From the March 2018 issue
Chevrolet didn’t trademark the name “Suburban” when it introduced the industry’s first steel-bodied, eight-passenger truck-based wagon back in 1935. Other marques subsequently used the term, and it didn’t officially become General Motors’ until 10 years after Plymouth discontinued its Suburban station wagon in 1978. Now, 83 years on, the Suburban is the longest-running nameplate in automotive history and is attached to the go-to hauler for people with big families and big needs. With a new Chevy Silverado just unveiled, a 12th-generation Suburban is imminent.
Chevrolet first applied the name to a $675 (about $12,000 in 2017 dollars) depot hack, a basic truck used to ferry passengers and luggage to and from train stations and ship terminals. A heater and rear bumper were notable options, but the innovation came in using steel rather than wood for the body, which now boasted an enclosed cabin. As amenities increased, mainstream buyers followed. The Suburban now starts above $50,000, and Americans bought nearly 60,000 last year.
The Suburban’s entrenchment is a product of many factors. It has long been one of GM’s best-executed vehicles, delivering on its promise to cart many people and their possessions reliably wherever they might need to go in above-average comfort. It adapts to a rutted two-track as easily as it does an eight-lane expressway, uniting the oft-conflicting desires of rural and city denizens into one quintessentially American vehicle. And make no mistake, its Americanness—big, brash, potent, and pragmatic—is a large part of its appeal to patriotic owners no matter where they might fall on the political spectrum.
Suburban sales are strong across the country. Missourians bought the most last year, with Texas and California neck and neck for second- and third-place sales. This bucks the trend of many domestic products, which seemingly vanish from the roads outside of flyover country. Certainly many buyers are merely running the numbers on offspring and tow ratings and arriving at the Suburban as the most logical conclusion.
But there’s more: The Suburban and its smaller Tahoe sibling boast some of the industry’s highest loyalty figures—more than 75 percent of buyers who stay in the segment buy another one, according to General Motors.
Sandor Piszar, Chevrolet’s marketing director of full-size trucks and SUVs, tells how, at a recent event celebrating Chevy trucks’ centennial, the emcee asked, “How many people have named their trucks?” Almost all hands shot up. He then asked, “How many people have named their smartphones?” Big laughs ensued.
“It’s a funny question, but it really is an intriguing point,” Piszar says. “People name what they love. And they love their Suburbans.”