GM has big plans for Chevy's tiny trio

GM has big plans for Chevy's tiny trio
WARREN -- There was only supposed to be one Chevrolet minicar concept unveiled today at the New York auto show.
But General Motors Corp. executives couldn't decide which of a trio of designs to keep, so all three will be in the Big Apple.
"Everyone has a favorite," said Ed Welburn, GM's vice president of global design. "I was the one who said, 'Let's bring all three to New York.' "
The concepts, designed in Inchon, South Korea, and assembled in the United States and India, demonstrate how GM is taking a more global approach to designing and building vehicles.
"We went to the part of our global product development organization that knows how do to vehicles like these better than anyone else -- Korea -- and leveraged their skills and expertise to get these cars done," said Vice Chairman Bob Lutz. "This is a team game, and to get the team functioning at its most efficient level, you have to have all the players playing to their strengths."
The global approach is more than having a concept created for GM's minicar architecture and then attempting to sell it around the world.
Designers include various regions' technical specifications in their plans and then devise ways to build the same exterior while changing some pieces under a vehicle's skin to meet different regulations, said David Lyon, GM's executive director of design for Asia Pacific.
It's easier, for example, to design three bumpers to meet three countries' regulations at the beginning of the process than to re-engineer a vehicle for the United States after it's built for Europe, Lyon said.
"You get better designs when you're involved from the beginning," he said.
The three mini or micro cars, called the Groove, the Trax and the Beat, each seat five people and maintain Chevy design cues, such as a dual port grille and round taillights.
The Beat, a three-door hatchback, has a 1.2-liter turbo-charged three-cylinder gasoline engine that would offer front-wheel drive high performance. The 17-inch tires, which look deceptively small on its tiny body, would smooth out the ride.
The Trax is a flat-faced micro SUV. It features an electric limited slip differential connected to an electric motor to drive the rear wheels, creating an urban all-wheel drive system. Powered by a 1-liter three-cylinder gas engine, it has a single molded plastic front end to help eliminate weight, tighten its design and improve gas mileage.
The Groove, dubbed "Funkastalgia" by GM, is a five-door model with a 1-liter, 3-cylinder diesel engine. Its flat front and longer profile lines make it seem longer, while its flared fenders and 17-inch tires give it a tougher look.
GM builds minicars in other markets but hasn't determined if there is a strong enough business to bring the little racers to the United States, Lutz said.
"We have a very strong focus on small cars in the current and future portfolio for the U.S.," Lutz said last week. "The real question is will we build these types of vehicles in the U.S.? Historically, these types of cars haven't done well here. But clearly, things are changing."
The small car market will continue to grow and it would bode well for GM to make the minicar concepts a reality, said Jesse Toprak, an analyst
"That's kind of the vehicle that would be a success," Toprak said. "It would really appeal to the younger market, which is where GM really needs that recognition and brand appeal."
GM won't officially speculate if it will bring minicars to America, but the automaker could realistically have them available in the U.S. market by 2009, insiders say.
-- "I have tried to live my life so that my family would love me and my friends respect me. The others can do whatever the hell they please." John Wayne
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