GM Banks On Broader Appeal for '18 GMC Terrain

Newly minted Buick-GMC Vice President of Marketing Phil Brook sees the CUV trend accelerating despite softening of U.S. market overall and, likewise, creating a big opportunity for the redesigned Terrain.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

September 1, 2017

5 Min Read
rsquo18 GMC Terrain softer around edges
’18 GMC Terrain softer around edges.

MILL RUN, PA – General Motors sold 707,976 units of the GMC Terrain over the past eight years compared with 1.8 million copies of the Chevrolet Equinox, with which it shares vehicle architectures, for a number reasons.

For starters, the Equinox enjoys a much larger distribution network. The bow-tie brand is more familiar to Americans, too, and its products generally cost less than those with a GMC badge. But there arguably is another big reason for the disparity: the Chevy’s exterior styling always has been middle-of-the-road, appealing but not far away from others in the 5-passenger CUV segment, while the Terrain’s design has been edgier, more individualistic.

Put another way, if the Equinox were the boy next door the Terrain would be the boy from across the tracks.

So when Philip Brook, vice president-marketing at Buick-GMC, offers his favorite aspect of the Terrain’s ’18 redo, it is hardly surprising styling gets mentioned first.

“Design is a bit subjective,” Brook says. “But it is unique, distinctive, bold and very progressive and to me really says GMC.”

He admits the previous model, with its cow-catcher grille, boxy wheel wells and razor-sharp body lines, was polarizing.

“It was quite masculine,” says Brook, who took on his role at Buick-GMC six months ago after heading sales and marketing in GM’s sprawling, 10-state and truck-centric South Central region. “This one has much broader appeal. Old, young, male, female…it got two thumbs up.”

Top-of-the-range Denali models wear the new styling particularly well with special exterior appointments such as an intricately designed grille, he adds, while the interior trappings with items such as authentic aluminum trim across the entire line suggest “premium and luxury” more than the outgoing model, which Brook admits may have gotten a bit dated toward the end of its run.

A key addition to the interior is Electronic Precision Shift, a combination of push buttons and pull triggers to operate the transmission. The by-wire system frees up space in the center console area.

“That is significant, relative to the competition,” Brook says.

The old Terrain’s powertrains, naturally aspirated 4-cyl. and 6-cyl. engines mated to 6-speed automatic transmissions, also were long in the tooth. The new Terrain gets three all-new choices: a 1.5L gasoline turbo 4-cyl., a 2.0L gasoline turbo 4-cyl. and a 1.6L 4-cyl. turbo-diesel. The gas engines are joined to a newly developed 9-speed automatic and the diesel is hooked to a 6-speed automatic.

“The choice of engines, a 9-speed transmission on the gas engines, which are seamless in my view, with the combination of performance and excellent on-road manners is pretty unique,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like an SUV. It feels like a small, nimble car and I’m a fan of sportier handling, but at the same time you can’t complain about the road comfort.”

Brook stops short of putting a U.S. sales target up for the redesigned Terrain, which should benefit from the softened styling and a segment that has become the hottest in the industry.

“It’s a significant step forward from the outgoing Terrain,” he tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of a Terrain test drive here. “It is a big segment, too, very competitive with a lot of good (choices) and if we can be seen as having moved the segment forward then we define that as success. If we do that, sales will follow.”

Brook does not foresee the market’s ongoing shift to CUVs from traditional cars ending anytime soon. CUVs account for 30.0% of industry sales, behind cars at 43.2% according to WardsAuto data. Just three short years ago, CUVs commanded 23.8% of the U.S. market and cars 50.2%. In another sign of the times, the Nissan Rogue 5-passenger CUV now outsells the once-indefatigable Toyota Camry sedan.

Hyundai Motor America executive Mike O’Brien issued a warning earlier this month, telling WardsAuto the industry’s seventh consecutive year-over-year sales decline in July should serve as a warning to automakers that even popular models such as CUVs could be susceptible to weakening demand.

But Brook says of CUV demand: “If anything, it is accelerating.

“Once you experience that level of versatility, you get spoiled and the reason it is such a big segment is (that) it has appeal across a broad range of customers. I don’t think demand will slow down anytime soon.”

Brook, 52, succeeds Tony DiSalle, who moves to a new position with global product planning. An Australia native, Brook joined GM Holden there in 2004 after stints in sales and marketing at Honda and Nissan. He says his years in the South Central region of the U.S., where he worked closely with GM dealers, prepared him for a similar but larger role in Detroit.

“I’d like to think I bring a close linkage between marketing and sales, making sure we’re fully aligned and getting the best input we can from our customers and our dealers,” he says.

As a GM veteran, Brook does not consider himself to be an outsider, but with an international background he says he has an outsider’s perspective. For example, Holden operated on its own in Australia but used global GM processes.

“It was tough work but rewarding to run a smaller business, although big in Australia, and an iconic brand,” says Brook, who joins GM product development chief Mark Reuss, GM North America President Alan Batey and GM Global Design Vice President Mark Simcoe as leading executives at the automaker to come through Holden.

Holden’s impending October shift to a design, engineering and import operation from a local producer of vehicles and engines since 1908 leaves Brook wistful, but he agrees there was no other alternative as Toyota and Ford also exited Australia.

“It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt, but it allows Holden to access the very best from GM around the world,” he says of a brand that dates back to 1856 as a saddle maker. “They can cherry-pick from GM and they are quite excited to be honest. They’ve got a lot of good new product on the way.”

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