By Chris Haak
Since the launch of the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, GM has struggled to keep up with demand for its popular small crossover. First, it acquired sole ownership of the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario from Suzuki where the Equinox and Terrain are built. Suzuki had been building the GM-based XL7 there, but the Suzuki kind of fizzled out in the market, leaving Suzuki with no product and GM with the opportunity to add to its production capacity.
Then, to further boost output, GM began shipping incomplete Equinox body shells from Ingersoll to its flexible and underutilized car plant in Oshawa for painting and final assembly. That move added 60,000 to 80,000 additional units of Equinox production capacity and allowed additional Terrain production at the original plant. Still, it’s not enough for dealers, who still report that they can’t get enough of the hot-selling vehicles, more than a year after their launch. Last month, dealers had only a 30 day supply of new Equinoxes in inventory, which is half of the ideal 60-day level.
So the next creative solution is to introduce the Chevrolet Captiva crossover to US fleet customers. Though the Captiva has been on the market for several years in overseas and in Latin American markets, it will likely still look familiar to US drivers. It’s the same vehicle as the Saturn Vue, which was discontinued in 2009 with the closure of GM’s Saturn brand. It also shares its architecture with the Chevrolet Equinox.
This isn’t the first time that GM has tried to foist a rebadged Saturn Vue on US consumers. Shortly after exiting bankruptcy, GM showed this teaser image of a plug-in hybrid crossover concept for Buick. It was painfully obvious that this new vehicle was a warmed-over version of the stillborn Saturn Vue PHEV, and critics and customers alike took GM to task for what it was, and less than two weeks later, after receiving “consistent negative feedback,” GM reversed course and decided not to sell the Buick Vue after all.
I wouldn’t expect there to be quite the same level of negative reaction to selling the Captiva in the US, for several reasons. First, GM is offering it as a fleet-only vehicle. Eventually, they will fall into consumers’ hands as used cars (the same way you’ll occasionally still see a Chevrolet Malibu Classic on the road, long after its fleet life has likely ended), but it’s not being positioned as a luxury vehicle the way the Buick version would have been.
Second, it helps to solve the problem of a lack of Equinox production capacity. If fleet buyers – who comprised about 16 percent of the Equinox’s buyers in 2010 – can be convinced to go for the Captiva instead, that frees up more Equinoxes for higher-profit retail sales. The Captiva will be sourced from GM’s Ramos Arizpe plant in Mexico, so it’s not taking any capacity away from the Equinox.
In addition, because it shares nearly everything with the Vue, it’s already engineered and tested to meet US safety and emission standards.
Powertrain choices mirror those of the Equinox: either a 2.4 liter direct-injected four cylinder (182 hp/172 lb-ft) or a 3.0 liter direct-injected V6 (264 hp/221 lb-ft). Fleet buyers can opt for LS, LT, or LTZ trim levels, with the latter offering all wheel drive and the former offering front wheel drive.
Of note, the Captiva’s powertrain choices differ from those found on the 2009 Saturn Vue, and that may be a good thing, at least for the four cylinders. The Vue’s 2.4 liter four cylinder produced 164 hp/160 lb-ft, while its 3.5 liter pushrod V6 produced 215 hp/220 lb-ft. The Vue’s top engine was a 3.6 liter port-injected V6 that produced 257 hp/248 lb-ft. The 3.6 liter Vue was likely a better performer than the 3.0 liter Captiva thanks to its larger torque number, but the 2.4 liter Captiva should outperform the 2.4 liter Vue in both acceleration and efficiency. The FWD 2.4 liter Vue was rated 19 city/26 highway, while the Equinox is 22 city/32 highway with the 2.4 liter. The Vue’s V6 fuel economy either matched or beat the newer-tech Equinox’s.
This is not the only Chevrolet that won’t be available to the general public. The heavy hitter is the Chevrolet Caprice PPV, which is imported from Australia and boasts a rear wheel drive architecture shared with the gone-but-not-forgotten Pontiac G8. There are rumors that GM is considering a Chevrolet-badged version of the Holden Commodore (which spawned the G8), but nothing has been officially confirmed by GM.
We’ll be curious to see how fleet buyers embrace the Captiva – or don’t. They should be able to get their new vehicles in service much more quickly, potentially without waiting for ordered vehicles, and pricing should be better. Even more interesting will be seeing how long it takes for civilians to get their hands on the Caprice with the 6.0 liter V8 and haul their families in a V8 RWD sedan that has a bowtie on the hood – something that hasn’t been possible in a long time.