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Half Pickup/Half SUV: The Lasting Legacy of the Chevy Avalanche

We like to think that we currently live in the peak of pickup truck and SUV popularity and there’s a lot reasons why that could be true. 

But we also have a tendency to overlook the historic popularity of these vehicles, and the American car buyer of late ‘90s and early 2000s might have been just as truck & SUV-crazed as the buyer of today.

Chevy Avalanche Cut Away Illustration

In the early 2000s, Chevrolet decided to bring out a vehicle aimed at the person that couldn’t figure out whether they wanted a pickup truck or an SUV. The Chevy Avalanche was the answer the question “why not both?”

Chevy Avalanche First Gen Red

A True Sport Utility

After first appearing as production-ready concept in 2000, the Chevy Avalanche made its production debut in 2001 for the 2002 model year.

Chevy Avalanche Concept Version

It was based on the same GMT800 platform that underpinned the Silverado, Tahoe and Suburban, and on the outside it basically looked like a hybrid between a Silverado and a Tahoe, with four full-sized doors, a short pickup bed with angular supports connecting the bed to the cab.

Chevy Avalanche First Gen Interior

The Avalanche could be had as either a half-ton or three-quarter-ton. The 1500s were powered by GM's 5.3L V8 while the 2500 could be had with the massive 8.1L V8.

Chevy Avalanche 5.3 liter V8 Engine

And both versions could be spec'd with either two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive, along with an optional Z71 package for those looking for increased off-road capability. 

Chevy Avalanche First Gen Off-Roading

But what truly set the Avalanche apart was something that GM called Convert-a-Cab or better known as the "midgate." You could fold down the Avalanche's rear seat and rear window, expanding the effective bed length to equal a full-size, longbed pickup.

Chevy Avalanche Mid Gate Lowered

For Work & Fun

Whether for work or play, it helped make the Avalanche one of the most versatile vehicles you could buy. It could carry a family in comfort along with modest rear bed for outdoor gear, or it could be used to haul a surprisingly big load with mid gate down. 

Chevy Avalanche Camping Setup

This innovative design helped win over both the public and the automotive press. But opinions were more mixed on the Avalanche's copious amounts of plastic body cladding. 

Chevy Avalanche Z71 without Cladding

Not only did the plastic give the Avalanche a slightly awkward look, it was also prone to fading and damage. It didn't take long for Chevy to offer a version without cladding and the the exposed plastic was removed entirely when the second generation model debuted in 2007.

Chevy Avalanche First Gen without Cladding

Another interesting fact is that the Avalanche is one of the only modern Chevy pickups not to be offered as a GMC. It was, however, offered as lux'd out Cadillac called the Escalade EXT, and we currently have a second gen EXT in our project vehicle fleet.

Cadillac Escalade EXT on Nitto Ridge Grappler tires

A Lasting Legacy

Looking back on the Avalanche more than 20 years later, it's hard to determine whether GM's experiment with it was a success or a failure.

Chevy Avalanche Carrying 4x8 Plywood

On one hand, the Avalanche it was a relatively short-lived venture. A second generation model was introduced for 2007, but its run ended in 2013 and the Avalanche hasn't returned since.

Chevy Avalanche Carrying ATV

On the other hand, it found plenty of buyers along the way and it's still one of the most recognizable pickups on the road. 

Chevy Avalanche on Rocks

And perhaps most interestingly, Chevy has actually brought back the idea of the midgate for its new all-electric Silverado pickup. 

Chevy Silverado EV midgate

In some ways the new GM EV pickup itself actually seems more like a re-invented Avalanche rather than electric version of the existing Silverado, even if it doesn't use the name.

Chevy Silverado EV 2024

So while it might be an increasingly rare sight on the roads today, and might be considered an oddity in the history of the modern pickup truck the legacy of the first generation Chevy Avalanche lives on.

Chevy Avalanche Towing Trailer

Time will tell whether GM ever decides to officially bring back this short-lived but highly memorable pickup truck nameplate.

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