GM jumped into the SUV boom with both feet last week, announcing a pair of stylish compacts that will join Chevrolet and Buick’s lineups in early 2020.
Sales of small and luxury SUVs are booming while cars fall through the floor, down to a paltry 30% of U.S. sales this year. The 2020 Buick Encore GX and 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer check both boxes, positioning their brands to cash in on that growth.
“Every automaker, including GM, is filling every possible slot with some kind of SUV or crossover,” Autotrader executive analyst Michelle Krebs said. “With U.S. vehicle sales retreating and a barrage of new SUVs coming to market, the battle in the utility segments will heat up like never before. The maker with the newest and best models will do best, at least for a short time.”
The Encore GX and Trailblazer will offset some of the small-car sales Buick and Chevy lost with the discontinuation of the Buick Verano and Chevrolet Cruze compact cars. They’re expected to sell at higher prices than the cars did, netting GM thousands more per sale.
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The small SUVs are niche vehicles, though. The Trailblazer won’t approach the sales numbers the Cruze earned. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Encore GX at least approaches the 30,277 sales the Verano won in 2016, its last full year of sales.
GM will have to be smart in the vehicles’ design, features and prices to avoid competing with other models in the corporate lineup, though.
How many SUVs is enough?
“This gives each brand another affordable model,” IHS Markit senior analyst Stephanie Brinley said. “Both should be nice additions to the lineups.”
The SUVs debuted at the Shanghai auto show in April. They use a new architecture GM developed for affordable small vehicles.
The Encore GX will be Buick’s fourth SUV. It will fit between the subcompact Encore – 2019 base price $23,200 – and the midsize Envision priced at $31,995. The GX looks like a big brother to the Encore, which was Buick’s best-selling vehicle last year.
Between Buick and GMC, which shares nearly all Buick dealerships, there will be eight SUVs on the showroom floor.
The Trailblazer will be Chevy’s seventh SUV. It fits between the subcompact Trax, which starts at $21,300, and the Equinox, base price $23,800.
The Trailblazer looks like a smaller version of the Blazer midsize SUV Chevrolet introduced earlier this year. Chevrolet used the Trailblazer name on midsize SUVs in the late 1990s and early aughts, until production ended with the 2009 model year. The new Trailblazer has nothing in common with them but its name.
Here are some features we expect:
- All-wheel and front-wheel drive models
- Standard safety features including forward collision alert, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist
- Options including adaptive cruise control, blind spot alert and high-def camera rearview mirrors
- Lengths, passenger and cargo space between the Encore/Trax and Envision/Equinox
- Power from relatively small — probably 2.0L or less — four-cylinder engines
- Advanced connectivity
Testing the market
Buick and Chevy told the world about the Encore GX and Trailblazer relatively early because undisguised test vehicles will shortly show up on public roads shortly.
Both brands will provide technical details and pricing closer to when the SUVs go on sale. Analysts expect GM to import the SUVs from South Korea.
“There’s an element of ‘Let’s see what happens,’ ” to introducing the SUVs in America, Brinley said. “GM builds them anyway, so why not see if people here like them?”
The Encore was the first subcompact luxury SUV sold in the U.S. It was so far ahead of the competition when it went on sale in 2013 that potential customers took a couple of years to catch on to the SUV’s appealing combination of small size for easy parking, all-wheel drive and a high seating position.
By last year, the Encore had become Buick’s best-selling vehicle by a wide margin with 93,073 sales.
The Trax arrived in Chevy dealers as a 2015 model in late 2014. It also got Chevy into the subcompact SUV business early. Like the Encore, it had its best sales year in 2018, netting 89,916 sales.
Chevy and Buick also showed new vehicles to replace the Encore and Trax at the Shanghai show in April. It’s not clear if they’re destined for sale in the U.S. The current versions of both will be sold here next year.
Contact Mark Phelan at 313-222-6731 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan. Read more on autos and sign up for our autos newsletter.