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

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We like to think that we are currently living at the peak of the popularity of pickup trucks and SUVs and there are many reasons why that could be true.

But we also have a tendency to overlook the historic popularity of these vehicles, and American car buyers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s were probably just as crazy about trucks & SUVs as today’s buyers are.

In the early 2000s, Chevrolet decided to release a vehicle aimed at people who didn’t know whether they wanted a pickup truck or an SUV. The Chevy Avalanche is the answer to the question “why not both?”

Chevy Avalanche First Gen Red

True Sports Utility

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

Chevy Avalanche Concept Version

It’s based on the same GMT800 platform that supports the Silverado, Tahoe and Suburban, and on the outside looks basically like a hybrid between the Silverado and Tahoe, with four full-door, short pickup beds with corner supports connecting the bed to the cab.

Chevy Avalanche First Gen Interior

Avalanches can be half a ton or three quarter ton. The 1500s were powered by the GM 5.3L V8 while the 2500s could be had with the massive 8.1L V8.

Chevy Avalanche 5.3 liter V8 engine

And both versions can be specified with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, along with the optional Z71 package for those seeking an upgrade in off-road capabilities.

Chevy Avalanche First Gen Off-Roading

But what really sets the Avalanche apart is what GM calls the Convert-a-Cab or better known as the “midgate.” You can fold the rear seat and rear window of the Avalanche, extending the effective length of the bed to match a full-size longbed pickup.

Chevy Avalanche Mid Gate Dropped

For Work & Fun

Whether for work or play, this helps make the Avalanche one of the most versatile vehicles you can buy. It can carry the family comfortably along with a simple back bed for outdoor gear, or it can be used to transport very large loads with the center gate down.

Chevy Avalanche Campground Settings

This innovative design helped win over the public and the automotive press. But opinions are more mixed about the excessive amount of Avalanche’s plastic body cladding.

Chevy Avalanche Z71 without Cladding

Not only does the plastic make the Avalanche look a little awkward, it’s also prone to fading and damage. It didn’t take long for Chevy to offer a version without the cladding and 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 the only modern Chevy pickup no to be offered as a GMC. However, it was offered as a luxury Cadillac called the Escalade EXT, and we currently have a second gen EXT in our fleet of project vehicles.

Cadillac Escalade EXT on Nitto Ridge Grappler tires

Eternal Legacy

Looking back on the Avalanche more than 20 years later, it’s hard to determine whether GM’s experiments with it were successful or unsuccessful.

Chevy Landslide Carrying Plywood 4x8

On the one hand, the Avalanche was a relatively short-lived undertaking. The second generation model was introduced for 2007, but its run ended in 2013 and the Avalanche has not returned since.

Chevy Landslide Brings ATV

On the other hand, it found many buyers along the way and is still one of the most recognized pickups on the road.

Chevy Landslide in Rock

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

Midgate Chevy Silverado EV

In some ways, the new GM EV pickup itself actually looks more like a reinvented Avalanche than an electric version of the existing Silverado, despite not bearing its name.

Chevy Silverado EV 2024

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

Chevy Crane Trailer Avalanche

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

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