DETROIT -- In a bid to rush its next-generation large SUVs to market, General Motors is reshuffling its future product lineup.
In an internal memo last week, GM product chief Robert Lutz told employees that "until further notice," the automaker has stopped plans to introduce a new line of rear-wheel drive passenger cars that were scheduled to debut in North America by 2008.
Lutz cited the current business climate as the reason for the stoppage, but said GM was not abandoning all future rear-wheel-drive activities.
After an 80 percent cut in its annual earnings forecast, GM announced last week the future of some product programs were under consideration.
But a change in the rwd program, or Zeta architecture as it is known inside GM, was seen as a critical part of the automaker's immediate future. The architecture was supposed to be the basic underpinning for Buick, Pontiac and Chevrolet vehicles in North America and a variety of cars and sport wagons around the world.
The move allows the automaker to focus on its next generation of sport-utility vehicles, which are expected to arrive in 2006. GM will shift resources to other products in the pipeline, including its large SUVs, one insider says.
But GM's decision puts into question development of the next generation Pontiac GTO sports car, and new entries for Chevrolet, Buick and Pontiac. Some of those could be built on a modified architecture that is already being used by the company on the current GTO.
Marc Beckers, a spokesman for GM, told the Detroit News: "While work on particular North American applications of our premium rear-wheel drive midsize vehicle architecture have indeed been stopped, we have begun to study new approaches to efficiently capitalize on future opportunities we see for future midsize rear-wheel drive applications."
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