For a brief moment in the ’80s and ’90s, Isuzu enjoyed a comfortable place in the American automotive landscape. On top of selling the Pup compact pickup and the rugged Trooper SUV, it enjoyed lucrative partnership deals with Honda and General Motors, with a number of its cars being offered through Chevy dealerships as Geos, and Isuzu diesel engines offered in a number of GM vehicles. But by the time Geo tanked in 1997, Isuzu wasn’t far behind.
In 1996, Consumer Reports lambasted the Trooper, claiming it was unsafe to drive. Isuzu sued the consumer watchdog, claiming that the report was biased and out to destroy sales, but the damage had already been done. Despite offering a bona-fide future classic in the 1999-2001 VehiCROSS SUV, the company limped into the 21st century offering a thinly disguised Chevy S10 pickup (the Amigo), a rebadged Honda Odyssey (the Oasis), and GMC Envoy (the Ascender). In 2008, after 27 years and over 2 million vehicles sold, it announced a total withdrawal of passenger vehicles from American market, focusing instead on commercial trucks.
But now, Isuzu is back…well, kind of. In a move that mirrors its 1980s-era Geo connection, General Motors has announced that it’s reentering the medium-duty commercial truck market, and partnering with the Japanese truck maker to sell Isuzu N-Series based cab-overs as Chevrolets. Despite its disappearance from the passenger car market, Isuzu remains an international powerhouse when it comes to medium-duty commercial vehicles, and Chevy couldn’t have picked a better partner to help it reenter this competitive segment.
Chevy sees its entry into the cab-over market as an important step to raise its profile in the commercial segment. On top of offering heavy-duty pickups and vans, Chevy hopes that offering a versatile cab-over will help make the brand a go-to choice for commercial businesses. Speaking on the release of the new trucks, U.S. vice president of GM Fleet and Commercial Sales Ed Peper said:
“Bringing low cab forward trucks back to our portfolio strengthens Chevrolet’s commitment to providing commercial customers with more choices and provides customers with a versatile lineup of trucks, vans and crossovers…This addition helps our dealers satisfy their commercial customers’ needs all in one place.”
The trucks will be assembled at Chevy’s Charlotte, Michigan plant, and the majority will feature Isuzu’s 3.0 or 5.2 liter turbo-diesel engines, though Chevy will offer a 6.0 liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission as well. The short wheelbase 3500 model trucks will be built on a 109-inch chassis, while the 5500 HD model will be built on a substantial 212-inch frame. The trucks will be available in both single, and crew cab, and are set up to accommodate everything from refrigerator boxes to tow rigs.
The new models mark Chevy’s first commercial truck since the front-engined Kodiak was discontinued in 2009. While that model had a front-engined layout similar to Chevy’s pickups, the versatility and familiarity of the Isuzu-based cab-over models could turn Chevy into a major player in the commercial segment in no time. In return for it’s work trucks, Chevy will help Isuzu develop a new mid-size pickup that will be available in most markets outside of the United States and Canada.
So in a case of history repeating itself, GM will be selling rebadged Isuzus to help it break into new segments. While this may feel a little familiar, don’t expect any new Geo dealerships to open up anytime soon.