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Chevy Volt, other key GM vehicles remain on track, new product boss says

Thu, 07 May 2009

The Chevrolet Volt remains on track to hit the market in late 2010--and General Motors is still going to invest in developing key products--despite its financial troubles, a top executive said Thursday.

The Volt and other new GM vehicles, such as the Cadillac SRX, the Buick LaCrosse and the Chevy Equinox, remain top priorities--even though the company lost $6 billion in the first quarter of this year and is surviving on government loans.

"Great cars and trucks are the only thing. . . . You can't save an auto company unless you have great cars and trucks on the road at all times," said Tom Stephens, GM vice chairman and the successor to Bob Lutz for oversight of the automaker's product lines.

Under Lutz, an outspoken former Marine and former Chrysler president, GM enjoyed a product renaissance. The recent versions of the Chevy Malibu, the Saturn Aura, the Cadillac CTS and the Pontiac Solstice caught the attention of the public and turned heads for eye-catching design and performance. Lutz turned over his product duties April 1, though he's staying on as an adviser the rest of the year.

Stephens now faces challenges in maintaining GM's product momentum as the company fights for its survival; it faces a June 1 deadline to restructure or possibly be forced into bankruptcy, as Detroit rival Chrysler was last week.

In spite of these conditions, Stephens said he is committed to top-quality sheetmetal and reiterated that production of the Volt is scheduled to begin in November 2010.

"The Volt is absolutely on track," he said with emphasis.

The car's extended-range technology could appear throughout GM's product lines, Stephens said, pointing to the Opel Ampera and Cadillac Converj concepts as evidence.

With just four brands left after GM's restructuring--Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC--Stephens said resources will be more concentrated under his "showroom" approach, where each brand will have a range of products.

"We're going to have the most exciting, capable showroom," he said.

Fuel-efficiency research center announced

Meanwhile, GM and the University of Michigan announced Thursday a new research center for fuel-efficient technologies in Ann Arbor, Mich. Called the GM/U-M Institute of Automotive Research and Education, the center will supplement the automaker's work in advanced batteries, engines, materials and manufacturing.

"The whole idea is to increase the pace of innovation," said Stephens, a U-M grad who was on campus for the center's unveiling.

It also will allow U-M students and professors to get hands-on experience with the latest engine technologies. GM employs more than 2,000 graduates from U-M, which is located about 40 minutes west of the automaker's global headquarters. It also has funded 100 research products at the university in the past nine years.

GM has a similar partnership with a university in Shanghai, and is planning to establish one in Turin, Italy.

By Greg Migliore