By on November 13, 2015

2016 Chevrolet Traverse

Nine years ago, General Motors began selling two different vehicles off its full-size Lambda platform, the GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook.

Remember the Outlook? Of course you don’t.

By 2007, GM was also selling the Buick Enclave. By the end of 2008, GM added the Chevrolet Traverse.

Now it’s late 2015. GM is still selling the first generation of their Lambda platform crossovers. A lot of them.

GM also continues to sell the six-year-old versions of their Theta platform crossovers, as well. A lot of them. More than they’ve ever sold before.

People are living longer, healthier lives. Their 401Ks aren’t necessarily worth what they need to be. Their children won’t move out. As a result, people are working many years longer than their ancestors did.

2016 Buick Enclave

We’ve become accustomed to the cyclical nature of a vehicular nameplate’s rise and fall: sales typically decrease as the vehicle ages and surge when a new generation is launched. But not all vehicles fall victim to the cycle. Just as your personal banking representative is a 68-year-old grandmother of four and not a recent graduate of a state university, GM’s five oldest utility vehicles don’t want to retire, either.

Benefiting from thoroughly established name recognition, appropriate pricing, a measure of fleet volume, and a boom in the SUV/crossover market, GM is selling boatloads of Acadias, Enclaves, Equinoxes, Terrains, and Traverses. (Not so many Outlooks.)

2016 GMC Terrain

The year will certainly be the highest-volume year ever for the Acadia, Traverse, and Equinox and will almost certainly be the best year for the Enclave and Terrain, as well.

Combined, the Equinox and Terrain outsold the best-selling utility vehicle in America, Honda’s CR-V, by nearly 41,000 units in the first ten months of 2015. The duo’s sales have risen 14 percent, year-over-year, in 2015.

GM averaged fewer than 100,000 annual Equinox sales per year over the nameplate’s first six years, but more than 275,000 Equinoxes will likely be sold by the end of 2015. This year will be the Equinox’s sixth consecutive year of U.S. sales growth. The refreshed 2016 Equinox does not appear to be sufficiently differentiated, yet consumers have proven to be sufficiently appreciative of the way the current model looks and drives.

2015 Chevrolet Equinox

The Equinox’s fraternal twin from GMC, the Terrain, has grown its U.S. sales every year since its launch in 2009. More than 105,000 were sold in 2014, but GMC is on track to sell more than 110,000 in 2015. The Terrain’s Pontiac predecessor, the Torrent, topped out at 43,000 U.S. sales in 2006.

Despite the Lambda platform’s lack of a Saturn sibling — one wonders how the platform ever managed to survive! — more than 275,000 Acadias, Enclaves, and Traverses should be sold in America by the end of 2015.

GM’s six full-size, body-on-frame, truck-based, highly profitable SUVs are still relatively popular vehicles. GM should sell at least 230,000 Tahoes, Suburbans, Yukons, Yukon XLs, Escalades, and Escalade ESVs in 2015. But the size of their sphere of influence has waned. GM sold 210,000 Tahoes alone in 2002.

2015 GMC Terrain

GM has made headway in the other direction. More than 120,000 Buick Encores and Chevrolet Traxes should be sold in the U.S. in calendar year 2015, a massive leap forward from not a single subcompact crossover sale just three years ago.

In addition to the mainstream Theta sales, General Motors also sold 56,732 Cadillac SRXs in 2015 so far, a year which will likely end with an annual SRX sales record. That vehicle, despite its age, outsells every other Cadillac by far.

What does all of this mean inside GM showrooms across America? The Lambda platform trio generates nine percent of GM’s U.S. volume; the Equinox and Terrain another 13 percent. The quintet accounts for more than one in five GM sales, precisely four times the number of Cadillac sales, and one out of every ten SUVs and crossovers sold in the United States.

In other words, they’re important. Maybe even, dare we say it, spry.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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53 Comments on “Not All Senior Citizens Want to Retire: GM’s Lambda and Theta Crossovers Too Successful to Stop Working...”


  • avatar
    caltemus

    “Despite the Lambda platform’s lack of a Saturn sibling…”

    Sarcasm, or do you mean in spite of the fact that they don’t sell one anymore? They had the Saturn outlook, and when Saturn passed the outlook’s design got rolled into an Acadia refresh in 2013

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So I assume they solved the assembly quality issues that plagued the early Lambdas?

    I honestly think part of rising Terrain sales have to do with people getting used to its “face.” IMHO it is a profoundly ugly crossover.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      IIRC I remember you and derekson (or maybe someone else) had mentioned these would be going on a stretched Chi+ ~2018; or is my brain just foggy?

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I bemoaned that if they switched to a smaller platform I was worried that they might loose cargo room. Other members of the B&B informed me that there would be a “stretched Chi”.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        I remember that too–I don’t remember who said it, though. Something like “the new Chi platform will be stretched to fit compact, mid-size, and full-size CUVS.”

      • 0 avatar
        derekson

        Yes, the Lambda trio will be replaced by LWB Chi platform CUVs. There will likely be a Cadillac version as well (XT7 presumably). Actually if the spy pictures I’ve seen are correct, the Acadia will shrink to the size of the SWB Chi, leaving the Buick/GMC dealers with the subcompact Encore, compact Terrain (and probably Envision, possibly imported from China) on D2XX, the Acadia on SWB Chi, and the Enclave on LWB Chi.

        Not sure if the Equinox takes the compact D2XX or the midsize Chi slot at Chevy, but Chevy will likely get all 4 sizes (subcompact Trax, D2XX compact, Chi Midsize, and Traverse Chi LWB).

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      Stack em high and sell them cheap.

      These CUVs are going to be the modern cockroach Trailblazer type vehicles. They not outstanding but pretty good overall.

      I always thought that the Saturn version was the best looking one.

      The Chevrolet version looks OK, the Buick is “meh” the GMC is horrible.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        Interesting that you like the Saturn but not the GMC, since the GMC has been using the Saturn body since 2013.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          “It is human nature to want things we do not have”

          -Geordi LaForge (sp?)

          I like the GMC version best, the Traverse is too bland and the Enclave too glitsy.

          My choice is also the GMC among the smaller ones. The Chevy reminds me of the Captiva Sport, I just dont like it. Bland and boring compared to newer designs from Ford, Honda and even Toyota.
          The GMC still looks somewhat fresh, but the Chevys, in my opinion, were stale the day they were put on sale.

          Back in the day, I was an Oldsmobile or Pontiac fan (as far as GM vehicles go), I guess GMC is the closest thing lol. Actually, I almost always prefer a GMC over a Chevy truck. Id like to see GMC -alone- reenter the commercial truck arena again. Ram too (wasnt that supposed to happen?).

          Edit- among subcompact SUVs, I love the looks of the Renegade, but would probably buy the Honda HRV instead. No Trax and no Encore. A 4wd Renegade with a manual could swing me, though. Im not a fan of large crossovers, but a small one seems like a practical take on a small car and therefor I find it acceptable. Much the way I found the Chevy HHR and the Honda Element.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            I hated the GMC as first but both have grown on me.

            If I was buying Theta it would be the GMC and I would likely buy the Acadia on Lambda. You can get most of the oooooooh Buick options on the GMC version.

            The GM subcompact twins are a success by any measure, I know the B&B hates them, I know the B&B swore up and down no one would buy the ugly little wart that the Encore is. They were sure once the quality issues and sloppy build revealed itself and it being grossly under powered, people would flee to the HR-V or the Renegade, or oh my God you mean a bunch of car companies are building the anti-Christ on wheels?!?!

            The problem I see is that eventually, keep milking the hold platform = profit or not, eventually they will fall so far behind from a chassis stand point buyers will flee.

            It was noted in an earlier TTAC story that although the Lambda platform itself is soldiering on in Generation I form, the triplets have evolved extensively through the years. GM hasn’t ignore these vehicles from an options and technology stand point, and that appears to me to be ripping a page right out of the Toyota playbook (which is a complement if you can’t figure out that wasn’t an insult to Toyota)

          • 0 avatar
            DubTee1480

            “Actually, I almost always prefer a GMC over a Chevy truck”

            This times 1000 for me.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            If I won $50k in the lottery tomorrow, I would go out and buy an extended cab long bed 4×4 Sierra 2500. A green one, to be exact.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            You’d spend your entire lottery winnings on a car.

            x.x Forward thinking, mate.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        “modern cockroach Trailblazer type vehicles.”

        I have my doubts, the trailblazer’s sturdy BOF construction is what gives it that durability. These Lambdas, with a transaxle pulling that much weight around, will not have that same longevity IMO. Throw in the 3.6L High Feature V6’s direct injection and past record of not liking extended oil changes (timing chain stretches), and I don’t think they’ll ever reach cockroach status. Then again I see loads of Chrysler LHs ’round the ‘hood, and at least some of them must have the disastrous 2.7L.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          The Lambdas are full of fail, and I don’t give them a long lifespan at all for future years. It’s why I label them as an avoid for anybody who’s asking me about SUVs.

          Also, the Trailblazer had the very sturdy 4.3 Vortec!

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            …Except it didn’t. You’re either thinking of when “Trailblazer” was a trim level on the Blazer, or the 4.2 Atlas I6.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Yep I was RE: TrailBlazer trim. I have researched much more on the S10 Blazer models than I have on the later 02+ models, because I never really liked them.

            Still, isn’t the 4.2 Atlas pretty good?

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            It’s an inline six. That’s all you need to know.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Interesting choice, really. GM doesn’t normally do inline 6’s.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            They hadn’t since the last 250/292-equipped pickups, so to resurrect the engine on a consumer-grade mid-size SUV of all platforms instead of an updated 4.3 was strange indeed. And then it was never used on anything else.

          • 0 avatar
            DubTee1480

            GM also put a variant of the Atlas 6 in the Colorado and Canyon but as a 5 cylinder and a 4 cylinder. The 6 wouldn’t fit. You can get both the truck and SUV with 5.3 V8’s also. I’m actually looking at a V8 Envoy for towing and people moving myself.

            The earlier 4.2 had some issues (heads and head gaskets I think) but still managed to make Ward’s 10 best for a few years. My parent’s have a 2002 with well over 200K on it and it’s still running strong. I think GM issued a fix for them and once they’ve had the repair performed they’re good to go.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        What can you say?

        Americans like themselves a bargain (and esp. one with a good amount of room).

        The previous gen Pilot had its best sales year at the end of its life-cycle when Honda was discounting them; same went for the Lexus RX.

    • 0 avatar
      ScootGaloot

      Yes.

      And IMHO, your opinion is profoundly wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      benders

      There were four almost identical Terrains where I used to work. The appeal, IMO, is that it’s the ‘truckiest’ looking crossover. So people who prefer trucks but buy a crossover as a compromise often end up in one.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      ALL early model GM vehicles have quality issues. By the time they’ve worked out the bugs, the sales are low and the models are replaced, to go through the same process with replacements. This is blazing a new trail for GM: learn how to build them right and keep building them. There will be a bigger pool of decent used cars and who knows? GM’s quality reputation might improve.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Still let’s hope they are working on a replacement because they can’t keep selling this old horse for much longer.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I think GM’s platforms from that era were under rated. They weren’t perfect, but they were solid. I just drove a 2015 Buick LaCrosse for 2 days, and even though that platform is also getting long in the tooth, it is still a good looking, quiet riding car.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      I recall when the Saturn and GMC Lambda’s first came out that the bean counters complained the project was over budget. But it seems the money was well spent since the transmission, engine, platform etc have not been changed for 9 years. There has been some refreshing inside and out to keep them current. But I agree with other comments that in the next couple of years a new model is required.

  • avatar
    Speed3

    If reports are true, get ready for a wave of GM crossovers! 4 Buicks, 4 Chevrolets, and who knows how many GMC and Cadillac versions.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I’m a bit surprised there’s no Cadillac Lambda above the Enclave. You know they’d sell. I suppose they want you to pick a little SRX or pony up for the $90k Escalade.

      And they do, so maybe I’m not so surprised.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Show me another 3 row crossover that can sit adults comfortably in the 3rd row.

    That’s right there isn’t one.

    The shocking thing is no other automaker has realized this yet.

  • avatar
    cirats

    I’ll second that the popularity of these has got to be largely rooted in their size and the usefulness of the 3rd row. We just bought a 2015 Acadia to replace our aging minivan and cross-shopped it against every other 3-row SUV/CUV out there in remotely the same price range and when it came down to it, only the new Pilot offered the same space and utility, unless we wanted to upsize to Suburban territory. The level of luxury and feel of the Acadia was very comparable to the brand new redesigned Pilot and the features we could get for the same money were far better on the Acadia (helped by incentives on the 2015s). Interestingly, the Highlander, while too small for our taste, had a meaningfully more luxurious feel.

    Only dislikes so far are I wish it had more soft-touch materials in the cabin, there are a few things I’d change in the infotainment system (though it works fast and well – maybe I just need to learn it better), and I’m surprised it doesn’t have a smart key/keyless entry system (which I will probably appreciate, however, if we ever need to replace a key fob).

    Now I just need it to last 10 years/125k miles.

  • avatar
    zip89105

    I had a Traverse as a rental. Nice vehicle, good handling, and great air conditioning in Las Vegas. Problem is, the base model is $33,000 and quality is hit or miss per owner forums. Would I buy one? No, but I’d consider a lease.

  • avatar

    Same old, same old. GM’s approach: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Was the Highlander broken? No. Was the MDX broken? No. People were still buying them. The point is not to sit on your ass as long as something is still selling. The point is to make the most competitive product you can, not let it sit there until its a joke. GM has done this a hundred times, with all but their worst products.

    People were still buying lots of Uplanders and TransSports and Cobalts and Envoys. Now we know them badly out-of-date products.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      None of those awful past GM vehicles you mentioned faired as well against the competition as Lambda, nor were they selling as well during any of their life cycles as the Theta and Lambda do now. Nobody thought of those cars as worthy of buying over other entries, they mostly sold on price and/or to people who didnt know any better.

      GM did a great job on the Lambda and Theta vehicles. Theyre not perfect, but theyre damn good. The same could not be said of terrible cars like the Uplander and Cobalt, even when they were new.

      Its like youre trying to say it isnt okay to give these vehicles the credit they deserve because the company that builds them also once built cars that were pure crap. It makes no sense, unless the reader is as biased as you are.

      Was the Highlander broken? It wasnt selling as well as these crossovers, so you might say it was. Toyota’s solution was to pour on the ugly, which has not helped. Using Toyota as an example of a car company that stays fresh is hillarious. Some versions of the Crapola use a 20+ year old 4 speed automatic. Very rarely are Toyotas all-new, their “redesigns” usually only consist of changes in apperance, but the chassis and such remains the same. The fact that they can fool someone like you with that crap is the reason why camry is the best selling car.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    As part of my desire to Live In The Past (as far as choice of vehicles is concerned) I would buy a 2010 Saturn Outlook XR and convert it back into an Oldsmobile Bravada!
    Off with the center wheel caps, replaced by new Rocket logo caps.
    You can see the Aurora-style front end from what was planned to be the Bravada anyway.
    Change the steering wheel center cap, rework the grille and tailgate and you have the return of the finest SUV ever!
    And the only 2010 Oldsmobile on the highways of the USA!

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This may be the most successful and differentiated non-truck platform GM has come up with in the last two decades, and they’re reluctant to replace it directly. SMH.

    Reliability is average but packaging and value are outstanding.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Doesn’t have the latest gee-whiz electronics and for the target market they’re not needed anyway.

    If like a lot of people you have lived in an area for most of your life, you don’t need nav – buy a Garmin for the road trip, learning curve easy. Or run Google Maps on a good tablet with LTE like my Tab S – that’s what I do with my big data plan. Worked great on a trip out west last month.

    So other than electronics, what is really out-of-date with these vehicles? I haven’t heard of any amazing new technical advances beyond crap multispeed transmissions that many hate anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      Hard to agree more. I never got this “long in the tooth” or “outdated” talk. I drive a 95 SUV and am perfectly content. What GM needs to be doing is perfect the engineering on these vehicles. Possibly they have.

      I once owned a 2002 Saturn Vue that I loved. Trouble is that it hated me. Would love to still be driving it because it was great. The problem was that GM engineering was driving me into the poorhouse. Makes it pretty hard for me to take seriously any Saturn Outlook based vehicle or just about any other GM vehicle that is not a full sized truck or Vette.

      Times change but I am driving Nissans and Toyotas till I see compelling evidence that they are back.

  • avatar
    amca

    We have a 150k mile Traverse at work. Remarkably solid vehicle for its age and the beating it’s gotten.

  • avatar
    Lemmiwinks

    Fast forward to 2018:

    “GM FAILS TO LEARN LESSONS FROM THE PAST

    Showing a keen inability to respond to the needs of a fickle marketplace (again), the GM Lambda CUVs are tanking, and they’re tanking hard. The Equinox, Terrain, Acadia, and friends’ sales hit the skids this January.”

    Etc, etc.

    Insert several paragraphs about how they should have invested in forward thinking architecture years ago when the competition was making moves to ensure their future. Their aging platform simply can’t keep up. Also a paragraph about how this seems to happen to GM every – friggin – decade.

    Or are we awaiting the day when “Lambda” and “Panther” are constantly mentioned in the same sentence?

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