Dear Tom and Ray:
General Motors recently unveiled the 2015 Chevy Tahoe, Suburban and GMC Yukon. The three SUVs continue to have the gear shifter positioned on the steering column instead of the floor-mounted center console, like the Traverse, Equinox and Acadia. Is this solely a cosmetic design decision, or is there an automotive engineering reason for this choice? Thanks.
TOM: It's partially cosmetic, partially historic and partially practical.
RAY: The practical reason is that putting the shifter on the steering column leaves more room for a large center console between the seats. People like to use center consoles to store all their stuff.
TOM: Not just cups of coffee and quarters for parking, but, increasingly, purses, bags of Cheetos, laptop computers and the occasional medium-size household pet.
RAY: And some of these center consoles -- like the Suburban's -- have gotten so big that you can rest your lunch tray on top of it and stash a backup Chevy Spark inside for when you're tired of getting 16 miles to the gallon.
TOM: Putting the shifter on the steering column also gives Chevy the option of offering a bench seat up front instead of two bucket seats. A bench seat -- with the proper seat belts and all -- allows three people to sit across, instead of two. So instead of carrying only eight people, and having to ask the other team to pitch to themselves, you can carry a full baseball team in your Suburban.
RAY: In terms of engineering, it really doesn't matter where you put the shifter. It can go almost anywhere, within reason. You just need to have some way to transmit the position of the shifter to the transmission itself.
TOM: That can be done with a cable, with rods or, these days, with an electronic signal.
RAY: The final issue is historic precedent. The column shifter was a staple for many decades. And apparently there is a group of buyers that still like it that way.
TOM: Well, I don't want to speak for them. But everybody knows you can't snuggle in the front seat with a gear shift in the way.
RAY: Well, you can. You just can't snuggle pain-free.