GM puts brakes on new rear-wheel drive vehicles

GM puts brakes on new rear-wheel drive vehicles http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/AUTO01/704120368/1148
DETROIT -- General Motors Corp. is holding off on plans for virtually all
new rear-wheel drive cars in response to the threat of far stricter fuel economy standards from the federal government. Concerned that heightened mileage requirements will penalize the automaker for producing new versions of high-performance rear-wheelers, GM is halting all but a few of the vehicles in its future lineup.
Word of GM's change in plans came this week from GM product czar Bob Lutz in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. A GM spokesman confirmed the information on Wednesday.
While GM wouldn't give specifics, the move could mean consumers will never see a rear-wheel replacement for the full-size Buick Lucerne and Chevrolet Impala sedans or a small rear-drive Cadillac compact.
Still in the works, however, are a Chevy Camaro sports coupe due out next year and the Pontiac G8 sedan, which is being developed with GM subsidiary Holden in Australia.
"It says they are making a commitment to maximizing fuel economy and maximizing fuel efficiency, and that makes sense," said Tom Libby, an analyst with J.D. Power and Associates' Power Information Network.
The Bush administration wants to reduce U.S. gasoline usage 20 percent by 2017, in part by raising fuel economy standards an average of 4 percent annually. That would bring cars to an average 34 mpg by 2017, up from 27.5 mpg today. Also, the Supreme Court ruled last week that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate cars' carbon dioxide emissions.
Lutz has been a scathing critic of the Bush plan, arguing that such a mandate could add $5,000 to the average cost of vehicles. "It would bring the market to a standstill," he told The Detroit News in an interview last week during the New York Auto Show. "We've pushed the pause button. It's no longer full speed ahead."
Rear-drive uses more gas
Front-wheel drive vehicles became popular alternatives to rear-drive cars during the oil crisis in the 1970s. Rear-drive vehicles typically suck more gas because they are heavier and tend to be tuned for high-performance driving.
GM appears to be the first automaker to shift its product pipeline based on the growing possibility of strict fuel economy mandates, though its crosstown rivals say they're watching fuel economy regulations closely.
Ford Motor Co. spokesman Jim Cain said its plans already are heavy on vehicles that feature fuel-saving technologies, with no all-new rear-drive cars in the works. Ford, however, will continue producing new versions of its Mustang muscle car.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, which has spawned several rear-drive vehicles from the Chrysler 300 architecture, on Wednesday said it has no plans to back away from that market. The Auburn Hills automaker has plans to revive the Dodge Challenger muscle car at the end of next year.
"We've had some great success with that architecture," Chrysler Group spokesman Rick Deneau said. Fuel economy regulations aren't "affecting plans for anything we're going forward with."
Instead, he said, Chrysler will focus on improving technology on rear-wheel drives to make them more fuel-efficient. It does, however, plan to ramp up investment in fuel-sipping small vehicles.
"You arrive at a balanced product plan and then you work on the technology to deliver the fuel economy that isn't just what the government requires, but what consumers expect," Chrysler spokeswoman Colleen O'Connor said.
Change of heart seen
GM's decision to put the brakes on rear-wheel drive models is the latest twist in GM's on-again, off-again attraction to the vehicles. Lutz first championed GM's new rear-wheel-drive platform, known as Zeta, in 2003 as the industry was turning its attention toward rear-wheel-drive vehicles. The Chrysler 300C and revamped Ford Mustang were smash hits.
Two years later, though, GM killed plans for a line of rear-wheel drive sedans set to come out in 2008, largely to free up resources to speed up production of new lines of large pickups and sport utility vehicles. But the automaker reversed that decision, laying the groundwork for rear-drive vehicles in several of its brands.
Now, it seems, most of those plans are off. "It's too late to stop Camaro, but anything after that is questionable or on the bubble," Lutz told the Tribune. "We'll decide on our rear-drive cars when the government decides on CO2 levels and CAFE regulations."
While the move is bound to upset some rear-drive loyalists, GM's approach makes sense, said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst with Edmunds.com, an automotive resource tailored for consumers.
"They are prioritizing their resources and putting those funds into next-generation trucks and sport utility vehicles," he said. "They're being forced to do it."
-- The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at the best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. T.R. April 10, 1899
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GMs newest V8s use technology that allows them to run on four cylinders, when not under load, thus achieving highway mileage the exceeds 32 MPG. The resulting CAFE highway designation is 28 MPG.
As to FWD being better on fuel, the new Caddy RWD CTS get better fuel mileage than several comparable FWD cars.
mike

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Mike Hunter wrote:

liners to reduce the weight (something that was investigated), there will be a weight penalty.
And of course, those V8's will go into to heavy larger cars. Because that's what the public wants. (or thinks they want). WHen gas hits $5 a gallon after Iran gets reduced to rubble, the public will be scrambling to mini cars like GM is looking into now.
It seems a lot of these new SUV's have large tires and are as tall as MY S10 truck. That certainly cannot do road mileage any good.
There will always be the people who can afford what ever they want. But if the price of gas doubles, there could be a huge skew to smaller cars.
Then there are idiots in Washington trying to regulate CO2. Why don't they ban soft drinks while there at it? I have no problem with environmental protection up to a point. But the true green wackos won't stop until the internal combustion engine is extinct. And we all use electric cars charged by nuclear power plants since coal plants generate too much pollution. The Fred Flinstone car with foot power is looking better all the time........
Bob
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The fact is many of the folks that choose to buy the larger safer vehicles in which to transport their families and all their 'stuff' will continue to buy what they need, regardless of the price of fuel but they will also buy a smaller vehicle to use when necessary. Witness the fact that our consumption of crude continues to increase even though the price went up from $20 a barrel in the eighties to over $70 a barrel at one point recently.
We are all environmentalists, in that we do not want to $#it were we eat. The problem as I see it the environuts are trying to rule the debate, shouting down rational debate on what can, and can not be done, to make us less depended on imported oil. The environuts however do now want us to 'EAT' so we do not have to deal with the $#it we produce as a result.. I would not be surprised to hear them propose we breath on alternate days to lower the CO2 level that they THINK is killing us. If one even suggest nuclear power as has the President, environuts eyes glaze over and they go, well.......NUTS ;)
mike

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