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GM to Build RWD Cars in Numerous Countries

The program can yield high, low, medium, long and sporty cars from the same chassis and structural supports, giving it enormous breadth.

PARIS – General Motors Corp. will use numerous plants around the world to build vehicles from its forthcoming Global Rear-Wheel-Drive (Zeta) Architecture.

The first vehicles from the platform, the Holden VE Commodore and Caprice, are assembled in Australia, the global engineering center for large RWD vehicles.

For North America, GM has said the forthcoming Zeta-based ’09 Chevrolet Camaro will be assembled in Oshawa, Ont., Canada.

But Bob Lutz, vice chairman-global product development, says one, maybe two products from the platform will be built in the U.S.

“There will be a U.S. production site for at least one of the vehicles,” he says in an interview at the auto show here.

He says he does not know if North American manufacturing executives have decided where, or which product.

China also is expected to build vehicles off the same architecture, starting with a long-wheelbase luxury car under the name Buick Royaum. It will feature limousine-like rear seating.

South Korea will be another market for large RWD cars, but Lutz says he is not sure if those vehicles will be assembled there or imported.

Volume in Europe likely would be too low to justify local production, although it easily could be accomplished, he says. So any RWD cars for Europe likely would have to come from somewhere else, he says.

The modular RWD architecture has much breadth because it has three different lengths each of front, center and rear underbodies – and vehicles can be developed using combinations of all three.

There also is an extender that raises the cowl so proportions are better on larger models. Lutz says the platform can yield a luxury sedan longer than anything GM has built to date.

“We can do high cars, low cars, short cars, medium cars, sporty cars – all off the same chassis and structural supports,” he says. “The body parts would all be different, and we could mount different degrees of simplification in the suspension.

“This will give us the flexibility to do an enormous portfolio of entirely different RWD cars around the globe.”

Meanwhile, Lutz says a Pontiac Firebird is unlikely to result from the new architecture. A Pontiac GTO may be a candidate – but not anytime soon, he says. A Zeta-based Pontiac G8 that would replace the Grand Prix atop that division’s car lineup is under study for export to the U.S. from Australia. Reports out of Australia indicate GM will unveil the car at the Chicago auto show in February.

A version of the Australian-built Holden Statesman was under consideration as a replacement for the Buick Park Avenue, “but we cancelled it,” Lutz says.

Meanwhile, GM Europe President Carl-Peter Forster says that while the Opel brand is looking for something above the Vectra, it likely will not be a product from the RWD architecture, even though the Opel Insignia was the first concept from Zeta.

Forster says the Opel brand consists of front-wheel-drive vehicles, with expansion into all-wheel drive – but RWD holds little interest.

“The engines won’t fit, and Opel is a FWD brand,” he says. “It would mix up the architectures.”

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