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Automakers Pitch New Cars, Seek Edge Over Competition

Thu., Jan. 4, 1996

General Motors rolled out four new sedans aimed at the fat middle segment of the U.S. car market. Ford showed off the replacement for its best-selling small car. Chrysler announced it would build a high-tech hot rod, and Mercedes-Benz offered a look at the sport-utility vehicle it will build in America.

That was just a taste of Wednesday’s action at a press preview for the North American International Auto Show, which draws the world’s automakers to the Motor City for a frenzied few days of hoopla.

GM, the largest carmaker, probably packed the largest announcements into a single event, showing for the first time four new cars that will compete in the midsize sedan segment for its Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile divisions. Midsize cars comprise more than a quarter of the U.S. market, and GM controls about a third of that.

Its new Chevy Malibu, Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Century and Oldsmobile Intrigue will reach showrooms over the next couple of years, replacing cars that have been criticized for competing with each other.

GM’s top marketing executive, vice president Ronald Zarrella, said the new models demonstrate that the company has overcome that kind of uncomfortable overlap. The Chevy is squarely aimed at people shopping for a low price. The Pontiac targets performance enthusiasts. The Olds is for upscale buyers who might normally shop for import sport sedans and the Buick will appeal to older buyers who want “premium” cars with conservative styling and room for six riders.

“We’ll have fewer entries in the midsize market and they’ll be farther apart,” GM Chairman Jack Smith said later Wednesday. “It’s the end of the look-alikes.”

Smith also said the company would use the “value pricing” approach for all four, setting manufacturer suggested prices at levels which discourage haggling.

“Our model here is Saturn,” Smith said. “People like that system … to take the fear out of the purchase environment.”

Among other auto show highlights:

The No. 2 automaker, Ford, introduced its 1997 Escort, a replacement for the economy car that battles with Honda Civic and Saturn for the title of best-selling compact. Although the new Escort is not a complete redesign, it is larger and has new looks inside and out.

GM’s Cadillac division showed off the Catera, a German-built car it will sell as the entry-level Cadillac starting this fall. Based on GM’s Opel Omega, the Catera hopes to compete with European and Japanese luxury brands in this country.

Mercedes-Benz of North America showed a concept version of the luxury sport utility vehicle it will build in Alabama starting next year.

Chrysler took the wraps off its retro hot rod, the Plymouth Prowler, which will go into production next year at a plant in Detroit.

Tags: business

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