LAKE TAHOE, NV - It's pretty gutsy naming a vehicle after warrior-like Mexican Indians who had a penchant for cannibalism and human sacrifices.
Then again the new Pontiac Aztek is a pretty gutsy vehicle.
General Motors Corp. expects a loyal following, but not necessarily mass volumes for its new Aztek, a crossover vehicle due out next month.
Sales predictions are 50,000-70,000 units a year, says Mark Reuss, vehicle line executive.
That's not a huge amount by GM standards, but enough to make a bold statement that Pontiac is in the crossover game.
"It's a new market so it's risky to predict sales figures," says Mr. Reuss.
The Aztek, billed as a sports recreation vehicle, shares a 3.4L 3400 SFI V6 engine with the Pontiac Montana minivan. The Aztek's platform is a modified version of the Montana's.
But GM is putting forth the Aztek, not as a Montana spinoff, but as an innovative vehicle aimed at the spry set - skiiers, hikers and such. It's positioned more for soccer players than for minivan-driving soccer moms.
Front-wheel drive Azteks hit dealerships in June. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $21,195 for a base model. The GT version starts at $24,995.
An all-wheel drive version is due out in January. Pricing for that has yet to be announced.
The impending AWD will feature a new Versatrak system designed to help the driver make use of available traction by not only transferring torque from front to rear, but also from side to side between the rear wheels.
"We combined the best of three segments - the sports sedan, SUV and minivan," says Aztek's brand manager Don Butler.
The Aztek is among the first of GM's crossovers, which bridge the gap between truck and car. It has an angular look and lots of room to store stuff like skis and camping equipment. It seats up to five.
It's Pontiac's first entry into SUVdom. But the Aztek is SUV-like. It's not an SUV. So, owners should stick to the roads en route to those hiking expeditions.
GM sees the Aztek as an opportunity to sell various aftermarket packages with accessories related to hiking, camping and biking.
"We're trying to encourage dealers to sell the packages at the dealership, and put the costs into the vehicle payments," says Jennifer L. Hojsak, a program planner for GM Service Parts Operations.
Mr. Reuss says many Pontiac dealers are excited about the impending Aztek.
"In some past situations, we had to sell the dealer to sell the vehicle," he says. "That's not the case here."
Still, Pontiac plans a 30-city dealership Aztek training effort, consisting of half driving and half instruction.
"A big part of it is telling dealers who the customer is," says Mr. Butler. "They are Internet savvy, and they may know more about the vehicle than do dealership sales people."