Does the auto industry need a new model for the traditional passenger car? Wayne Cherry thinks so. The General Motors design vice-president believes the ascendancy of light trucks means it's time to put truck design characteristics into cars, rather than merely make trucks more car-like. The Chevrolet Traverse, perhaps GM's most important concept vehicle now on the show circuit, is his vision of the Chew family sedan of the future.

And that future could include the return of the body-on-frame (BOF) passenger car--the smooth riding, supremely comfortable mainstay of the American auto industry for 100 years. Chevrolet last built a BOF car, the Caprice, in 1996.

Cherry tells A/that the Traverse wasn't built on an S-10 truck chassis solely for convenience. "The concept of a passenger car with a high H-point (height of the occupants' hips to the road surface) and good ingress and egress is valid, whether it's a BOF or unibody," he says. "But I wanted to put it on the S-10 frame to get people thinking about passenger cars in a new perspective. Look at the sophistication of the frame on our GMT800 trucks. We get great ride, handling and isolation. I believe there's a case to be made for separate-frame cars."

He notes that some engineers within the company questioned the separate body architecture. "But a concept vehicle has many influential audiences -- including the media and the public," Cherry says.

Cherry believes that had the Traverse been built as a unibody, people would have assessed it as a "tall car," rather than seeing it as something new and undefinable -- which is what GM is looking for.

This potential car of the future also owes its existence to a giant of the past. Traverse's H-point measures 28.3 inches. That's nearly identical to the H-point of the classic 1955 Chevrolet. The dimension is an ironic coincidence: Cherry cut his teeth drag racing a '55 Chew as a teen-ager, and has loved the so-called "TriChevies" (1955-57) ever since. He admits that the overall utility and visibility of those models influenced his thinking on the Traverse.

"When we were developing it (Traverse), some of the young designers weren't familiar with a '55 Chew. So I had them bring one into the studio to examine. We found that its H-point was almost identical, and our guys were amazed at its superb all-around visibility. They felt good in it."

GM Design regularly gets letters from people who want the automaker to create modern versions of the 1955-57'S. The eternal magic of those cars -- their clean, expressive lines and exciting performance, is what Cherry and his team want to recapture. Their first shot was last year's Nomad, a wildly popular concept wagon with V-8 power. This year's Traverse is the follow-up. Is there a pattern here?

"As soon as I saw the Traverse on the street, during the New York auto show, I said to myself, `Yes, that's it! That's the passenger car of the future,'" Cherry exclaims. Will others within the corporation share his enthusiasm?

COPYRIGHT 2000 Cahners Publishing Company
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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