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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 10:16 GMT
Car giant's image makeover
Cadillac Cien concept car
The Cadillac Cien - breaking with GM's conservative past
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David Schepp
BBC News Online's North America Business Reporter

General Motors (GM) has pinned its hopes on turning itself into a marketing machine that can bring exciting products to market quickly and affordably.

In an eye-catching, over-the-top production, GM unveiled three new concept vehicles at the International Auto Show in Detroit this weekend, as well as three previously seen models which will soon start rolling off the production line.

GM said the six vehicles reflect a new can-do attitude at the world's largest auto maker, now known chiefly for its conservatism and unexciting designs.

"These vehicles show GM is moving fast to bring ideas to market," said Robert Lutz, president of North American operations. "GM has the resources, drive and know-how to create and build great cars and trucks."

Not your father's Cadillac

So it was the fresh designs were rolled out to the eager press, who snapped photos and cooed over the smooth lines of the new Cadillac Cien, Chevrolet Bel Air and other models.

GM's Bob Lutz unveils the Pontiac Solstice
GM's Bob Lutz unveils the Pontiac Solstice

The Cien was perhaps the most striking. A race-inspired roadster that features a 750 horsepower, 7.5 litre V-12 engine, mounted in the middle of the car and visible through the rear glass, the Cien seats two people.

Its lines recall those of the Acura NSX, although GM says the Cien's design was inspired by the F-22 stealth fighter.

Another Cadillac, the XLR, previously exhibited as the Evoq concept car, is set to go into production next year at the same plant as the Chevrolet Corvette.

Blast from the past

The Bel Air, GM says, was designed to recall the designs of the classic mid-'50s Chevrolets and marks a grand departure from much of GM's latest offerings.

Featuring rear-wheel drive, a five-cylinder engine, and separate frame and body construction, the new Bel Air is unlike anything GM has unveiled in recent years.

Also on stage was the Chevy SSR pickup, seen in previous auto shows. Its rounded bumpers are intended to summon up images of Chevrolet's classic trucks.

The swooping yet soft lines of both Chevrolets stand in stark contrast to the company's recent angular, hulking monstrosities.

Those designs caused Mr Lutz - at the time recently retired from Chrysler - to say they "resembled angry kitchen appliances".

Incredible hulks

To be sure, GM still has a stable full of threatening colossi, including two new versions of a four-wheel-drive sport-utility truck (SUT) sold under the Chevrolet and Cadillac brand names.

Known as the Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT, the trucks are departures from traditional pick-up trucks and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) in that they can be "reconfigured" from six-passenger trucks to full-size pickups with an eight-foot truck bed.

Front of new-look Chevrolet Bel Air
The Bel Air's smooth bumpers

Another addition is the Hummer H-2, also highlighted over the weekend.

Touted as a slimmed down version of the Hummer H-1, the massive, square-jawed truck used by US army, the H-2 is nonetheless still a full-sized SUV.

To produce or not

Other new models included two versions of the Pontiac Solstice, a concept vehicle Mr Lutz said was first commissioned in September.

The Solstice is made from existing parts on GM's shelves and is designed to sell for under $25,000. Both coupe and roadster versions of the Solstice were unveiled, which is built on GM's new global small-car platform.

While it is not known if the Solstice, Bel Air or Cien will make it to the production stage, Mr Lutz stressed that the new models will breathe new life into the company's staid approach to car design.

And GM is certainly in need of resuscitation. Despite record sales in 2000 and 2001, the world's largest auto maker has seen its market share slip to less than 29% of the US market. In 1960, GM vehicles made up 60% of all domestic sales.

For his part, Mr Lutz says that so long as GM starts building cars that people want, the profits - and market share - will follow.

See also:

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