If you know even just a little bit about off-roading, or, for that matter, hauling loads over anything but pool table smooth roads, the news that GM will not be making unibody pickups will be greeted with a sigh of relief. This is a rumor that has been kicking around American car circles for quite some time, and at first I wondered just why they would do this. From an engineering standpoint, a unibody design makes a lot of sense on paper. And it also works out great in practice for cars and minivans and such.
On the road, or more precisely, off the road, going with a unibody set up can cause you all sorts of hassles and have consequences you wouldn’t expect.
I’ve got this good friend, Carl, that runs a repair shop in Seattle. Great guy through and through, and knows more about cars, trucks and whatnot that you’d care to imagine. He also has a cabin way up in the woods, and is one of the few people I know that has an actual need for an SUV and using its off road capabilities. His shop is situated across the street from a Volvo dealer and amongst a row of other shops; brake places and body shops and what not.
One time I swung by for a visit, and I could see down the road at the body shop that a Lexus RX350 SUV was sitting there with a busted out rear window.
“Somebody got their Lexus busted into.” I queried?
“Nah,” said Carl. “People think they can go off roading with those things. But they’re unibody chassis, so when they flex too much, the back windows shatter.”
“Yup. That’s the third one I’ve seen over there this week.”
And he’s right. If you do go off road in any serious way, having a ride that is too stiff is a bad idea. Having a body mounted on a chassis works out better in those sorts of situations.
So when GM first said they were looking into unibody pickups at the 08 Chicago show, a lot of people were left scratching their heads. But now it would seem that GM wised up, because according to Edmunds, GM is scrapping the unibody pickup plans.
At that 2008 Chicago Auto Show, GM showed the GMC Denali XT Hybrid. A very handsome truck, it shared platform architecture with Pontiac G8, which is typical GM thinking, circa the past 25 years. A lot of car pundits thought that going this route gave the Denali XT Hybrid a realistic shot at production and that it would come out at GM’s answer to the Honda Ridgeline. And in case you’re interested, it was a hybrid, in the Saturn style of hybrids. The Denali XT Hybrid had a “Two Mode”-type transmission, with the electric motor built in, that could offer electric drive in addition to the 4.9-liter V8.
But that was Chicago in ’08, and this is now, and reports say that GM has scrapped plans to build the Denali XT Hybrid, or some version of it. Why? Apparently, and this is typical for the general, because GM couldn’t achieve a big enough fuel economy advantage over its standard body-on-frame trucks, and therefore couldn’t justify the added cost. And interestingly enough, GM research showed that consumers would expect to pay less, not more, for a unibody truck.