Chevy takes a new approach on the Cruze

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News
The 2011 Chevy Cruze has a pretty good shot at being problem free. After all, General Motors is adopting a formula Toyota and Honda followed for decades in the United States.

In terms of potential sales volume, the Cruze is GM's most important North American vehicle launch this year. The front-drive, compact sedan replaces the Cobalt in Chevy's lineup.

It also marks a reinvention in the way GM develops small cars. The Cruze was developed for a global market. North American sales begin this fall, but it's been on sale in other markets for over a year.

GM's engineers and designers have put a high emphasis on quality, giving it a solid feel, and quietness and refinement commonly found in some luxury cars. I heard one analyst compare it to a Cadillac; another to a Lexus. No kidding. I spent an hour or so behind the wheel of a preproduction 2011 Cruze at GM's Milford Proving Grounds. It's an impressive sedan. It's impressive even before I mention the competitive sticker of $16,995 (including transportation).

Chevy is targeting Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla buyers.

Decades ago, when Japanese automakers sold cars here in the days before they had plants in this country, all of their vehicles were imported. The vehicles that were imported, generally speaking, had been on sale in Japan for a year or so. So problems - if any -- were discovered and fixed before they hit U.S. shores.

As a result, the cars that landed here, general speaking, were problem free.

GM has adopted a similar strategy. North America is the last market to get the Cruze. North American dealers are anxiously awaiting their first vehicle, still a few months away. The car will be assembled in Lordstown, Ohio.

Cruze is already on sale in Australia, Korea, China and Europe -- over 60 markets around the world. Over 270,000 Cruzes under the Chevrolet brand have been sold globally, Chevy says. Another 70,000 have been sold under the Daewoo and Holden brands. That's 340,000 vehicles on the road even before the first Cruze rolls on to a U.S. showroom floor.

That's quite a test fleet.