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GM plans RWD V8 cars

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GM considers global family of rwd V-8s; Pontiac, Chevrolet would get mid-sized cars

By RICK KRANZ Automotive News

FRANKFURT -- General Motors is expected to decide by year end whether to build a range of V-8 powered, rear-wheel-drive cars in North America.

One model could be exported to Europe for Opel, which displayed a concept version - dubbed the Insignia - at the Frankfurt auto show.

Hans Demant, vice president of engineering for General Motors Europe, said here last week that cars developed from the proposed architecture could be on the street in three years if the business case is approved.

"The next step is to say realistically, how much volume can we assume?" Demant said. "How would we do that vehicle? Where would we get the component sets? What would it look like, and where would we build it?"

The new mid-sized cars would meet growing demand for rwd cars in the United States. Under the plan, Chevrolet and Pontiac would get models in three years or so.

The proposal is part of GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz's efforts to get GM's global family to share product investments, components and vehicles.

For example, Holden - GM's Australian unit - is exporting the 2004 Pontiac GTO to the United States for sale around Dec. 1. Holden also developed the architecture for the Insignia, which features a version of the Chevrolet Corvette's 5.7-liter V-8. But the Insignia is not related to the Pontiac GTO.

Opel needs a strong replacement for its flagship sedan, the Omega. At the Frankfurt show, GM's European subsidiary tested press reaction to a possible replacement. Said Demant: "The car passed its first 'smell' test."

GM still is considering a host of issues. For example, the Opel Insignia could be assembled in North America - or Europe if Opel believes Insignia volume would be high enough.

The automaker must decide whether the architecture should be engineered for one wheelbase or several. GM also must determine how much sheet metal, if any, would be shared among the vehicles.

Lutz, vice chairman of product development, said the plan to provide cars for North America and Europe "would permit members of the GM family around the world to participate in the market for rear-wheel- and all-wheel-drive cars without having to make an investment that for themselves would be prohibitive."

Cars produced off the rwd architecture would be premium models but presumably slotted below Cadillac's rwd cars. The base price of the 2004 Cadillac CTS is $30,385.

GM's high-volume cars would continue to have front-wheel drive, Lutz said.

Combined world volume for the cars could be about 200,000 units.

If GM approves Insignia assembly in the United States, the Opel vehicle would follow a pattern announced recently for Saab.

The 2006 Saab 9-7X SUV is being developed off the Chevrolet TrailBlazer platform. GM will assemble it in the United States and export some of them.

GM's enthusiasm for Insignia signals growing enthusiasm industrywide for rwd cars in the United States.

In 2004, for example, the Chrysler group will introduce a range of full-sized rwd Chrysler and Dodge cars.

Those vehicles will share transmissions and electrical architectures with the Mercedes-Benz E class. Chrysler plans to export some to Europe, starting in late 2004.

Also, Cadillac is expanding its new generation of rwd vehicles.

The Cadillac SRX sport wagon went on sale in August.

GM started shipping the Cadillac XLR two-seater to dealers two weeks ago.

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