Pontiac Looks Rearward: The Next Grand Prix and GTO

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Pontiac hopes to produce at least one rear-wheel-drive car for sale as a 2010 model, despite reports that General Motors' rear-wheel-drive Zeta platform has been axed.

There are no immediate plans to replace the current GTO when it goes out of production at the end of next year. However, GM desperately wants to develop rear-wheel-drive cars for Pontiac--its sporty, import-fighting brand--and has started looking at a low-cost Zeta platform, referred to internally as Zeta Lite.

Pontiac's 1999 concept could hint at the next generation design direction. The styling is expected to incorporate some design cues from classic Pontiacs such as the '69 GTO and continue the trend away from the overwrought styling of the recent past.

The Zeta platform--which underpins the upcoming Australian Holden Commodore sedan and Monaro coupe--was supposed to provide the basis for a number of North American rear-wheel-drive products, notably the Buick Velite roadster and the next-generation GTO, but the U.S. program was canned because it was too expensive. The Sigma architecture that underpins cars such as the Cadillac CTS was never considered, either, again because of cost issues.

Should Zeta Lite get management approval, Pontiac would like to produce two cars off the platform: a four-door Grand Prix and a two-door GTO. The Grand Prix would get both V-6 and V-8 power, while the GTO would be powered by a new version of the current, 400-hp, pushrod OHV LS2 V-8.

The GTO's chances of making it into production probably would depend on Pontiac sharing the platform with Chevrolet, which would transfer the Monte Carlo from front-wheel drive back to rear-wheel drive. It is also likely that Chevy would end up with a large four-door sedan that either would replace the Impala or resurrect the Caprice nameplate.

Although GM enviously acknowledges that Ford Mustang customers don't seem to care about its inexpensive and outdated live rear axle--a feature that was engineered in to reduce cost--it's unlikely that the Zeta Lite architecture would have anything other than an independent rear suspension. Don't expect GM to produce a Firebird/Camaro rival for the Mustang, either, as those nameplates are dead in the water.

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