Is America ready for the return of the El Camino?
What it Is
GMC Denali XT Concept Preview – Chicago Auto Show: Remember the El Camino? A pickup based on a car, the El Camino lasted for years until it was finally cancelled in the mid 80s. Yet the basic concept has lived on in Australia, where these “utes” are quite popular, especially GM’s Holden Ute, based on the Commodore sedan. Now, let’s take this to a logical conclusion, shall we? GM is going to import the Holden Commodore and rebadge it as a Pontiac G8. The new Chevrolet Camaro is based on the same platform. So is it much of a stretch that an unquestionably handy ute version could find its way here? Maybe, if enough people are interested. Which brings us to the GMC Denali XT Concept.Why it Matters
El Camino-type vehicles fell out of favor in the U.S. because they combined the worst characteristics of a car with the unwieldiness of a truck. The GMC Denali XT Concept promises to do the opposite, by combining the usefulness of a truck with a comfortable four-door unibody car-based cabin. It’s a combination that has perpetuated sales of ute-type vehicles in Australia, and if the GMC version winds up looking like the concept we see here, it could do well.
What’s Under the Hood
The powertrain in the GMC Denali XT Concept is GM’s two-mode hybrid. The engine in this case is a smaller ethanol-capable 4.9-liter version of GM’s small-block V-8, good for 326 horsepower thanks to direct-injection technology. It’s mated to the two-mode transmission system, allowing the XT to travel on pure electric power at low speeds. With the smaller displacement engine and the two-mode hybrid system, fuel economy has the potential to be pretty good. Cargo capacity is estimated at 1,100 pounds in the bed, with a towing rating of 3,500 pounds.
What it Looks Like
GMC has trucked up the look of its ute considerably more than the Australian Holdens. This looks like a truck, albeit a low and wide one; by contrast, the Holdens do little to hide their Commodore sedan roots. The bed is short, but big enough for smaller loads, and features a mid-gate that allows drivers to extend the cargo capacity into the passenger compartment like the Chevy Avalanche. The two extra doors stretch the cabin considerably, and the prominent grille brings the Denali XT Concept in line with the rest of the Denali lineup. Huge wheels and tires complete the package. Still, take away the obviously show-only headlights and taillights, and tone down the exterior graphics a bit (does the “GMC” logo on the tailgate really need foot-high letters?) and it could easily make the transition to production.
While no photos of the interior were released, the concept sketch looks good to our eyes. It’s distinctly car-like, but with its own character. In other words, it doesn’t look like an Acadia inside. GMC’s press materials mention things like “floating red-illuminated numerals” and the like. Let’s just say that we’re suspecting an interior that’s more concept than reality.
What GMC Says
According to Jim Bunnell, GMC general manager, “Like all GMCs, the Denali XT is functional and capable, but it blends those traits with a more efficient, sporty driving experience. It is a vehicle that exemplifies GMC’s engineering excellence, as well as GM’s commitment to hybrid and advanced technologies.” He goes on to say, “Denali XT is about working hard, playing hard and enjoying an active lifestyle. It is the same philosophy that has helped make the GMC Acadia crossover a huge hit with consumers.”
What We Think
The Acadia has done well for GMC, bringing a whole new group of buyers to showrooms. The Denali XT has the potential to do the same thing, especially since it will mostly be in a class of one when and if a production version debuts (the Honda Ridgeline’s front-wheel drive platform excludes it). Right now GMC is tight lipped on the prospect, but at the very least we’d expect to see the smaller V-8 and its two-mode hybrid system cropping up here and there in GM’s overall product portfolio.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo credit: GMC