Image: 2009 Chevrolet Traverse LTZ
GM via AP
The Traverse, which borrows its bold front end and styling from the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, joins the two-row Equinox in Chevrolet’s crossover family.
updated 2/6/2008 4:29:58 PM ET 2008-02-06T21:29:58

Chevrolet is adding a crossover with three rows of seats to its lineup — the Chevrolet Traverse — which is set to debut this week at the Chicago Auto Show.

A crossover vehicle is one that has most of the attributes of a truck-based sport utility vehicle but is more maneuverable and gets better gas mileage because it’s built on car underpinnings.

The Traverse, which borrows its bold front end and styling from the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, joins the two-row Equinox in Chevrolet’s crossover family. The Traverse will go into production in Spring Hill, Tenn., in the third quarter of this year.

The Traverse isn’t coming a moment too soon for General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet division. Automakers have been racing to introduce more crossovers as the segment continues to grow in an otherwise soft market. Crossover sales rose 16 percent in 2007, despite a 3 percent decline in the market overall.

GM’s Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook crossovers were a bright spot for the automaker in last year’s bleak market, and they continued to perform well in January. Acadia sales rocketed up 335 percent in January from the same month in 2007, while Outlook sales more than doubled. Those models all feature three rows of seating

Chevrolet will also face competition from other new three-row crossovers this year, including the Ford Flex and Dodge Journey.

“We think the Traverse is the right vehicle for the right time,” Ed Peper, Chevrolet’s general manager, said in a statement.

Peper said the Traverse drives like a smaller vehicle but is large enough to accommodate adults in the third row and will have a large cargo space. It also has sliding second-row seats for easier access to the third row.

Video: Pent-up demand?

The Chicago Auto Show opens to the public Friday after two days of media previews.

GM also announced Wednesday at the show that half its U.S. vehicle volume will run on ethanol by 2012, just as partner Coskata Inc. is expected to be ramping up ethanol production.

In a speech at the show, GM North America President Troy Clarke said GM will have 11 ethanol-capable vehicles on the market this year and 15 in 2009. Clarke also announced that GM will be producing its first four-cylinder ethanol-capable model, the FlexFuel Chevrolet HHR, in 2010.

“We don't only want to respond to the needs of the market. We want to anticipate them,” Clarke said.

This year’s Chicago show will feature a number of car introductions, including the new Dodge Challenger, which Chrysler will reintroduce after a 35-year absence.

The Challenger has the long hood, wide stance and racing stripes of the original, which was introduced in the fall of 1969 as a 1970 model and phased out five model years later.

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