- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

General Motors once owned the midsize car market. But its dominance waned as Toyota and Honda came on strong with the Camry and Accord, respectively. Now, enough is enough, GM seems to be saying. It wants to reclaim its midsize car leadership.
To that end, GM plans a blitz on the midsize car market, revamping its entire midsize car line and introducing more than two dozen sedans, coupes, crossovers and convertibles over the next three years.
"We're launching an all-out assault on cars similar to our assault on the truck market a few years back," said Robert Lutz, GM vice chairman for product development, as he introduced the first two vehicles in the arsenal.
The 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix goes on sale in the spring; the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu comes to market in September.
While it will style each model distinctively, GM will use as the springboard for its new line two basic vehicle platforms or architectures, which is the car's basic structure. Its new worldwide platform, known as Epsilon, has been put to use on the 2003 Opel Vectra, on sale in Europe, and the Saab 9-3. The Episilon will also be used for the Chevrolet Malibu, which goes on sale in September. GM engineers say the Epsilon architecture is extremely flexible so that it can be modified to be longer, shorter or wider, and can accommodate a range of engines from a fuel-efficient inline four-cylinder to a high-performance V-6, and even a V-8, or two power sources for a hybrid car. It can also be either front- or all-wheel drive.
The Malibu looks like a traditional sedan. It features the same chrome bar across the grille as Chevrolet trucks wear. It will come with either a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine or 3.5-liter V-6.
Six months after the Malibu goes on sale, GM will come to market with the Malibu Maxx, a crossover version of the Malibu. It has a wheelbase 6 inches longer than the Malibu, though it is slightly shorter and wider. The result is a roomier interior. It has a rear hatch in addition to the four doors. Malibu Maxx also has rear seats that slide forward and back for more legroom or more cargo-carrying capability.
A year after the Malibu is introduced, the 2005 Pontiac Grand Am will go on sale. An Epsilon-based Buick crossover, a midsize Saturn and a Saturn crossover will follow it.
GM's premium midsize platform will be used as the basis for the 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix sedan, on sale in February.
It also will provide the underpinnings for the elegantly styled 2005 Buick Regal sedan, as well as the 2006 Impala sedan with a performance-oriented SS version possible, and the 2006 Monte Carlo coupe. (The Buick Century reportedly will be dropped.)
While its underbody is not all-new, the Grand Prix, a model that dates back to 1962 and was last upgraded in 1997, has 80 percent new parts, including exterior and interior styling features and improved performance.
The 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix will be available only as a sedan; the coupe will be dropped with the new model. The upcoming 2004 Pontiac GTO, on sale in the fall and imported from GM's Australian subsidiary, will fill the void for a coupe.
All of the body cladding that has made Pontiacs of recent vintage appear almost cartoonish is gone on the new Grand Prix, which is sleek and clean, except for distinctive lines along its side.
Pontiac has maintained the driver-oriented cockpit-style instru-mentation for which it is known, but the interior is done with higher-quality, better-looking materials. Doors open wider and, for greater versatility, the front passenger and rear seats fold flat, opening the way to the trunk, for carrying long objects.
The Grand Prix will be available as a base model and as a GT with the previous 3.8-liter V-6 engine, rated at 200 horsepower. It will be offered in the high-performance GTP version, which adds a new supercharger to the V-6 engine to produce 260 horsepower. A Competition Group option package will be offered that adds TapShift, an automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with steering-wheel controls; a stiffer suspension; and 17-inch performance wheels and tires.

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