristics -- whether it be Ford or Jeep -- and this was really our step into saying, 'We can almost get another model in there just by giving it more capability and character for the adventurous type of buyer."
He added: "This is covering a gap which we feel we haven't exploited fully in the past."
Of course, both GMC and Jeep have seen sales soar amid lower gasoline prices and a tilt in consumer demand toward light trucks. GMC sales rose 11 percent last year to 558,697 vehicles. Jeep sales soared 25 percent to 865,028.