Blazer name still carries weight with SUV fans

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
Sneak peak at the new Chevrolet Blazer on the General Motors Design Center patio in Warren.

An iconic Chevrolet SUV nameplate lost to Detroit's gas-guzzling stigma during the Great Recession is getting a second chance at life.

Chevrolet will resurrect its Blazer nameplate on a two-row SUV next year that only mildly resembles its ancestors, banking on the name's longevity to round out Chevy's growing SUV and crossover lineup.

MoreChevy reinvents Blazer as stylish, urban crossover

The Blazer lineup — which took its last breath as the TrailBlazer in 2009 — was one of an amorphous group of Detroit SUVs consumers turned their backs on a decade ago. 

But with the recession in the rear-view mirror and Americans clamoring for SUVs like it's 1999, Chevy says the name still has considerable cachet with SUV buyers and Chevrolet fans.

"We think the positives of that name well outweigh what it takes to establish a name in the marketplace," said Steve Majoros, marketing director for Chevrolet's cars and crossovers. "Blazer means instant SUV credibility. It instantly associates with Chevrolet."

That brand equity means a lot. Chevrolet is likely saving significant time and money on its marketing push for the new vehicle by using a legacy name like Blazer, which Chevy engineer Rick Spina said is "part of Chevrolet's DNA in the U.S."

General Motors Co. spun off the Blazer as the bigger TrailBlazer some 16 years ago. That was jettisoned a few years later when gas prices soared and the recession forced buyers to be more cost-conscious.

Time and the TrailBlazer blip help Chevrolet distance itself from any negative connotations of the past, said Stephanie Brinley, an automotive analyst for IHS Markit..

"It’s been gone long enough not that — it's not that people don’t remember at all — but it won’t carry a ton of baggage," she said. "Blazer was absolutely the right product for the time, while TrailBlazer aged before it went away."

Chevrolet engineer Rick Spina talks about the Blazer  on the General Motors Design Center patio in Warren on June 15.

The new Blazer is hardly the boxy off-roader of the past — though if you want to take it through the mud, its RS and Premier trim features twin-clutch all-wheel drive. The 2019 Blazer is a bolder cousin to Chevy's growing crossover and midsize SUV family with a domineering front-end reminiscent of the Camaro.

"These vehicles are well-mannered on the road, they drive great, they’re functional, there’s fuel efficiency," Majoros said of Chevrolet's modern SUV offerings. "There isn't that kind of social 'Are you tone deaf to what’s going on here?'"

Blazer's time has come again, this time as "a modern interpretation of what the Blazer was," Majoros said.

The more modern 2019 Blazer is designed to fight two-row competitors like the Jeep Cherokee and Ford Edge, but Blazer will also see a legacy nameplate competitor in the Ford Bronco slated for 2020.

The new Blazer will sit between the small Equinox and the full-size Traverse in Chevy's SUV lineup. The standard inline four-cylinder engine will likely allow the new Blazer to sip fuel more responsibly than the TrailBlazer, which averaged just under 17 miles per gallon in its last model year. For comparison, the 2018 Equinox averages a little over 28 miles per gallon.

Even though the new Blazer carries more design cues from the Camaro and other current Chevy crossovers than the SUV of yore, it's likely the resurrection of the name alone will be enough to excite Chevy fans.

"Blazer definitely means utility vehicle to consumers, but doesn’t necessarily mean a specific utility vehicle for Chevrolet," Brinley said. "It’s been a name unlike Corvette or Suburban that have been the same exact type of vehicle forever. For the audiences they’re trying to reach, calling it Blazer helps them understand where it fits."

Blazer will round out Chevrolet's SUV and crossover offerings to six different nameplates. Chevy was the fastest-growing crossover brand in the industry in 2017, with crossover deliveries for the brand up 17 percent at the end of the year. That helped drive GM's retail market share growth by 1.6 percentage points to 13.1 percent in 2017.

Crosstown rival Ford Motor Co. is hoping to steal some of that market share when it slashes its sedan lineup in favor of SUVs in the next few years. It said at an event earlier this year that nine out of 10 Blue Oval vehicles sold in 2020 will be a truck, SUV or commercial vehicle. It's even repackaging the Focus, a key sedan for the brand during the industry's last downturn, as a crossover.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV made a similar move two years ago when it shifted away from passenger cars to focus on money-makers like Jeeps and full-size pickups.

Production on the 2019 Blazer starts at the Ramos, Mexico, plant later this year and it's slated to arrive at U.S. dealerships in early 2019.

"They've hit a sweet spot with the new Blazer," Brinley said. "And there is no slowing down of the appetite for utility vehicles at the moment."

Twitter: @NoraNaughton