California Autos Examiner

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

GMC Granite: My top pick from the 2010 Detroit Auto Show

GMC introduced its Granite concept at the North American International Auto Show this week. When I heard about the Granite from fellow bloggers who had attended preview events hosted by General Motors, I cannot say that I was that excited. The vehicle was described at a Scion xB, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube type of vehicle. Been there, done that I thought to myself.  I was wrong, click read more to find out why...

The initial surprise to me was the exterior: It looked more substantial and premium than any of the aforementioned vehicles. However, the real shocker was the Granite's interior. Every now and then, you find yourself in complete sync with a designer. For me, this is the case with the Granite's interior designer Gael Buzyn. The way Gael and the team at GM's North Hollywood, California studio conceived the interior of the Granite, as an upscale urban loft, makes a lot of sense for a vehicle that would support a younger professional's many requirements: Transportation to/from work, a night out on the town, going for a mountain bike ride, trips to Ikea, etc. without having it ending up with a "hose it out" interior like that of the Honda Element. Instead, what you have is an upscale, yet highly flexible interior that you are proud to show your friends, but not afraid or limited in using for everyday life.

If you think about some of the brands that young professionals might aspire to:  Diesel, G-Star, and Bell & Ross are a few names that come to my mind, the Granite's interior syncs with that same vision.  The interior sports a suede-like material, but its not "show only" quality, the designers worked with an automotive supplier to create a realistic material that would be resistant to wear and be production feasible.  Although the shifter is "drive by wire" it has a high mechanical interaction with the driver, feels substantive and rugged.  Ambient lighting is recessed into the headliner, contributing to the cabin's spacious feeling.

What are the production possibilities of a vehicle liken this?  Well, I can tell you that no manufacturer has time to "play around" when it comes to concepts.  GM has shown this GMC concept which is theoretically Delta (Orlando, Cruze) based and privately shown a "baby Enclave" Buick that is Gamma II (next generation Aveo) based.  While those platforms are different at this point, either one of those vehicles could be moved around if needs be and if they stay separate, undoubtedly component sharing would be very strong between the models.

So we have established that GM is serious, how about the features in the GMC?  The French doors (they are not independent, the front door must be opened first) are a key piece of of puzzle, but in speaking with GM design chief Ed Welburn, it is questionable whether or not such a feature could be cost effectively added.  Integrating crash support into the rear door would make the door very heavy, whilst fully independent opening "suicide doors" have an even greater set of engineering issues.  However, it is exactly these doors that set the vehicle apart.  Traditionally front hinged doors would present issues for access into the cabin, making it less flexible.  For example, taking advantage of the folding front and rear seats to slide in a mountain bike or a parent placing a child seat in the back would be much more difficult. 

How about the center tunnel mounted seating?  Again, Welburn said that such a design would add significant cost to the vehicle, but he did leave the door open by saying that if costs were spread out amongst several vehicles, maybe it could be produced at a reasonable cost.  We have already established that the interior materials are capable of real-life demands and General Motors has been leading the industry when it comes to production interiors as of late.
My comments to the GMC staff were minimal:  Keep the interior as premium as possible, perhaps incorporating a wood floor (perhaps synthetic teak with rubber runners for traction), and do not lose the functionality of the rear door system.  It is my belief that a Granite, built with a high level of components as shown in Detroit, could easily demand a price of mid to high twenties and potentially more with a premium powertrain option.

Why is the GMC Granite my top pick?  Very simply it is a desirable vehicle without being unobtainable.  For contrast, I love the Cadillac CTS-V or even further the Audi e-tron concept.  Both of those cars are out of my price range and neither have the practicality I require.  Even if I did scrape together the cash to own them, I'd be so freaked out about driving and parking them that much of the fun would be gone.  Instead, the GMC Granite represents an attainable, desirable vehicle that doesn't offer a lesser experience.  It is a GMC that I could buy, use and enjoy.

General Motors covered my expenses so that I could attend the 2010 North American International Auto Show.

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