The latest must-have feature in trucks -- following on the craze for cup holders in minivans and more doors on pickups -- is a third row of seats for sport utility vehicles.
General Motors Corp. said on Wednesday it plans to offer stretch versions of its mid-size SUVs that will include the extra seating, in an effort to compete against DaimlerChrysler AG's highly successful Dodge Durango and the redesigned Ford Motor Co. Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer.
The stretched version of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, the GMC Envoy and the Oldsmobile Bravada will likely go on sale in late 2001 or early 2002, within a year after the regular-size versions reach U.S. dealerships in the first half of 2001, GM officials and analysts said.
Once again, GM is trailing its competitors into a new segment.
The Dodge Durango, one of the top-selling SUVs since it went on sale in the fall of 1997, was the first to offer an optional third row of seats in a vehicle smaller than the bulky full-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition.
Robertson, referring to the Ford Explorer, said GM decided against rushing to market with a third row squeezed into the regular-size SUVs. The Explorer, both with and without the third row seat, is 189.5 inches long, while the stretched GM mid-size SUV is expected to be more than a foot longer.
``We've got a real third-row seat that is comfortable, that you and I can sit in,'' said Ted Robertson, GM's chief engineer of mid-size trucks.
While GM trails the Durango and the Explorer/Mountaineer, Wall Street analyst Nick Colas of SIC Capital said the automaker has an edge on another prime competitor, DaimlerChrysler's Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Grand Cherokee is not expected to offer three rows of seats until around 2004, when a stretched version of the redesigned Grand Cherokee is scheduled to be launched.
``The company that has a bigger problem is DaimlerChrysler,'' Colas said. ``Ford has a nice edge. GM is actually ahead of Chrysler, who historically has been more innovative.''