How GM is making it near impossible to steal a Tahoe

January 2, 2014: 1:39 PM ET

The automaker has introduced several new anti-theft features to its 2015 line of big SUVs, which have been top targets among thieves.

By Doron Levin

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe

FORTUNE -- A new 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe, with every possible option, retails for more than $61,000. Owners seem to love the vehicle, as do thieves, who have found it a juicy target.

Later in 2014, when the 2015 versions of the Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Chevrolet Suburban appear, all three should be somewhat less tempting targets. GM has added several anti-theft features that come standard in these models, and it has introduced several new optional features as well.

Bill Biondo, who is in charge of security technology for GM (GM) models, said the company has "engineered a layered approach" to defeating thieves. According to the latest figures from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the Tahoe was the second-most stolen SUV, after the Ford (F) Escape.

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Starting with the new standard locking steering column, it will be much more difficult to tow or push the car away, an increasingly common theft method. A new type of key will deter lock picking, and stronger door lock cylinders and shields should defeat access with slim jims and similar tools.

Another upgrade: bolted-in third-row seats. Seats that slipped in and out were convenient for users -- and just as convenient for anyone wishing to smash the rear window and steal them.

The new vehicles will also include a nifty hidden compartment behind the infotainment screen. Small valuables, wallets, sunglasses, and so forth can be rendered hidden and inaccessible in that space.

According to the FBI, more than 721,000 vehicles were stolen in 2012, up 0.6% from a year earlier and the first annual increase since 2003. By far, most car thefts occur in the western U.S., primarily in California. Carjackings currently account for about 3% of all thefts.

theft

In fancier versions of the new Tahoe, Yukon, and Suburban, a protection package includes glass breakage sensors, interior motion sensors, and a tilt sensor that sounds an alarm if the vehicle is lifted from the ground. The key control system can be reinforced further to make ignition impossible without an authorized key.

And if all of these features aren't sufficient to motivate bad guys (and they are usually guys) to look elsewhere, there's GM's OnStar satellite-based system. With OnStar's Stolen Vehicle Assistance feature, law enforcement can locate the stolen vehicle, slow it down, and remotely block its ignition.

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Security against theft does not rank high among the reasons a consumer buys a vehicle. But any kind of high-tech gadgetry will only add to a model's desirability. In this case, big GM SUVs have been a favorite chop-shop item for a while because they've been relatively vulnerable and because, stripped down to parts, they fetch big revenue.

Thieves are nothing if not ingenious. But with so many Explorers, Grand Cherokees, Durangos, and Range Rovers to choose from, GM's reinforced full-size SUVs may soon draw less attention.

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