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U.S.A.:Chevy goes retro in bid to pass Ford

Throwbacks lead a wave of new models
August 8, 2003


TRAVERSE CITY -- Watch out, Ford.

That was the message from General Motors Corp. on Thursday, which revealed Chevrolet's bold product plan to unseat Ford Motor Co.'s Ford division as the top-selling brand over the next 20 months.

The world's largest automaker revealed a sketch of a retro crossover vehicle, resembling its upcoming SSR roadster pickup and a 1949 Suburban, which will be the last of a diverse nine-vehicle introduction.

"This new product barrage should help get Chevy back to selling 3 million cars and trucks a year," Gary Cowger, president of GM's North American operations, said Thursday at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.

While Ford is the world's second-largest automaker, its Ford brand was the nation's best-selling. But the race between Chevy and Ford is tight and heating up. Ford sold 2.99 million cars and trucks last year, compared with Chevy's 2.64 million, according to Autodata Corp.

Ford may earn some protection from its redesigned F-series pickup truck that is just hitting showrooms now. But through July, less than 170,000 vehicles separated the two brands.

Many of the new Chevy vehicles have been already revealed to the public, such as the all-new Malibu, which goes into production next week. Chevy's other new vehicles include the Colorado midsized pickup, Equinox compact SUV, the entry-level Aveo and Cobalt, and an extended version of the Malibu, the Maxx.

GM showed auto executives and journalists only a sketch of the new HHR, a codename for High Heritage Roof.

"Like the SSR, it's a bold nod to the past and a big step into the future," Cowger said. "The concept for this goes back to when we looked at how we can use Chevy's heritage."

Both the SSR and HHR recall the curvy look of trucks from an era when men wore fedoras, as opposed to the more militaristic bearing of today's pickups and SUVs.

But while the SSR has a price starting above $40,000 and is to be produced in limited numbers, Cowger described the HHR, which is to debut in the 2006 model year, as a much more affordable vehicle meant for high-volume production.

The vehicle would likely compete most directly with the Chrysler Group's PT Cruiser. The designer of the PT Cruiser, Bryan Nesbitt, is now a GM executive who oversees the design of cars as well as crossover vehicles -- a burgeoning category which combines car and SUV attributes.

The HHR follows other crossovers, or tall wagons, such as Toyota Motor Corp.'s Matrix and the Pontiac Vibe, as well as the PT Cruiser.

"It wants to mimic some of the aspects you saw in the Cruiser," said Michael Robinet, vice president of global forecast services with industry con******ts CSM Worldwide. "There is going to be a movement toward taller vehicles, more utilitarian vehicles.

Only time will tell whether the HHR helps Chevy overtake Ford.

"If they keep cutting Chevy prices, the 3 million is doable," said David Healy, an analyst at Burnham Securities.

"Whether they can do so without hitting the bottom line is questionable, and Ford has a lot of new iron coming," he said.

Aside from the F-series pickup, Ford's coming lineup includes a crossover wagon, the Freestyle, next year, and two new sedans by 2005 to replace the Taurus.

Because of its design, the car-based HHR could help GM comply with fuel-economy regulations, which the Bush administration has notched up slightly for light trucks, the regulatory category of SUVs, pickups and minivans.

"What this allows us to do is have a crossover that is much more fuel-efficient, aimed at young families," Cowger said.

The product offensive at Chevrolet is not unlike GM's aggressive retooling of Cadillac during the past couple of years, an estimated $4-billion endeavor for the world's largest automaker.

"When you couple this Chevy renaissance with what we're doing at Cadillac, we've got the bookends covered -- the flagship and the foundational brand at GM," Cowger said.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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