General Motors will try to increase its lagging share of the minivan market by adding a high-end Buick and an import-fighting Saturn in late 2004.
In other product news, the company said it plans to add a diesel engine to the Chevrolet Suburban.
GM will invest $150 million in its Doraville, Ga., assembly and stamping plants to add the two minivans shortly after it drops the Oldsmobile Silhouette, a spokesman said. GM also will reskin the Chevrolet Venture and Pontiac Montana minivans. All will be on the U-van architecture.
Buick and Saturn dealers will get the minivans for the 2005 model year, said GM Vice President John Middlebrook. GM made the announcement at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco last week.
Although the minivan market has lost steam in recent years as buyers avoid the "soccer mom" image, it still accounts for 1 million annual sales, Middlebrook said.
GM gets 20 percent of the market, he said. In particular, GM has been missing the high end of the segment, which accounts for 24 percent of minivan sales, he said.
But GM is distancing itself from the traditional minivan, referring to its new products as "mid-vans" and promising innovative designs.
"There's an opportunity to win in the market if you can take that stigma off," said Middlebrook, general manager of vehicle brand marketing and corporate advertising.
In an interview at the Detroit auto show, Vice Chairman Robert Lutz said most of the design work on GM minivans probably will come at the front and rear of the vehicles.
"There is really no value in slapping a bunch of unique sheet metal on a minivan because people don't notice it," Lutz said. "A minivan looks like a minivan. You get your differentiation in the grille, rear end, bumpers, fascias, wheels, side ornamentation."
GM made other product announcements at the NADA convention:
Product Editor Rick Kranz contributed to this report