Zarrella eyes AMG, M-Series challenge from GM

Two new engines, hatchback Malibu in the future

LAS VEGAS, Oct. 30 -- Now that General Motors’ truck and SUV sales are healthy and improving, the company is turning its attention to revamping its car lineup.

In a speech to aftermarket parts manufacturers at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show, Ron Zarrella, GM North America president, outlined plans for:

  • A high-performance version of the Cadillac CTS that will compete against Mercedes-Benz AMG and BMW M-Series cars.

  • Two new V-6 engines, one for tech savvy enthusiasts who want overhead cams and variable valve timing, the other, a pushrod motor for drivers more interested in fuel economy, refinement and durability.

  • A five-door sport hatchback version of the Chevrolet Malibu.

  • A small car-based Chevrolet cross-over sport-wagon designed by GM and built by Suzuki in Canada.

  • A GMC-only mid-size SUV with a forward-folding “midgate” similar to the one used in the Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT.

    New V-6s

    The first of the new engines will appear in the 2003 model year in the high-performance version of the Cadillac CTS. Zarrella hinted that the new V-6 in the CTS would pack class-leading horsepower. Non-turbocharged versions of the new 60-degree V-6 are expected to generate about 250-horsepower. Zarrella said the high-performance overhead cam Cadillac V-6 would be turbocharged and be available with optional direct-injection. The new engine will be built in the United States. The CTS V-6 engine is built in England and versions are also used by Saturn and Saab. Zarrella indicated that the current 3.0-liter’s days are numbered.

    “The high performance version of the CTS, Zarrella said, “will be a serious player in the luxury performance market. We are confident that our CTS performance version…will give Mercedes-Benz AMG line-up and BMW’s M-Series a run for their money,” he said.

    In addition to the high-performance engine, the super-tuned CTS will sport a beefed up suspension system, stronger brakes and unique exterior styling, Zarrella said. It goes on sale in early 2003.

    The other V-6 will generate as much as 230 horsepower and feature optional displacement on demand, a technology that cuts off unneeded cylinders to save fuel. Displacement on demand will first debut in 2003 on GM’s V-8 powered full-size pickup trucks. The system is expected to improve fuel mileage in the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra by as much as 3 mpg, said Jeffrey Allen, GM’s manager of advanced controls technology. The new displacement on demand system has no relation to the failed Cadillac V-8-6-4 system of the 1980s.

    GM’s V-6s are already some of the most fuel efficient on the market, so the new engine should help the GM meet more stringent CAFÉ standards, if enacted.

    Zarrella said the pushrod V-6 will be introduced in the 2004 model year. It will not replace the long-running 3.8-liter V-6, said Zarrella. He wouldn’t give displacement figures for the new motor, but Zarrella did say that the powerplant will be state of the art in terms of size, weight, efficiency and layout.

    New cars and SUVs

    The next generation Malibu will be offered with a five-door body that is not quite a sport-wagon and not quite a hatchback. It looks like a cross between the two. Zarrella showed a photo of the new car during his speech to SEMA members. He called the new body style “a breakthrough design” that would bring new functionality to cars in general. “We think this new Malibu will redefine the mid-size market,” he said.

    Elsewhere, SEMA members got the first look at the new small Chevrolet cross-over vehicle that will be built in the Suzuki plant in Canada; it will replace the Chevrolet Tracker. This time, GM will design the vehicle. The two previous versions of the Chevrolet Tracker were designed by Suzuki and have flopped badly in the market, never competing with the top-selling Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. The new vehicle appeared to be slightly smaller than the Jeep Liberty, and featured a more aerodynamic version of the front end used on the current Chevrolet Trailblazer.

    Zarrella also said the GMC would get a mid-size SUV that uses a smaller version of the forward-folding “midgate” system used in the Chevrolet Avalanche and the Cadillac Escalade EXT. Zarrella said the vehicle would be built on the GM 360 platform.

  • You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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