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2005 Chevrolet Uplander

GM reskins '05 minivans with more sport, utility

To boost sales, driver self-esteem, automaker adds loads of style, features to van models.

By Ed Garsten / The Detroit News

DETROIT — Take a traditional minivan, give its big nose some rhinoplasty, its body styling a dose of testosterone and pop in an entertainment system that can download and play back audio and video files, and you have what General Motors Corp. believes will be a family ferry that will erase the stigma of beleaguered soccer moms.

The all-new 2005 Chevrolet Uplander and Pontiac Montana SV6 that will be introduced Wednesday at the Chicago Auto Show are being called crossover sport vans, rather than the culturally branded minivan.

With the phaseout this year of Oldsmobile, which markets the Silhouette minivan, GM hopes to rebuild minivan sales by also offering versions of the new sport vans under its Buick and Saturn brands for the first time. The Buick Terraza, Saturn Relay, Uplander and Montana will go on sale this fall.

They all have the requisite sliding doors of a minivan, seating for seven and plenty of storage space and cupholders, but carry the styling — especially in the front end — of popular sport utility vehicles.

Rather than sloping hoods and vast windshields, GM’s crossover sport vans will carry more vertical hood lines and raised headlamps. They will ride on 17-inch wheels to give them a more SUV-like look. SUV attributes such as all-wheel drive will be available along with modest towing capabilities — about 3,500 pounds.

Aside from the styling and requisite second and third-row seats that fold flat — but not flush with the floor — GM is counting on an optional entertainment feature called PhatNoise as a major selling point for shoppers teetering between a minivan and an SUV.

PhatNoise is a wallet-size 40 gigabyte removable hard drive. It can hold up to 10,000 songs, up to 40 movies or any combination of audio or video files. Since it’s removable, the hard drive can be connected to a home computer or laptop to download files for playback.

It’s the first application of PhatNoise in a GM product. Pricing on the vans and PhatNoise have not yet been set.

Jim Vurpillat, Pontiac Montana SV6 marketing director, says the vehicle will be aimed at bolstering the self-esteem of new moms who are reluctant to admit they need what he calls their first “lifestyle vehicle” — a euphemism for kids and all their stuff.

“We’re going after the younger female, as opposed to both Mom and Dad,” said Vurpillat. “We’ll try to speak to Mom, not forgetting she’s a mom but a woman who has other needs. Those people have a little bit of reluctance (in considering a minivan).”

AutoPacific analyst Jim Hall believes a minivan in an SUV’s clothing may not fool anyone.

“It’s going to be a challenge for them to pull it off,” said Hall. “Ultimately, the customer is going to decide whether they’re crossover vans or vans with long noses.”

Never a leader in minivan sales, GM has seen its share of the market segment dwindle in recent years. GM’s slice of the shrinking U.S. minivan market slipped to 18.6 percent in 2003, down from 20.2 percent in 2002, hurt by its aging minivan lineup, domestic competition and the success of the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.

The minivan was first introduced in 1984 by DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group. The Dodge Caravan, Chrysler Voyager and later, the Chrysler Town and Country, quickly caught on as a more fun and functional substitute for the traditional family hauler — the station wagon and rear-wheel drive full-size vans.

Other automakers jumped on the bandwagon and soon the public had plenty of minivan choices.

Favored by “soccer moms” who ferryed kids from activity to activity, minivans began to lose ground to SUVs in the late 1990s, when beleaguered parents took issue with the connotation they had no lives of their own.

GM’s original minivans were nicknamed the “dustbuster vans.” They were hung with that derisive moniker because their slope-nosed front ends bore a strong similarity to the hand-held Dustbuster vacuums sold by Black & Decker.

In recent years, the severely shaped minivans were replaced by more traditional-looking models, most notably the Chevy Venture and the outgoing Pontiac Montana.

Wow. GM's biggest dissapointment ever. It gives me a warm feeling. Right in the pit of my stomach. :angry: :( <_< :unsure:
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