Ford and General Motors plan to offer models of their popular extended-cab pickups with a third door to provide easier access to the rear seats.
It's the latest attempt by the top two automakers to grab a larger share of the growing and highly competitive light-truck market.GM plans to offer the third door in early 1996 on its full-size Chevrolet CK-series and GMC Sierra pickups. Preproduction models were on display earlier this month at the North American International Auto Show.
Ford has yet to unveil even a picture of its new 1996 F-series pickups, with or without the extra door. The automaker plans to begin selling its three-door version in January of that year.
Chrysler Corp. has not decided whether to make a three-door version of its Dodge Ram extended cab but is considering it, spokesman Mike Rosenau said.
Extended cab pickups offer buyers the seating of a car and the utility of a pickup, but access to the rear seats has always been awkward.
The automakers hope the convenience of a third door will lure more buyers.
"As the truck moves out of the workplace and into the driveway, features to improve vehicle comfort and visibility are being demanded in this segment," said Steve Rossi, a Chevrolet spokesman.
The GM and Ford pickups will feature the extra door on the passenger side. GM is calling it a "rear access panel" rather than a door, because it cannot be opened unless the front door is opened first.
The door swings to the rear, which allowed designers to eliminate the pillar needed for a conventional rear door that opens forward. That further widens access to the rear bench seat.
Chevy first introduced the concept of a three-door pickup at the Detroit auto show two years ago. Public reaction was so positive the company immediately began planning a CK model, Rossi said.
Chevrolet leads the extended cab market, with the segment accounting for 56 percent of its pickup sales. Ford leads in overall light truck sales.
"The market has grown dramatically. We're all adding capacity on the extended cab end of the business," said Al Buhl, a GMC market planner.
Stephen G. Lyons, Ford's general marketing manager, said the third door is part of the automaker's attempt to keep its No. 1 position in light truck sales.
"When you're selling 650,000 pickups, you're trying to get a little bit of everybody," he said.