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G8's Mission: Appeal to Enthusiasts, Import Intenders

Both the rear-wheel-drive Dodge Charger and Acura's TL sedan will be in G8's sights.

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CHICAGO – With introduction of the new Pontiac G8 this time next year, General Motors Corp. will try to satisfy two key consumer blocs that often aren’t in perfect agreement.

Pontiac executives believe the Australian-built, rear-wheel-drive sedan is tailor-made for power enthusiasts, many of whom have long been lobbying for such a vehicle on Internet blogs.

A second, but no less significant market, is the family sedan seeker who wants something more powerful than the Saturn Aura but not quite as upscale as a Cadillac CTS.

Pontiac-Buick-GMC General Manager John Larson says the planned V-6 (and optional V-8) sedan is a “crossover” in terms of its potential buyer audience.

“It’s real competitive with a lot of sedans in that segment, a lot of high-end premium sedans,” he says here on the sidelines of the Chicago auto show. “We’re going after the core midsize car buyer who needs a package that truly offers you a backseat that’s 100% usable.”

This puts both the RWD Dodge Charger and Acura’s TL sedan clearly in the G8’s sights.

Larson says he’s been following blogger reaction to the G8. Some already dismiss the car as a BMW 5-Series dressed up with an Acura interior, and not an industry changing sedan, he says. However, other bloggers correctly note a front-wheel-drive Acura can’t move from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in under 5.5 seconds the way the V-8 G8 can.

Bob Lutz, vice chairman-global product development, says it’s nearly impossible to know how consumers will comparison shop the G8.

“Up to now, you could argue that maybe our high performance sedans did not, in styling and interior execution, appeal to import intenders,” he says. “I think (the G8) does, because it’s essentially a very international looking car.”

Lutz says about 30,000 units will be imported initially from Australia’s GM Holden Ltd., which is adapting the G8 from its iconic Holden Commodore. They are built on GM’s new Global RWD Architecture (Zeta), which will yield a multitude of vehicles for all markets.

Lutz expects the majority of the imports to be V-6 models to keep pricing competitive with the Dodge Charger, which stickers between $22,475 and $36,595.

Importing G8s from Australia is a “transitional phase,” until the G8 can be built in North America, Lutz says. The Camaro will be the first Zeta model assembled in North America, at GM’s Oshawa, ON, Canada, plant.

Jon Lauckner, GM vice president-global program management, is quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying G8 production could be moved to Oshawa within a couple of years.

The Oshawa plant is being converted to build a number of Zeta-based vehicles expected to include the next-generation Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo.

Oshawa’s C$740 million ($662 million) conversion will be completed in 2008, with Camaro production slated to begin later that year.

When the Oshawa conversion is finished, GM will want that plant to be operating at full capacity, Lauckner tells the Australian newspaper.

“Then we will either move (the G8), or potentially it will be time to talk about what comes after a G8,” he says.

GM officials have said they also plan to build Zeta products at a U.S. plant in the future.

The ’08 G8 is expected to replace the Grand Prix, which ends its run in 2008. Asked if the G8 name will inspire consumer demand in the same way the Chevrolet Camaro Concept did after the 2006 North American International Auto Show, Lutz says the Camaro name has “positive equity.”

“You drop names when there is negative equity, when you tell yourself you’re better off starting over,” he says, citing the Pontiac G6, which traded in its Grand Am badge.

“You have to fight a lack of awareness for awhile, because what your old, worn-out name has is great awareness but probably negative baggage,” he adds. “I’m somewhat amazed that a name like the (Ford) Taurus has achieved that warm glow of traditional nostalgia in only about 18 months since dropping it.”

GM’s also is building Zeta products in China, where it is preparing to launch a long-wheelbase Buick, based on the Commodore Statesman, later this year.

GM will not bring that model to North America because it is roughly the same size as the current Buick Lucerne, Lutz says. A spokeswoman says a name for the Chinese version has still to be determined.

– with Alan Harman

[email protected]

TAGS: Vehicles
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