General Motors is pushing its Chevrolet Cavalier replacement forward a year, scheduling its launch for the second half of 2003 as a 2004 model, according to sources at GM and suppliers.
GM had planned the redesigned small car as a 2005 model. But it sped the process by vetoing North American designers' plans to restyle the 2003 Opel Astra extensively to create the new Cavalier, a GM source said.
GM officials would not confirm details but acknowledged the desire to replace the Cavalier quickly. Chevrolet launched the current Cavalier in 1994 and has subsidized it with heavy incentives.
Kurt Ritter, general marketing manager for Chevrolet, said the timetable is 'better today than it was six, seven, eight months ago.
'I'm encouraged by that,' he said, 'as is our dealer council, who expressed some concern over that.'
GM designers wanted to do an extensive exterior and interior redesign of the Astra, the GM source said. But changes will be kept to a minimum to cut costs and speed the car to market.
That is in keeping with statements by top GM executives. Ron Zarrella, president of GM North America, has said the Cavalier replacement will have styling similar to the Astra.
The Cavalier is slated for the Delta platform developed by GM subsidiary Adam Opel AG. The first Delta cars, the Astra and the Saturn S series, are slated to debut as 2003 models.
GM assembles the Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire at its Lordstown, Ohio, plant. GM officials have said they will decide by October whether to go ahead with $500 million in modifications to the plant to ready it for the new small car.
GM's search for a Cavalier replacement has been rocky. After consumers panned prospective redesigns in 1999, GM yanked the project and assigned small-car development to Opel.
GM left the Cavalier and its sibling, the Sunfire, on the market. Although they are selling well, they have required incentives as high as $2,500 per vehicle. Derek Humphrey, manager of North American forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates, said that adds to GM's urgency.
'They need to pull it forward because, frankly, they can't keep up with the $2,500 incentives,' Humphrey said. 'That's success, but at what cost?'
The fate of the Sunfire is uncertain. GM officials have said they may drop the car and use the Vibe, a small sport wagon developed with Toyota, as the division's entry vehicle. The Vibe reaches showrooms in early 2002.