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http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060116/FREE/60116001&SearchID=73238038058736

Camaro tops GM's rwd list; Buick Velite concept, Pontiac GTO and Impala also possibilities

By RICK KRANZ | AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

AutoWeek | Published 01/16/06, 9:37 am et


DETROIT -
For General Motors Vice Chairman Robert Lutz, the Chevrolet Camaro concept car tops the list of possible vehicles in the automaker's lineup of mid-priced to premium-priced, rear-drive cars for North America. GM will select vehicles for the program within six months. Production will begin in 2008 or 2009.

Speaking of the Camaro he drove onstage last week at the Detroit auto show, Lutz said, "I know where it fits in the overall enthusiasm ranking. If it was a question of what would you like to do, I would obviously do this one first."

But, he added, "We can't always follow our enthusiasm. We have to do what's right for the business."

GM will weigh the Camaro, as well as the next-generation Chevrolet Impala and a Buick sedan in the rwd car program. The Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn brands are under consideration for rear-drive models. "We have a big plan for rear-wheel drive," says Gene Stefanyshyn, vehicle line executive for what GM now calls its global rwd architecture. GM previously called the architecture Zeta.

GM needs to fill the rwd gap between its small, sporty rwd cars, such as the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, and rwd luxury vehicles such as the Cadillac CTS, STS and SRX. The company delayed plans for mid-sized rwd vehicles last year. Meanwhile, competitors have scored strong sales of rwd cars such as the Ford Mustang and Chrysler 300.

GM is confident that the Camaro will appeal to baby boomers who remember the original. But will it appeal to younger buyers? Lutz enthusiastically supports the Camaro concept that he unveiled Jan. 9 during the Detroit auto show. If produced, the Camaro would feature a standard V-6 engine and one or two V-8s, Lutz says. It would be priced competitively with the Mustang.

GM revived its rwd plans late last summer after halting efforts to develop North American vehicles on Zeta last winter. Last winter, GM executives said that the initial plan for the Zeta vehicles was not workable but pledged to develop a new strategy. Possible Zeta vehicles included the Buick Velite concept, Pontiac GTO and Impala.

Stefanyshyn would not reveal the entire lineup under consideration but said the next-generation Impala "is a possibility."

GM's styling studio has prepared both rear- and front-drive versions of the next Impala, according to an industry source who did not want to be identified. The engineering of the new group of vehicles will be handled by GM's Holden subsidiary in Australia, which built the Holden Monaro that is the basis for the current Pontiac GTO.

The architecture will debut in the second half of this year on a redesigned Holden model. GM also is considering a rwd model for China.

Stefanyshyn was named vehicle line executive for the Zeta architecture a year ago. After the program stalled, he canceled plans to move to Australia. Now that the program has been revived, he will relocate to Australia in February and restart the vehicle development program for North America.

GM vehicles on the global rwd architecture will have long wheel-bases and short overhangs. All-wheel drive will be available. The Camaro and Velite, a convertible concept introduced at the 2004 New York auto show, demonstrate the possibilities for the architecture.

Stefanyshyn says the global rwd architecture can be used for a wide range of vehicles. Vehicles will be assembled in Australia and North America. But Opel no longer is considering such a car, says Hans Demant, managing director of Adam Opel AG. Says Demant: "It is just too big" for Europe.
 
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