Developing the new Chevrolet Utility to satisfy exacting market requirements

  • Third generation sub-1 ton pick-up introduces Chevrolet DNA
  • Six years in preparation for the market
  • Utility aspects enhanced
  • Comfort, space and style improved
  • Conceived in Brazil but engineered for local conditions

Chevrolet Utility

The highly successful previous generation Chevrolet Utility had hardly hit the showroom floor some seven years ago when the South African development team for its successor, under the leadership of programme manager Dominic Rimmer, began thinking about the next generation model.

“It takes several years to bring any new model into the market place and the new Chevrolet Utility shared this requirement with a little extra development lead time assigned to make sure that we were absolutely on track to match the reputation of the model already in the market,” says Dominic Rimmer. “While the existing model was based on a European platform from Opel, the new model is based off the Viva architecture which was developed specifically for the South American and Southern African markets.”

“With the two previous generations of our small pick-up we were pretty much dictated to in terms of what we could work with in terms of localisation to meet both local customer preferences and local manufacturing requirements. This all changed with the laying out of the successor. We were invited to participate in the project from the outset and that has enabled us to incorporate requirements specific to our needs, as the only manufacturer of right hand drive versions, from the design stage moving forward. This process of design, development and styling co-operation with GM Brazil started back in 2006 with engineers from GM South Africa based in Brazil assisting in the integration of the project.

“While essentially a GM Brazil project, the design and engineering aspects of this third generation small pick-up, while headquartered in Brazil, represented the full global diversity of engineering talent available within the vast GM organisation, including substantial input from Chevrolet engineers and designers from the USA.

“The previous model set a number of new benchmarks in the class when it was introduced. It offered contemporary styling, interior space, a high level of interior appointments and comfort, and excellent load carrying capability that was ahead of the opposition. Our challenge was to build on these qualities and envisage just what a future successor would require to ensure that it would again be seen as the benchmark vehicle in the class. The existing DNA had to remain evident but be strengthened by the introduction of the Chevrolet bloodline.

“The strong attributes of the previous model underpinned its success but we took note of customer feedback that suggested that we might want to make this small pick-up a little more utility-like in its next incarnation – essentially enhance the utility aspects of the vehicle but without detracting from its core values of style, comfort, spaciousness and payload. Fortunately GM Brazil’s customers’ views largely reflected those of Sub-Saharan African customers so we were on common ground from the outset.

“At first sight the strong Chevrolet DNA is immediately evident in the new model as is a more upright and purposeful stance. This perception transfers to the interior with a higher ‘more-in-command’ seating position and improved all round visibility. Rear visibility behind the tailgate is significantly improved.

“While the previous model had an excellent payload capability it does have quite a low stance when at maximum allowable payload capability. This has been addressed in the new model with revised spring rates providing not only a comfortable ride but also able to support a more level stance of the vehicle when fully loaded rather than a slight tail-down attitude. Throughout the design, styling and engineering processes the objective was to provide a step-up in the core aspects of the vehicle, especially with regard to styling, utility, functionality and space.

“While the petrol engine powertrains remain essentially the same as in the previous model with a choice of 1,4 or 1,8 petrol engines, the installation of the powertrains and the hardware associated with them is significantly improved for better performance and efficiency.

“We have used expertise available in house to recalibrate both engines and update the hardware and electronics packages associated with them. The result is that the overall feel and driveability are improved markedly. Emissions and operating efficiency are also improved. Overall gearing has also been tailored to match local driving conditions.

“We deviate quite a bit in the petrol powertrain specification from the Brazilian model, mainly because they are dialled in to using ethanol based fuel, or fuel with a high ethanol content. Given this we opted to improve on an already good package.

“A latest generation 1,3 litre diesel engine – based on the philosophy of smaller size but better efficiency – will be introduced at a later stage.

“As far as the suspension goes, the geometry is pretty much the same as that of the Brazilian model but we have used our local expertise and depth of knowledge to develop a unique range of spring rates and settings suited to local requirements

“Aside from the vehicle operating and performance issues we have had to make a number of adaptations in the build of the vehicle in line with local requirements. Only left hand drive versions of this model are produced in Brazil, conversely GM South Africa’s Struandale plant is the only facility producing right hand drive models – it is in fact the only facility producing this model outside Brazil.

“Our product mix is quite different to Brazil and we also have a lower volume requirement. That impacts a bit on the way in which we approach the build of the vehicle but the one thing that is consistent is the attention to build detail and quality which is fully in line with global quality standards set by GM and audited by them.

“We source most common parts including body panels and some sub –assemblies from Brazil as this makes economic sense. The sourcing decisions around the unique right hand drive components and assemblies were based on local supplier capabilities which provided us with quite a healthy material local content at launch with the potential to grow this as needs or opportunities present themselves.

“After some six years of development we have a vehicle that is a worthy successor to the model that has dominated the sub-1 ton segment of the market through its entire model cycle with the exception of a few months following introduction.