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Lutz says BMW is Pontiac’s new benchmark

Stylish performance, not just muscle, is goal

LAS VEGAS — Pontiac’s future rests on refined performance, not brute force, General Motors’ product guru says.

After the Firebird dies at the end of the 2002 model year, Pontiac will be without a high-performance V-8 car in its lineup for the first time since the early 1960s.

Pontiac’s tire-smoking days may not be gone for good, says Robert Lutz, GM’s vice chairman of design. “At the right time, there will be a re-emphasis on performance in the Pontiac line,” he said while attending the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show here last week.

In the meantime, Lutz says, Pontiac’s position as GM’s performance division means putting more emphasis on handling characteristics and improving vehicle interiors to emulate European cars.

“Performance is more than just raw, straight-line performance, which was personified, perhaps, by the Firebird,” Lutz said. “But there’s also sophisticated performance. I would like to see Pontiac get a lot closer in the overall driving experience to BMW, which does not mean raw performance, but overall performance — ride, handling sophistication, (steering responsiveness). There’s a lot we can do in that area without having a great big high-torque V-8.”

The Pontiac Grand Prix is scheduled for a redesign for the 2004 model year, and the Grand Am will get one for the 2005 model year. The Bonneville receives mild styling changes for the 2002 model year.

GM’s North America president, Ron Zarrella, dashed any hopes of a short hiatus for the Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro. Zarrella, who also was at the SEMA show, said there are no new versions of the Firebird and Camaro in the works.

Said Zarrella: “We have two strong brands, but we have no plans for them beyond the current product. If we get to a point where we could allocate capital to do that kind of product right, we’d bring them back.”

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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