As one of the four remaining brands at the new General Motors, the folks in charge of GMC are trying to come up with a reason for the brand to exist. Until now, GMC's wares have been to Chevrolet trucks what Mercury has been Ford – same stuff different badges. Over the last decade the marketing boffins have tried to position GMC as "Industrial Grade," but it's never been entirely clear exactly what that means.
As a general rule, GMC doesn't produce concept vehicles, but at this year's Detroit Auto Show that changed. The GMC Granite is being badged as an "urban utility vehicle," a compact crossover that could slot in below the Terrain and give the brand something relatively unique. GM hasn't divulged what platform underpins the Granite, but it's likely to share many parts with GM's global compact (Delta II) architecture. That means this Granite will have a lot in common with the upcoming Chevy Orlando, but with a five-inch shorter wheelbase and a few other unique attributes.
Compared to the Orlando, the Granite has a sharper, more chiseled look that's appropriate to its name. However, this is no copy of the Scion xB or Nissan Cube. The windshield is more steeply raked than the upright screens on the two Japanese boxes, and the Granite isn't as tall, with a roof that's six inches closer to the road than the Nissan and three inches shorter than the Scion. In fact the closest current model in size to the Granite is the Honda Fit, although the Honda is more than three inches narrower. GMC has sized this vehicle for crowded urban environments where its 161.3 inch length is two feet shorter than the Terrain and should make it easier to navigate the cramped confines of the world's metropolises.
In the case of the Granite, with its small exterior dimensions, the large opening afforded by the pillar-less design is especially handy. Inside the designers have created passenger side seats that fold flat and then flip up against the center console, leaving the entire right hand side open. With the seats up, the Granite can accommodate a mountain bike with the wheels still on.
Dave Lyon and the rest of the GMC design team have tried to ensure that even with its small dimensions, the Granite didn't sacrifice utility. It's common for concept cars to use rear-hinged back doors to allow show-going attendees to see the interior. However, few of these ever make it to production that way. Nonetheless, Lyon insisted to us during a pre-show preview that the Granite was engineered to support the rear hinged doors. The idea isn't that far out there, particularly when you consider that GM has done it before with it's full-size pickups and Saturn coupes.