- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

General Motors introduced more than a half-dozen concept and production vehicles aimed at attracting young buyers at auto shows in Detroit and Los Angeles last month. Every automaker is vying for the under-25 buyer.

These children of baby boomers represent the largest demographic bulge since their parents' generation. No automaker really knows what these young buyers want in their future transportation; in fact, they likely don't know, either. GM is determined to find out.

In introducing the Pontiac Vibe GT in Detroit, Richard Wagoner, GM's chief executive officer, called it "the first of our offensive of products to go after the entry-level buyer market."

On sale as a 2002 model, the Vibe is a crossover vehicle that combines features of a sports car, sport wagon and sport utility vehicle. The five-passenger, five-door, front-wheel-drive Vibe wears bold styling typical of other Pontiacs. It has a spacious interior and substantial cargo room inside its compact frame.

The Vibe is powered by a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine equipped with variable valve timing to generate 180 horsepower. The engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The Vibe also comes with anti-lock brakes and a six-speaker, 200-watt Monsoon sound system.

The Vibe was styled by Pontiac, engineered by Toyota and will be built by New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a joint-venture assembly plant between Toyota and GM in Fremont, Calif.

Pontiac takes another stab at the young crowd with the REV concept, to be introduced at the Chicago auto show this month. The REV blends the versatility and roominess of a crossover with Pontiac's heritage of sports-car performance, a la Firebird and Trans Am. Think of it as a "muscle crossover."

It is equipped with a 3-liter V-6 engine, rated at 245 horsepower under its hinged clamshell hood. It is mated to an electronic sequential manual transmission that shifts through five speeds with a joystick like those on a video game. The REV is outfitted with all-wheel drive and an adjustable suspension with two settings: high for off-road and low for on-road.

The rear doors slide open out and back to load two rear-seat passengers with no pillar between the seats. The tailgate lowers and swings down behind the rear bumper for a clear shot to the cargo bay. The glass lift gate swings upward. Four Motorola radios with a Global Positioning System unit ride in a hidden compartment on the rear fender and can be taken on hikes.

Materials used throughout the cabin are borrowed from sports equipment. The Lycra-covered gel seat padding is like that on bicycle seats. Four-point safety belts come from racing.

Possible as a GM model for the future is the GMC Terracross concept, an entry-level crossover vehicle. The Terracross continues the "industrial precision" theme first presented last year on a futuristic Sierra pickup truck called the Terradyne. Extremely roomy inside, the Terracross aims to please young people who say they want open-air motoring but plenty of room for friends and cargo. The roof's three glass segments move electronically to various positions.

Inside, the seats swivel so the interior transforms into a recreation room on wheels. A midgate between the second row of seats and cargo area allows various configurations of people- and cargo-carrying capability.

The Terracross is equipped with a 3.4-liter V-6 engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission and Versatrak all-wheel drive, the same system to be used on the Pontiac Aztek and Buick Rendezvous.

Aimed at active young buyers, the Chevrolet Borrego is GM's first vehicle to borrow mechanical components from Fuji Heavy Industries, the Japanese maker of Subaru vehicles. GM purchased 20 percent of Fuji last year. Designed to be rugged and agile like Baja rally cars, the Borrego uses Subaru's all-wheel-drive system and its 2-liter four-cylinder engine, installed horizontally, mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

The Borrego looks like a two-seater with a 6-foot pickup bed, but a reconfigurable midgate, similar to one used on the upcoming Chevrolet Avalanche, allows for two more seats with a shortened cargo bed. Individual cockpits give passengers their own space. The Borrego is outfitted with a GPS system that provides navigation inside or outside the truck through GM's OnStar system. An onboard air compressor and pressurized water tank let drivers hose down the interior and exterior or take a quick shower after a day on the trail.

"We can't miss this generation as we did baby boomers," Ronald Zarrella, president of GM's North American operations, said emphatically. "The next two to five years are critical for putting vehicles into the marketplace that appeal to young buyers."


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