As with archrival Ford, trucks loomed ever larger in Chevrolet's total business picture during the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. Indeed, car sales at both makes were eclipsed by demand for light-duty pickups, sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), and minivans as early as 1990. This reflected a change in buyer preferences that would see light trucks surpass cars in total U.S. sales for calendar 2001.
Chevrolet fought the truck wars well. All-new full-size pickups arrived for 1999 under the Silverado banner, followed by a separate new line of more-competitive heavy-duty pickups, tagged Silverado HD, and redesigned Tahoe and Suburban SUVs. For 2002 came a larger new midsize SUV, the TrailBlazer, though some of the older Blazer models hung on as price-leaders for that segment.
Also new for '02 was the Avalanche, basically a Suburban with an open cargo box instead of a closed cargo bay, plus "tough guy" styling touches. The box was a short 5.3 feet long, but a "midgate" could be folded down with the rear seats to extend load length to 8.1 feet. Avalanche answered a question no one was really asking, but proved fairly popular.
Not so for Chevy's 1984-vintage Astro minivan, which steadily waned in popularity until its 2005 exit. The newer front-drive Venture minivan languished too. On the other hand, the compact Tracker SUV, sourced from GM affiliate Suzuki of Japan, did good business, especially once redesigned for 1999.
Trouble was, the market clamor for trucks led Chevy (Ford as well) to put less apparent effort into cars -- understandable, what with the car/truck sales gap widening each year.
As a result, Chevy's replacement car models in this period were usually judged underwhelming against class rivals. And though they generally sold well, they sold more to rental and corporate fleets than retail buyers, to the detriment of both image and trade-in value. Either way, discounts were deep in a market long accustomed to "deal of the week" incentives.
But a sale is a sale no matter who the customer is, and Chevy was happy to keep building around a quarter-million Cavaliers each model year through 2004. Highlights in the Cav's later years included the 1998 return of a Z24 convertible, replacing the LS version, and a mild 2000-model revamp featuring added standard equipment. The ragtop body style was dropped altogether for 2001, reflecting continued lack of buyer interest.
Collectors may one day note the low yearly production for all Cavalier convertibles, which never exceeded 10,000 and was often less than half that (just 4108 of the 1985 Type 10s, 5011 of the '98 Z24s, to cite but two examples).
The Z24 coupe was canned for 2002, but lived on in a similar LS Sport model with GM's new 2.2-liter "Ecotec" twincam four-cylinder, good for 140 bhp and shared with a new LS Sport sedan.
Other models adopted this engine for 2003, shedding the old overhead-valve unit, and all got modest styling revisions. Tellingly, though, the recently standardized antilock brakes moved to the options list (joining newly available front side airbags protecting both head and torso, plus GM Onstar assistance and satellite radio).
Chevy was trying to maintain price parity with small cars from import brands that could set prices more aggressively because they had far less overhead to cover than GM did.
This largely explains why Chevy returned to selling rebadged imports for 2004, adding the little Aveo four-door sedan and hatchback as new bottom-rung offerings pitched below Cavalier. Sourced from low-wage South Korea and a GM subsidiary recently formed from the remains of bankrupt Daewoo Motors, Aveo was a fair sales success. Meanwhile, buy-domestic diehards could opt for a $10,135 Cavalier coupe with no frills and no options.
For more on Chevrolet cars, old and new, see:
- Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chevrolet Used Car Reviews and Prices