Pontiac seeks Sunfire replacement

Entry-level vehicle likely will be ready in 4 years

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Pontiac likely will replace the aging Sunfire, not simply retire it, in about four years to keep an entry-level vehicle priced below the new Vibe.

The replacement “has not gone through the whole portfolio process yet. It is not a done deal,” said Craig Bierley, brand manager for the Pontiac Vibe and Sunfire. “(But) we have identified a need, and it is recognized within the company with support.”

While fresh product is good news for Pontiac, the bad news is that the Sunfire, propped up with incentives, could be in the automaker’s product line for up to four years before a replacement is ready.

Bierley said General Motors’ product planners have not decided what type of vehicle will replace the Sunfire. The vehicle platform has not been chosen, either. He did say, though, that it would not be produced off GM’s new Delta or Epsilon car platforms. The vehicle likely would bow in four years.

Bierley was interviewed during a press event here for the five-door 2003 Vibe.

The Sunfire had been scheduled for a redesign for 2002, but that plan was canceled in 1999 because the concepts for the redesign performed poorly in consumer clinics.

The Sunfire competes with many Korean autos that have attractive styling, low prices and high levels of standard equipment.

Vehicle needed below Vibe

Pontiac’s newest nameplate, the compact 2003 Vibe five-door hatchback, is the twin of the 2003 Toyota Matrix.

The Vibe will start at $16,900 when sales begin in February. The upscale Vibe GT will be $19,900, and an all-wheel-drive model will be $20,100. All prices include a $560 destination charge. Air conditioning is standard on all models, and an automatic transmission is standard on the awd version.

The Vibe will be built by New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., the GM-Toyota venture in Fremont, Calif.

Pontiac expects the average transaction price of the Vibe to be around $18,500. But Bierley sees a need for a vehicle with an average transaction price of about $16,500.

The Sunfire’s base sticker is $15,080, including destination. Pontiac is offering cash rebates of $1,500.

Through 11 months of this year, Pontiac sold 68,184 Sunfires, down 12.6 percent from last year.

Freshened for 2003

In the meantime, Pontiac will freshen the Sunfire line for the 2003 model year. Of particular interest will be the car’s headlamp treatment. The current Sunfire “has cat-eye headlamps. The old headlamps looked like they were designed in the 1980s because they were,” Bierley said.

The 2003 Sunfire line will be trimmed to two coupes. The sedan will be dropped from the U.S. lineup, but it will be offered in Canada.

For 2003, the Sunfire’s GT suspension and ground effects package will be standard on both coupes. Both are optional on the 2002 model. The car’s brakes will be upgraded, and GM’s L850 four-cylinder engine, called the Ecotec, will be standard.

The 2003 Sunfire also will receive new rear styling and a new instrument panel.

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