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January 16, 2010

The federal government has mandated ambitious increases in fuel economy by ordering car makers to improve the average efficiency of their products without consideration of consumer interest in the kinds of products that would meet those requirements.

The result is that companies (like GMC) that sell only vehicles which are necessarily thirsty (trucks), could be in a lot of trouble unless they can find a way to bend the laws of physics and make the massively heavy and strong trucks that their customers buy sip gas like those little cars retirees tow behind their RVs.

Judging from the mileage of GMC's hybrid pickups, that isn't going to happen soon, which brings us to plan B for such companies; stop selling only trucks. Instead, they will sell cars parading as trucks, so that the cars can offset the lousy average mileage of the trucks.

This way GMC customers can still get the 350 horsepower V-8 heavy metal needed to tow the boat to the lake and the camper to the mountains – even if there is no improvement in that truck's efficiency – so long as it is balanced on the federal scale by the sale of a four-cylinder economy car wearing the same brand label.

In this situation there is no net change in fuel consumption of the big truck and the little car, but because the small car is sold by GMC rather than Scion, the government can tout its success in forcing recalcitrant GMC to be green.

Enter the GMC Granite. Two feet shorter than the Terrain compact SUV, the Granite would be the smallest GMC product ever if it goes into production. This slab-sided box is built on GM's small car underpinnings and in concept form it is powered by the company's turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine matched to a dual-clutch six-speed automated manual transmission for optimum efficiency.

"We call it an 'urban utility vehicle' and our goal was redefining what the GMC name could mean to a new generation of customers looking for both bold design and functionality," said Lisa Hutchinson, product marketing director for GMC.

As is seemingly mandatory for such concept vehicles, the Granite wears rear-hinged "suicide" rear doors that highlight interior space to onlookers but which are too wildly impractical in everyday life for production. That is, unless you are a product planner for the Honda Element or Toyota FJ Cruiser.


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About the Author
Dan Carney is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications.  He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award.  Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, D.C.

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