BRIGHTON, MI - If you peered beneath the gargantuan General Motors Corp. Terradyne concept truck (given the beast's size, you didn't have to bend too much) at last January's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, yours was the early view of a meaningful innovation for pickups and sport/utility vehicles (SUVs): Delphi Automotive Systems' Quadrasteer 4-wheel steering system.

Although for now the Terradyne is a concept, Quadrasteer most decidedly is not - Delphi engineers say at a system demonstration here that it has a definite customer for the system "early in this decade." WAW already knows, however, that Quadrasteer is earmarked for 2003 introduction on General Motors Corp. pickups (see WAW - Aug.'99, p.10).

The official introduction of the production-ready Quadrasteer system was a highlight of the Delphi display at last month's Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Congress and Exposition in Detroit. Four-wheel steering for large vehicles offers tremendous maneuverability advantages, so the company believes Quadrasteer has enormous implication for the U.S., given our predilection for the increasingly whale-like, long-wheelbase pickups and SUVs that now sell in near-parity with passenger cars.

Delphi engineers say the Quadrasteer system can drastically cut the turning circle of a typical full-size pickup or SUV by an average of 19%; that sort of difference - from a typical turning circle of about 45 ft. (14 m) to one of 34 ft. (11.3 m) - makes a large pickup turn like a compact sedan or coupe.

In one particularly telling demonstration, Delphi engineers set up a standard parking-lot scenario, with parked vehicles on either side of the driving "aisle." A conventional front-steered truck must make two or three attempts to fit into the parking space, while the Quadrasteer-equipped truck glides in with a single swipe of the steering wheel.

The system operates in three phases: for low-speed maneuvers the rear wheels steer opposite of the front wheels to "pivot" the vehicle tightly; for normal driving the rear wheels do no steering, and at higher speeds the rear wheels steer in the same direction as the front wheels to enhance stability.

Additional componentry is at a minimum, consisting of speed and steering-wheel position sensors, an electrically driven rear actuator unit, rear-a xle knuckles to allow the wheels to pivot and a controller unit to process the sensor information and dictate the phase and amount of rear-steer. Such as it is, the conventional solid axle remains relatively stock.

Delphi engineers emphasize Quadrasteer's advantages for trailering and towing customers, who will find the system's low-speed turning enhancements a boon to maneuvering a trailer into tight spots. Quadrasteer's high-speed stabilizing abilities promise less tricky correcting of the vehicle/trailer combination at freeway speeds or during abrupt highway occurrences. One Delphi engineer believes the "trailering advantages outweigh the low-speed maneuvering advantages."

Delphi will not yet discuss cost, but does concede Quadrasteer's price, when it reaches market, will not be incon-sequential, noting the control unit's sophistication and various necessary changes to the standard rear axle. Last August, WAW's sources pegged the system's cost at between $2,000 and $3,000 to the customer.

The company says Quadrasteer is fully compatible with 4- or all-wheel drive systems and could include driver-selectable settings to optimize the system's effectiveness for varying driving conditions or operate in a "fixed," non-adjustable mode.

I'm the last fellow who would ever encourage anyone to buy another Navigator or Sierra to blight the landscape. But these things, I swear, are getting so big they're causing solar eclipses, so anything that aids their basic maneuverability is a fine thing. And I've got to come clean about something else: I was so overwhelmed by Quadrasteer's parking-lot pirouettes that the Delphi folks nabbed me to appear in the video press release touting the system.

Although it's always rewarding to see an innovation that delivers something tangible, I have a deeper, more selfish interest: I see the time when some ill-skilled driver won't block my passage while laboriously negotiating his or her private tanker in the parking lot.

I speak in tongues that would have made Patton blush when I finally find a slot in a tight, crowded parking structure - only to discover the real reason the garage is tight and crowded: the hoopies piloting the Super Duties all help themselves to a parking spot-and-a-half because they're too lazy or too inept to attempt a proper docking for their barge.

So bring on Quadrasteer, Delphi. Please. I'll do your damn TV commercials if it helps get even a single Suburban to take just one parking spot.