BANGKOK – General Motors’ body-on-frame Chevrolet Trailblazer pitches the auto maker into an emerging segment here.

Bowing at the Bangkok International Motor Show earlier this year, the new model is aimed squarely at the Toyota Fortuner, which arrived in the market in 2005 and has dominated the D-class SUV segment ever since.

The Trailblazer, a spin-off from the Colorado pickup, follows the Fortuner game plan, which was derived from Toyota’s Hilux pickup and has proved a success for the auto maker not only here but throughout the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region.

GM Thailand President Martin Apfel says the Trailblazer blends capability with refinement, creating a “unique balance” that will allow owners to haul up to seven passengers and still have room for golf clubs.

The Trailblazer, which slots into Chevrolet’s lineup above the Captiva, arrives on the heels of an impressive 2011 for GM Thailand. Sales rose 50% year-over-year, topping 30,000 units.

“Our goal is to more than double our sales result in 2012,” Apfel says.

GM Thailand recently hired an additional 1,500 workers at its Rayong plant as it adds another shift, in part to produce the new Trailblazer.

Building the SUV here “demonstrates the importance that GM places on Asia,” Apfel says.

The Trailblazer, to be offered in 2- and 4-wheel drive configurations, goes on sale in Thailand midyear, quickly followed by a rollout throughout the ASEAN region. Global distribution will see it arriving in markets as diverse as Russia, Australia, Dubai and South Africa by the end of 2012.

The launch sequence “will ramp up country by country in the second half of the year,” Apfel says.

In designing the Trailblazer, GM set out to create an SUV that would be equally at home in off-road or urban landscapes.

“We did not want our SUV to be seen as a box-frame SUV, so the groundwork for the design and engineering came at an early stage of the project,” Roberto Rempel, chief engineer, says.

In spinning off the Trailblazer from the Colorado, a “select number of parts were reused,” he says, and there was a focus on “harmonizing the styling of both” so the SUV would become a recognizable family derivative.

Rempel points to the taillamps as one design feature shared by the two vehicles.

Inside “comfort, functionality and roominess” were key metrics, he says, singling out the “intuitive seats” that can be set in multiple positions and stored easily. The second row of fold-flat seats (with integrated armrests and cup holders) split 60:40, while the third row is divided 50:50.

“Our near-future competitors will be looking at us as the benchmark” in interior room, Rempel says.

The Trailblazer features the same 8-crossmember frame of the Colorado and makes use of ultra-high-strength steel, while also featuring a 5-link rear suspension designed to match the ride comfort of more premium SUVs.

Standard and optional active and passive safety features include front airbags, stability control, antilock brakes, traction control, dynamic rear-brake proportioning, panic-brake assist and hill-descent control.

Also of note is the Trailblazer’s wading capability, which was improved while the SUV’s development was under way – a metric whose priority was firmly fixed by the Thai floods late last year. Wheelbase has been shortened by 11.8 ins. (30.0 cm) from the Colorado, offering ideal load-distribution capability, Rempel says.

The Colorado’s 150-hp 2.5L and 180-hp 2.8L Duramax diesel engines have been carried over, but they have been calibrated differently for the SUV. Both 6-speed automatic and 5-speed manual transmissions are available.

While GM’s Brazil operations oversaw styling, much of the engineering development work took place in Thailand.

GM Thailand has not announced sales targets. Overall, the segment is expected to account for 50,000 deliveries this year.