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The Future of Chevrolet

Chevy lifted the veil on its future at a special media event in Detroit--including the fabulous new Camaro convertible.

I attended a media event last night showcasing all of the new models coming over the next couple of years. Can't show you pictures of most of it (don't have any; they put a piece of tape over the camera lens of my iPhone when I entered the hall), but here are some notes I managed to record while I scarfed down lamb chops and Michigan bean and corn chowder:

Executives in attendance:
Bob Lutz, the survivor; Mark Reuss, the GM prince, fresh in from 18 months in Australia to right the North American ship; Jim Campbell (new head of Chevy and GM veteran); Michael Simcoe (super-slim Aussie head of exterior design). And others whose names I forget.

Data points:
Chevy is expected to comprise 70% of GM's total sales.

61% of Chevy's sales are from outside the USA.

They expect USA market to grow from 11 million units in 2009 to 12 million units in 2010 (in my opinion, this seems realistic and not too pie-in-the-sky, a refreshing dose of reality)

GM Design Chief Ed Welburn told me that they cannot make the Camaro fast enough, and that other markets around the world are "begging" for this car, especially China.

They are targeting five "enthusiast markets" for Chevy:
1. Truck
2. Performance
3. Eco
4. Youth
5. Modern Family
They admit that they are not very strong in Eco and Youth.

Michael Simcoe, the Chevy design chief, spoke at length about the Chevy design ethos. There are nine worldwide Chevy design studios or affiliated studios. Many young designers working for them have absolutely no experience with Chevrolets and the Chevy brand, so they have to educate them about the brand's heritage and such, and they expect all Chevys, wherever they are designed, to adhere to some basic design hard points like:
1. dual-port grille accented by bold bow-tie badge
2. dual taillamps
3. dual cockpit, influenced by 1960s Corvettes
From a design standpoint, the interiors on everything they showed yesterday are all coherent and shockingly good.

Eco: Volt addresses this. Much discussion about the driver interfaces.

Youth: Chevy Spark and Aveo. Spark minicar arives 2011. Aveo looks really good; no official word on timing but I believe late 2010. Will be a 5-door and a sedan. Noteworthy design element: four round headlamps, staggered placement. Very nice. Much talk about telematics and smart phone integration and all that jazz.

They showed the next-generation Malibu. I don't much like it. It's trying way too hard and lacks the simple, classic, elegant design of the current car. Its taillamps are trying to mimick the Camaro's. The nose is heavy and busy. The side profile has lines going in too many directions. They showed it very early; it's got to be at least two years away. Maybe it will look better by then. Maybe not. But they've got lots of time to massage it.

Also showed the Orlando 7-passenger crossover, which looks pretty decent, although I still somehow thought of Miss Piggy when I looked at its snout; it doesn't go on sale until 2011 calendar year.

Also showed the Cruze sedan, which we've seen and which goes on sale first half of 2010. Ten standard air bags, 40 mpg highway hoped for, built in Lordstown, Ohio, at that factory along I-80 where they always display the car they build on a tall pedestal visible to passing motorists. The Cruze should look good on the pedestal.

Aveo RS show car, 5-door, was shown in a picture and will be at Detroit. This is aimed at the hot hatch segment and definitely portends something for the showroom. Um, yes, this is the ONLY car from this whole event that will even be at the Detroit auto show.

Camaro convertible was unveiled; an unfinished prototype; looks fabulous; doesn't go on sale until first quarter 2011. Soft top. Very promising. Public won't see it for a long time. A shame, but the promise of it should keep the Camaro flame burning.

Why the Spark, the Aveo, and the Cruze? To my mind, this is one car too many in the sub-$20,000 arena, but GM insiders say the tiny Spark was basically trotted out to please Washington DC last year when the bureaucrats said that GM had no efficient small cars. So once it was launched, momentum keeps it going down the product line. Jim Campbell, Chevy head, maintains that the Spark is a new segment for them, the minicar. And then the Aveo moves up half a size. And the Cruze is half a size bigger than the Cobalt it replaces. And the next Impala, should there be one, will be half a size bigger than the Malibu. And on and on. Of course, he's only been on the job, what, eight days? I'm surprised he can even remember all the brand names under his purview, let alone their order within the portfolio, but they made much of his many years as a "Chevy guy," so I guess his plasma is bowtie-shaped.

And so it goes.

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