GM Commits to More U.S. Small-Car ProductionBy Michelle Krebs May 30, 2009
By Bill Visnic
The timing of the announcement is curious, but General Motors Corp. said Friday it will build unnamed, next-generation small cars in the U.S. using a currently idled assembly plant and stamping facility and United Auto Workers union labor.
The small car GM plans to build on U.S. soil likely will be based on the Chevrolet Beat concept introduced at the 2007 New York Auto Show and paraded around other shows as well as Washington, D.C., events as GM's small, fuel-efficient car of the future.
The small Chevrolet would be instrumental in helping GM achieve proposed new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates of 39 miles per gallon for passenger cars by 2016. Adoption of the Obama administration's new CAFE standards is to be debated beginning next week.
GM will not name the site of the assembly or stamping plants that will be used for the new small car, but says in a statement the plant will have a capacity of 160,000 units annually and seemingly will have flexible body-shop capability, as the statement says the site can build "both small and compact vehicles."
In the run-up to GM's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection -- to be announced Monday -- the company and the UAW jousted about a GM statement of its intention to import around 51,000 compact vehicles from China beginning in 2011. The plan was criticized by the UAW -- and in its latest round of concessions to GM to help the company become more labor-cost competitive, GM backed off the plan.
The Associated Press reported that a summary of the GM-UAW deal noted an "innovative" labor agreement is necessary to allow GM to build tiny cars profitably in the U.S.
"I think basically we're there," the AP reported UAW president Ron Gettelfinger as saying. "The agreement that's in place here is competitive."
GM had projected a relatively small number of Sparks being imported from China, however, only about a third of the capacity it says the recommissioned assembly plant will offer. Variants of the Beat/Spark could be made as well.
When GM unveiled the India-built Chevrolet Beat as a concept at the 2007 New York Auto Show, the automaker also displayed two other concepts based on the same underpinnings. The Chevrolet Groove was a retro-looking mini-hot rod with oversize fender flares and an upright windshield, powered by a 1.0-liter diesel engine. The Chevrolet Trax was an all-wheel-drive urban crossover, powered by a 1.0-liter gas engine. GM set up online voting for which one the public liked best. The voting turnout proved far higher than GM expected, with the Beat winning.
GM already sells a small car outside of the U.S. called the Spark. Chevrolet has been trying to achieve consistency of design and car names as it grows as a global brand.
Photo by GM
1 - Congressman Ed Markey, chairman of the select committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming (third from left) talks with General Motors' executives while getting a closer look at the Chevrolet Beat concept vehicle at the Washington D.C. Auto Show in February. The fuel-efficient mini-car will be renamed the Chevrolet Spark when it arrives in dealer showrooms in 2011.
2 - GM introduced a trio of mini-cars sharing the same underpinnings but wearing dramatically different bodies at the 2007 New York Auto Show.