No Fixed Abode: Filling Every Hole In That SLT (Lineup)

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Stop the presses! There’s a new GMC Yukon in town!

Until this morning, humanity was only familiar with three trim levels of GMC’s Suburban clone. There was the SLE, which does not have push-button start and is therefore beneath contempt. There is the SLT, which is the Yukon your neighbors got when they couldn’t swing the lease payments on the Denali. Finally, there is the Denali, with which you are no doubt familiar from the line of “cars” waiting to pick up kids at your local private school. With the exception of devoted George Strait fans, everybody who imagines a Yukon in their head imagines a Denali.

I’m not aware of anybody ever questioning the density of the Yukon lineup, but it’s obviously been done quite a bit because now there’s an SLT Premium. It slots between the SLT and the Denali on price. Unless they’re holding something back in the GMC press release of which we aren’t aware, the SLT Premium package is strictly an appearance package, featuring a new shinier grille, “exclusive” 22-inch wheels, and a few extra chrome trim pieces thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Do you have the next five or so minutes free? Would you like to talk for a moment about what this all means — this new Premium trim level and the associated discontents which led to its production? If so, you’re in luck, my friend, because that is precisely the thing about which I would like to talk this fine morning.

Rather than try to imperfectly weave thoroughly disparate thoughts into a single narrative, I’m just going to go stream-of-consciousness on you with the below:

What Happened To The General Motors That Understood Branding Better Than Anybody Else?

It’s almost impossible to believe given the current situation, but there was a time that GM wrote the book on branding. Alfred Sloan believed in a car “for every purse and purpose,” but he also believed in avoiding competition between brands and nameplates. That was a long time ago. In the past 35 years or so, GM has proven comically inept at managing public perception of its brands. Periodically, however, even a blind squirrel finds a nut, and the “Denali” trim level on GMC trucks certainly qualifies as one. The 1999 debut of the Yukon Denali didn’t impress very many people, but the idea of a slightly more expensive GMC had enough legs that it carried over to the 2001 model that absolutely built the Denali sub-brand image.

The Denali concept has been an unqualified success. Chevrolet had never really been able to get people to pay any meaningful premium for the GMC nameplate, even though every one of my fellow grocery-baggers at the Dublin, Ohio “Big Bear” store in 1990 was thoroughly and absolutely convinced that GM tested every S-10 that came off the assembly line and put S-15 badges on the trucks that had exemplary results in said testing. With Denali, they cracked the code. The Yukon Denali in particular is a perfect halfway point between the pedestrian Tahoe or Suburban and the rap-video Escalade, offering most of the luxury and all of the mechanical content found in the latter at a price that is usually ten or fifteen grand lower. I’d suggest that the Yukon Denali probably has the best demographics of any General Motors product sold in America. And it shines so brightly on the lower vehicles, encouraging the middle-middle-class types to step to Denali trim on their Terrains.

With all of this in mind, why threaten the Denali brand image with a gussied-up SLT? What kind of corrosive effect will this truck have on the Yukon Denali’s image? Can a few extra sales possibly justify it? You had one job, GMC dudes: keep the Denali cash cows happy. One job.

And Won’t These Be Bought By The Absolute Worst People In The World?

The rationale for an SLE is easy: cheapest Suburban-platform vehicle that you can buy from a former Oldsmobile dealer. The rationale for the Denali is also easy to understand: it’s the best Suburban you can buy without raising some questions about your personal taste and/or background.

It took me a few years of watching hideously wealthy people pile out of Yukon SLTs in front of churches and museums to understand the at the SLT also has a certain appeal. It’s the Yukon that implies your ability to purchase a Denali but also your diffidence about doing so. This is particularly true of the Yukon XL SLT, which has all but taken the place of the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser among America’s better families. The point of the SLT is that it’s not a Denali, so what’s the point of an SLT that looks like a Denali but possesses none of the mechanical upgrades? Oh, that’s right: it’s the Yukon for people who would shed blood to be seen in a Denali but who are so close to the financial edge that they can’t spring for the extra $150/month in lease payment. Think of the people you know who might fit that description. I’ll pause for a moment here so we can both shudder.

God, This Is Such A Great Reason To Hate Dealers.

The origin story of the SLT Premium is almost self-evident: Dealers calling their regional reps demanding a Yukon with a chrome grill at a price point below the Denali. You’ll see a lot of these in stock everywhere you go. That’s hideously offensive because over the years GM has fastidiously pruned its brands and product lines for the sake of simplifying and reducing dealer inventory. You see, dealers absolutely despise having a wide variety of available products because it increases the chances of the customer wanting something you don’t have. That depressing DX/LX/EX/Touring lineup for Hondas? Blame the American dealer, not Honda. If you go to Japan, you’ll see that Honda would love to offer a million different model and option combinations. It’s the dealers who squeeze that joy out of the business.

In the past 20 years, dealers have been the loudest voices calling for the elimination of manual transmissions, the neutering or dismissal of outstanding sports cars, the extinction of the traditional full-size sedans, and various other injuries to automotive enthusiasm too many and varied to be mentioned here. Think of all the GMC dealers who wouldn’t stock a Syclone. Remember all the combo GMC/Oldsmobile dealers who wouldn’t stock 442s or SCXes? What about the Buick/GMC dealers who don’t have a single stick-shift Regal “wasting space on the lot”? All of those jerks are going to magically find parking spots on their property or showroom for an SLT Premium in every color GMC offers. Maybe two of each, just to spite me. Dealers, man. Hate ’em.

And Of Course, It Would Just Kill Them To Do A Real Work Truck Yukon.

Is there a particular reason for the cheapest Yukon on the spec sheet to ring the bell for a full fifty grand? The markup between a Chevrolet Silverado LS crew cab and a Yukon SLE is about fourteen grand. That’s a lot of money for two extra windows and a more complex tailgate. You can save two grand more by taking the “WT” version of the Silverado. That stands for Work Truck, not White Trash, by the way. Figure that the work-truck version of a Yukon would have even more materials savings than the Silverado. Maybe it’s four grand cheaper. It’s $44,999. It could even be $39,999 if GM could restrain itself on the rebates and incentives.

Wouldn’t there be some merit in offering a cheaper Yukon for families who wanted seven-passenger capacity and some towing ability at the same time? It would certainly expand the GMC owner base a bit. Hell, it might bring in people who, upon exposure to the SLE or SLT, might spend the extra money. I dealt with a lot of fellows like that when I sold Ford trucks. They’d walk in swearing they wanted the cheapest Ford work truck money could buy and they’d leave in an XLT with extra options.

Maybe GMC doesn’t want their image sullied through association with construction workers or evangelical families, but how “Professional Grade” is GMC when they don’t even offer a Yukon you can clean with a hose? What professions are GMC owners hailing from that they need an SLT Premium? Real estate in Beverly Hills? Running a Quality Farm&Fleet? Rural pimping?

Of course, it will succeed.

And that’s the worst part. It might hurt Denali in the long run, it might take up space that could be used for interesting product, it might not even make that much more profit for GM this year. In the near future you’ll be seeing that chrome-lined face everywhere you go. Shopping malls, office parks, and … oh yeah. The GMC Yukon Premium SLT: Coming To A Rear View Mirror Near You. Much too near you, in fact.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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4 of 157 comments
  • Old Man Pants Old Man Pants on May 26, 2016

    "Filling Every Hole In That SLT (Lineup)" There's so much working class pig left in that guy even a generation or two removed from such an islamic upbringing. You can try an' frilly-up a Real Man but it jus' won't take!

  • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on May 26, 2016

    There is a working class Yukon- it's the Tahoe

    • See 1 previous
    • Budda-Boom Budda-Boom on May 27, 2016

      @DenverMike I don't know if they're sold to the public this way but the radio station promotional vehicles used where I work are, I believe, as impoverished as a Tahoe/Suburban can get. They have rubber floor mats and a base stereo but still have A/C, power windows/locks and the passenger seat has full power adjustment. I assume it's just less expensive for GM to spec that one wiring harness and the amenities to which it attaches than develop a model with crank windows, manual seats and a heater. I will say this - the appointments (excepting carpet) are nicer than my loaded 2002 Tahoe LT with Autoride. Say what you want about the General, they've come a LONG way.

  • Aja8888 As I type this, my 4 months old Equinox's Onstar module that controls the phone is broken. Yep, 4 months (never worked right from day one). Replacement will be a REFURBISHED unit since no new ones can be obtained (from China?). I really don't miss the phone via Bluetooth. And I have a great Garmin that I have used for years for trips which has free lifetime maps and traffic.
  • Bd2 There's a reason why talented American execs have been leaving Stellantis in droves.Tavares seems intent in following "Le Cost Cutter" Ghosn into driving his company into the dirt, whilst "justifying" his ever expanding compensation.
  • Bd2 Too bad gm didn't make the C8 better looking to begin with...
  • GregLocock Not interested at all. Apparently I've got Apple car play but I've never used it in 3 years. The built in nav is ok.
  • Corey Lewis Probably worth about what they're asking, given its condition. The color combo isn't a desirable one, they look sharper in non-beige shades. Like two-tone green, maroon, navy, or gray. The end of the time when MB built its cars properly. No shame in turning up in a clean W126, they'll always command respect.