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GM Speeds ’09 Vibe to Meet Matrix Timetable

AWD and GT models likely will return with Vibe redesign.

General Motors Corp. will accelerate production of its redesigned ’09 Pontiac Vibe by at least two months, a move meant to satisfy an advanced timetable for the ’09 Toyota Matrix and growing consumer demand for choices in the upper-small car segment.

The 6-year-old Vibe and Matrix share a common platform. The Vibe is built at New United Motor Mfg. Inc., a Fremont, CA-based facility operated jointly by GM and Toyota Motor Corp. The Matrix is produced at Toyota’s Cambridge, ON, Canada, plant.

Toyota wants to update the Matrix because it has attracted families, rather than younger buyers the auto maker originally sought.

“The styling does not have the sense of motion about it,” says Mike O’Brien, head of product planning for Toyota Motor Co. USA, during a recent industry event in Michigan. “It’s a bit boxy. And it just does not have the appeal to young people that we had hoped for.”

In speeding the Matrix redo, production of the ’09 Vibe now will begin in first-quarter 2008, ahead of a typical NUMMI production turnover in mid-second quarter.

“They are sister vehicles, so the timing that would affect one vehicle would affect the other,” a GM spokesman tells Ward’s.

In GM’s case, the earlier the redesigned hatchback arrives the better. More fresh choices in its fuel-sipping small-car portfolio could help diversify its mix.

The upper-small segment that Vibe occupies commanded 12.4% of the light-vehicle market in 2006, up from 12.2% in 2005 and 11.9% in 2004, according to Ward’s data.

Related document: U.S. Light Vehicle Sales by Segment, 2002-2006

So far this year, the segment’s share of the light-vehicle market stands at 12.6%. However, Vibe sales in the first eight months were down 27.4% to 24,925 units, from 34,353 in like-2006.

The redesigned Vibe will arrive at dealers shortly after production begins next year.

Vincent Brown, a sales associate at Inland Valley Pontiac-GMC-Buick in San Bernardino, CA, likes the idea of a new Vibe arriving early but also hopes the redesign distances the Pontiac model from the Matrix.

“The Vibe and Matrix look way too similar,” he says.

While the current Vibe achieves a thrifty 33 mpg (7 L/100 km) on the highway, its model range also has shrunk to just a single variant after GM discontinued all-wheel-drive and GT variants with the ’07 edition.

GM says those models likely will return with the redesign, although given the Vibe’s fuel efficiency, plans do not include a hybrid.

Brown, whose dealership is located about 60 miles (96 km) east of Los Angeles, thinks his customers would appreciate an AWD option more than a GT model, but it boils down to fuel economy.

“We get older people shopping the Vibe and we get younger people – the biggest reason is for its gas mileage,” he says.

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