In August, as thoughts turn to beach, mountains, lake, cabin and long family road trips to holiday destinations, General Motors Co. (GM) - Get Report is making a strong bid to provide the enabling vehicle with its new Chevrolet Traverse midsize crossover or, if you prefer, SUV.
Following sales of the first-generation Traverse beginning in 2009, GM designed its successor to be roomier, lighter and more powerful, a stronger contender in a segment that is led by Ford Motor Co.'s (F) - Get Report Explorer, Toyota Motor Corp.'s (TM) - Get Report Highlander and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's (FCAU) - Get Report Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Volkswagen AG (VLKAY) just introduced its new U.S.-built Atlas midsize crossover, more competition in an already crowded field.
GM, after building 5,000 or so Traverses so far at its plant in Lansing, Michigan, showed the production version of the car to journalists in Detroit last week and offered test drives. Consumer Reports, the influential guide to purchase decisions, initially is hailing the model as impressive based on improved, comfort, convenience, throttle response, smooth performance of the nine-speed automatic transmission and sufficient power for acceleration.
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Traverses already have arrived at many Chevrolet showrooms, according to marketing director Steve Majoros; and the new model is selling briskly, "just as soon as they arrive." For GM, strong early Traverse sales are a bright spot in a U.S. car market that has been losing steam after six years of increasing sales. Traverse joins the redesigned Equinox in the Chevrolet lineup, a compact crossover introduced earlier this year that is up 9.6% in sales in a market segment up 2%. The overall U.S. vehicle market is down 3% through July.
The new Traverse is available in six versions that vary in material choice, colors and features, starting at a retail price of about $31,000 and rising to as much as $52,000 with every available option. A third row comes with every version, providing seating for as many as eight, including the driver. A sliding second row of seats is a notable enhancement. The engine is a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. The fancier trim levels come with high-end infotainment systems, leather and features such as heated mirrors and seats.
Standard equipment includes keyless entry, six USB ports and a 7-inch MyLink infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The most important features are those that address safety. Traverse comes with many active and passive systems, such as lane-keep assist, pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. Other features such as automatic forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are available on only the costliest versions.
As vehicle names go, Traverse is a relatively new one in a field that includes many troupers. The Chevrolet brand, however, has been around for more than a century and has been on the move lately in terms of credibility, if the number of awards it has received is any measure. The new model should gain ground for GM in an all-important segment, at least until the contenders bring their new versions to market.
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Editors' pick: Originally published Aug. 14.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.