Everywhere one looks at the 2014 Detroit auto show, one sees signs of vitality from General Motors. There's a supercharged Chevrolet Corvette Z06 at one end of the floor and a handsome new Cadillac ATS coupe at the other. Then there are the three GM finalists in the 2014 North American Car of the Year Awards—the Cadillac CTS, the Chevrolet Impala, and the Corvette. Many, however, will overlook what is perhaps the most interesting sign of all: the 2015 GMC Canyon.
The 2015 Canyon, like its twin the Chevrolet Colorado, is an all-new mid-size truck, and it bears little resemblance to the uninspiring Canyon sold until 2012. The base engine is a 193-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder. GM's ubiquitous 3.6-liter V-6 is optional and makes more power than the V-8 that was offered on the old Canyon. A 2.8-liter turbodiesel should arrive for the 2016 model year. A six-speed automatic will be the primary transmission, although a six-speed manual will be offered on two-wheel-drive four-cylinder models. The Canyon will be offered with a five- or six-foot bed and with an extended or crew cab. No standard cab will be available, but GMC will remove the rear seat if a customer desires more cargo room.
The new Canyon debuts in a segment that most competitors have left for dead. Ford unceremoniously ceased production of the Ranger in 2012. Dodge similarly killed off the Dakota in 2011. Sales of the only remaining contenders -- the Toyota Tacoma and the Nissan Frontier -- totaled fewer than 250,000 in 2013. That's clearly the lamb's share of the truck market, considering more than 1.7 million full-size pickups were sold last year.
Ask anyone at Ford or Chrysler about mid-size trucks, and you get the same lecture: Mid-size pickups are nearly as expensive to develop and are thus nearly as expensive to buy as full-size pickups, which enjoy far greater economies of scale. Those cost concerns all but preclude the use of pricey fuel-saving technologies like turbochargers, cylinder deactivation, and eight-speed transmissions. That, in turn, means mid-size trucks aren't going to be much more efficient than full-size pickups.
GM says it's kept costs relatively low for the Canyon and Colorado by using lots of existing parts. The cab section is essentially the same as those on the mid-size trucks that GM sells outside the United States, in markets such as Brazil and India. The frame is a downsized version of what underpins the full-size GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado.
For buyers, GM is looking at audiences who don't necessarily cross-shop full-size pickups, including "orphan domestic owners" -- anyone who currently drives a Ford Ranger or Dodge Dakota -- and anyone who would otherwise buy a Tacoma or a Frontier, which have both gone nearly a decade without a major update. Most important, GM thinks it can attract former mid-size pickup buyers who moved on not because they wanted something bigger, but because they wanted something nicer.
"What we've seen over the last decade or so is a lot of defections to vehicles like crossovers…to get more comfort and amenity kind of benefits," says GMC marketing vice president Tony DiSalle.
The Canyon in particular should appeal to those seeking refinement. It has a higher-quality base interior than the Colorado, with a soft-touch dash on all but the work-truck models and real aluminum trim. Projector headlamps with LED daytime running lights, both standard, further distinguish the Canyon from the Chevy and engender a family resemblance to the larger Sierra. Technologies that are now de rigueur in cars and crossovers, including an eight-inch color touchscreen, lane-departure warning, and a backup camera, are offered here. Overall, the Canyon looks and feels like it's taken a quantum leap ahead of the typical mid-size truck. The cabin fit and finish is particularly impressive, resembling what one finds in a premium crossover.
That being said, it's unclear whether the Canyon can break through the barriers that face the mid-size truck segment. Much will depend on two numbers GMC has not yet released: price and fuel economy (the latter, GMC promises, will be "best in class."). This brings us back to our initial observation that General Motors is doing very well. Quite simply, the company is gambling on this segment because it can afford to. Five years removed from the Worst Auto Show Ever (the 2009 Detroit show, when GM and Chrysler couldn't afford their own lights), that is a stunning statement of success.