Sometimes, automakers aren’t exactly up to the times. They know consumers want a certain type of vehicle and then completely turn it into something unexpected – something special happens at segments are narrowing. Shared Engine did this once with a minivan – aAnd some of the final pickup trucks the company will produce in the US are actually what the company calls crossovers.
Welcome to Forgotten Cars, where we delve into the history of fascinating cars that you probably haven’t seen in ages. Join us for a car ride down memory lane.
The US minivan market is no longer what it used to be. Segment gone from selling millions to just a fraction of the market. Once there were products like Ford Windstar, Dodge Caravan, etc., now there are only four minivans left: Chrysler Pacifica / Voyager, Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and Kia Carnival. Most of the other automakers that have entered the segment have long since abandoned it. GM was one of the last holders before giving up.
GM has a history of taking a different approach to the pickup truck segment, at least initially. Besides the rather difficult things, Truck-based Chevy Astro and GMC Safari, early 19The 90s saw the company try to pursue the king of the segment, Chrysler, with three models of aerospace beauty: the Chevy Lumina APV, the Pontiac Trans Sport, and the Oldsmobile Silhouette. These look like nothing else on the road. They are sleek and aerodynamic. I think they’re some of the coolest things I’ve seen on the road as a kid. They lasted six years before GM returned to the drawing board.
The second generation of GMs vans took a less radical, more family-friendly approach to minivans. Chevy dropped the Lumina name in favor of Venture for its van, while the Olds Silhouette and Pontiac Trans Sport/Montana were new vans with old names. All were badge engineered, of course, with slight differences. But sales of the GM vans were never strong. The Chevy Venture sold 97,362 in 1998, its best year. Meanwhile, the Dodge Caravan sold nearly 294,000 the same year. So GM went back to the drawing board again in 2006 and created the main subject of today’s post, their strange crossover vans.
Someone must have saw the writing on the wall with GM’s decreasing market share and said “we need something different — again.” By this time it’s the mid-00s. Crossovers are slowly becoming more and more of a thing. Instead of just simply designing new minivans for the market, GM goes and creates what they called CSVs or Crossover Sport Vans. It was done as a way to lure over buyers who were tempted by crossovers, but still wanted the versatility a minivan offered. I didn’t know such a person existed.
There was the Chevy Uplander seen above, that replaced both the Venture and Astro.
Buick got a luxury version called Terraza, its first and only minivan (at least here in the U.S. Buick has successfully sold a Buick GL8 luxury van in China for years now.)
Pontiac got an outdoorsy version called the Montana SV6. No one knows what SV6 means.
And Saturn got a version called the Relay.
The vans attempted to throw customers off by looking like and having certain features an SUV or crossover would have. There were the big front facias, larger than what you would usually find on minivan wheels, and fake ass skid plates.
But the sides and rear were all minivan. From the sliding doors to the rear tailgate. It was all strange.
Inside, there was room but nothing to write home about. There was an old-school column shifter. The center console was very long, reaching from the height of the speedometer to the floor. There were storage bins and cubbies, of course. But if you wanted to do something like say, warm your butt with the available heated seats, it was a bit of a reach.
None of them were particularly nice to drive, either. GM threw in a pushrod 3.5-liter V6 with 200 horsepower paired with front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive was optional) and ancient four-speed automatics. They were received with a resounding shoulder shrug. Cars and drivers talking about Buick Terraza, “For 33 grand asking price, this Terraza CXL is more expensive than the Odyssey EX with Leather but offers 55 fewer ponies and less legroom in the front row than Honda offers in the third row. Who said a;crossover sport vans’That’s good?”
Motorcycle Trends pretty much told GM to try harder with Relay, saying, “We really want GM to do better on this on our modified minivans, but there aren’t a single flagship feature and some things are basically outdated.” Automotive magazine said the Uplander “didn’t compare with the segment leader.”
Buyers must have noticed all these setbacks because they didn’t appear in the cars they made for the Dodge Caravan/Chrysler Tow & Country. All in all, the GM U Body truck doesn’t even match the annual sales of Chrysler trucks. Only 7.171 Saturn Relay’s was sold in 2006; 13.488 Pontiac Montana SV6s; 11,948 Buick Teraza’s and 58,699 Chevy Uplanders. These trucks went bankrupt in 2009, right around the time GM went bankrupt.
The company has never entered the small truck segment again. Rely on a growing list of crossovers instead. However, making you wonder, if the company isn’t really interested in trying to make a good pickup truck, why even try?