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AWD and Left-Hand Doors Offered on 2003 GM Full-Size Vans

March 2002, by Paul Dexler - Also by this author

The full-size van arena has tended to be fairly static. Designs developed in the 1960s continued into the ’90s. Now, General Motors is lighting a fire under the full-size van segment by offering a substantial update to the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana, which were introduced in the mid-1990s. The new vans will be tabbed as 2003 models, and will be available for delivery in the third quarter of 2002. They incorporate features customers have requested as well as modifications designed to bring the GM vans to the forefront of the sector. At an exclusive showing of the new models for Automotive Fleet, Dave Kanous, brand manager for GM vans, said, “Market share for the Express/Savana is up eight points since 1998, and we expect the new models with their added features to continue that increase.”

All-Wheel-Drive and a Left-Hand Door

Two of the new features available are an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, and optional left-side doors. The new Express and Savana are the first full-sized vans to offer either of these features. The AWD system normally relies on the rear wheels to provide traction. If they begin to slip, however, the system automatically and seamlessly directs torque to the front wheels, providing a “get through” ability. There is no driver input required, except to steer the van through the rough stuff. The left hand door is of particular value to a technician who needs quick access to tools and/or parts, without walking all the way around the van to get to the door opening. At this time, the left-side door is only available as a 60-40 hinged door. A sliding door may be available later on.

A New Look

Front-end sheet metal is all new, from bumpers to the A-pillar. The revised styling brings the vans closer in appearance to their Silverado/Sierra pickup siblings. More important, the new sheet metal incorporates a stronger, simpler structure said to improve occupant protection and crashworthiness. On the inside there are restyled, more comfortable interiors. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) operation has been upgraded and OnStar as well as a Radio Data Systems Radio are also available.

Mechanical Upgrades

Other significant changes to the G-series vans come under the engine hood. The entire new Generation III series of Vortec V-8 engines is now available. Power choices begin with an upgraded version of the 4.3L V-6 and run through the 4.8L, 5.3L, and 6.0L V-8s. For 2003, new catalytic converter systems and oxygen sensors reduce emissions during engine warm-ups and provide longer component life. All engines drive through four-speed/overdrive Turbo Hydramatic transmissions, either the 4L60 or the 4L80, depending upon the engine. The transmissions can be equipped with the Tow Haul switch first incorporated on the Silverado/Sierra pickups. This switch changes the shift program of the transmission for better performance when carrying heavy loads or towing a heavy trailer. AWD models incorporate a viscous-coupling transfer device into the drivetrain, which handles transfer of power to the front wheels automatically. In place of the previous generation’s front disc, rear drum brake setup, the new models have disc brakes at each wheel, hydraulically boosted. An ABS anti-lock system is also standard. Steering has been upgraded as well, with light-duty 1500 and 2500 series receiving a new power rack-and-pinion system for more agile handling. The 3500 series continues with the integral power recirculating-ball steering system of the previous generation. The Advanced Class II electrical system includes an oil-life monitor, battery run-down protection, delayed accessory power, and lock-out protection, all appearing on full-sized vans for the first time.

A New Body Style

At the exclusive preview of the new vans for Automotive Fleet on January 22, 2002, GM also showed the prototype of a new model which will be available in 2003. It will be called the Savana Pro and was developed based on direct input from professional contractors. The Savana Pro developed these ideas into the ultimate working vehicle. It focuses on making the user more efficient on the job. It was first shown as a concept vehicle at the SEMA show in November 2000. The Savana Pro is distinguished by remote release cargo access panels on the left and right sides of the van. This allows quick and easy access to interior contents. The concept was also equipped with a custom-designed set of interior cabinets, diamond plate flooring and kick panels, and a chrome-plated locking ladder rack. Under the hood, a 5,000-watt generator can provide both 120- and 240-volt AC power for tools and lighting systems. A mobile office facility in the interior was provided with 60 Hz sine-wave power from the same generator system, to allow the operation of computers and other electronic equipment.

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