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Cadillac commits to compact BMW rival

Euro Caddie: The Saab-based BLS was to have filled the mid-sized role for Cadillac, but has sold slowly.

'ATS' follows in Torana's wheel tracks as GM's rear-drive challenger to 3 Series

18 Aug 2009

GENERAL Motors has announced it will build a mid-size rear-drive Cadillac model to compete directly with BMW’s dominant 3 Series for the first time, following a similar proposal hatched by Holden.

Initial details of the as-yet-unnamed premium sports sedan - codenamed ATS and to be positioned under the 5 Series-sized CTS sedan, coupe and wagon range from 2012 - have emerged almost five years after Holden rolled out its stunning rear-drive mid-sized TT36 Torana concept at the 2004 Sydney motor show.

The development of the Alpha platform, which will underpin the new Cadillac, could provide Holden with the base it needs to build its Torana in the next few years if the business case still stacks up in the new economic climate. The TT36 show car, which was also used to test the public response to the design of the upcoming VE Commodore, was built to demonstrate Holden’s ability to make a world class rear-drive mid-sized sports sedan that could rival Europe’s best athletic prestige models.

It was Holden’s way of putting up its hand to lead the development of a premium compact rear-drive platform that could be used by GM in the US for brands such as Cadillac and also underpin a new-age Torana in Australia.

Nothing materialised in the short term, but rumours bubbled along that a mid-sized platform called Alpha was under development at GM.

163 center image Left: Cadillac CTS. Below: Holden TT36 Torana concept.

The Alpha plan appeared to be on hold when Cadillac instead introduced a sub-CTS mid-sized model for Europe, the BLS, in 2006. It was simply a re-skinned front-drive Saab 9-3, which sold slowly.

GM’s then ‘car czar’ Bob Lutz, who now heads the marketing department at the New GM, talked about the Torana and the Alpha platform with GoAuto in January 2008.

He said the car and the platform had to be considered in light of strict new fuel economy legislation that was looming in the US, demanding a fuel economy average of 35 miles per gallon (6.72L/100km) by 2020. The legislation has since been introduced.

“Torana is a rear-wheel drive vehicle smaller than the Zeta architecture and smaller than the current CTS Cadillac architecture. It is, or would be, about the size of a BMW 1 Series – maybe just a tiny bit bigger to enable larger wheels,” Mr Lutz said.

“Now that is the architecture that has been bandied about the US press under the name of ‘Alpha Architecture’, and Alpha is still under consideration, but we haven’t kicked off any design work or any engineering work because we have to sort our way through this 35mpg (6.72L/100km) task.

“As a lightweight rear-wheel-drive car that is going to add about 1mpg compared to an equivalent lightweight front-wheel drive car – we just have to sort of wait awhile and see where we are,” said Mr Lutz at the time, adding that Holden could be involved in any Alpha development.

“If we proceed with the Alpha Architecture, I think it is safe to say that Holden would be vitally interested in participating in that project,” he said.

While Holden was appointed GM’s global ‘home room’ for rear-wheel drive before the company was restructured earlier this year, the Alpha platform development is being led by North America.

Mr Lutz recently made a blog posting ruling out the return of the Pontiac G8 as a Chevrolet in which he stated rear-drive cars were still part of the company’s future plan, in which he referred to the Holden.

“And we have a tremendous RWD team in Australia that gave us the beloved G8, a team that we will tap into at some point again in the future for its expertise and sheet metal. Just not right now,” he said.

GoAuto understands Holden is still working on other rear-wheel-drive projects for GM, but will have no more than an assistance role for the new car.

Holden would not discuss its role in relation to the new Cadillac or whether it would re-consider the plan to build a Torana alongside the Cruze and the Commodore in Australia.

The company was incredibly keen to build the Torana in 2004, as design chief Tony Stolfo made clear when asked about the concept car: “It's a first step towards monitoring public reaction to a type of rear-wheel drive vehicle that doesn't exist in today's General Motors portfolio.

“It could be designed and produced off a number of GM platforms, taking advantage of the virtual maths-based processes and component sharing which enabled us to build this working concept in a very short space of time.”

Whether Holden is still in a position to develop and build a premium rear-drive after its near-death experience as GM went through bankruptcy is unclear.

Australia’s VE Commodore platform, codenamed Zeta, was to become a global platform underpinning a range of premium large cars but the idea was scrapped last year due to the fuel economy concerns.

The only vehicle other than the Commodore, Statesman and Pontiac G8 to use the Zeta platform is the Holden-engineered Chevrolet Camaro, which has just been introduced in the US to positive reviews.

While there is limited information available regarding the new Cadillac ATS, GM has confirmed that it will also be made available with an all-wheel drive option.

The company said the new vehicle promised driving dynamics to match the best small prestige models from Europe.

“With hi-tech engines, rear-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive, the new sedan will take on the best in the segment,” GM said in a statement.

New GM CEO Fritz Henderson said the new car needed to be as successful as the CTS, which has brought younger customers to the Cadillac brand.

“We are determined to repeat what CTS has already achieved in design, quality, driving dynamics, performance and fuel economy to grow our presence in this high-volume and highly competitive segment,” Mr Henderson said.

Openly discussing the new small Cadillac three years before its introduction is part of a plan by GM to prove it will continue to invest in new-car development despite the fact it is now majority owned by the US government.

He said the company could do so because it saved money by pulling the pin on poorly performing brands.

“As we went through bankruptcy, we did pull back on our capital spending,” said Mr Henderson. “We eliminated our spending – the first thing we did early on is eliminated our spending on Hummer ... which was a huge amount of capital, actually,” he said.

“We eliminated our spending on Pontiac. We eliminated our spending on Saturn. I mean, we eliminated spending on the brands – and Saab ... we ultimately made the decision they’re not core brands. So a relatively meaningful amount of capital and spending came out of the budget, just from the decisions regarding brands, number one.”

Mr Henderson said GM has also decided to wind back its spending on pick-up trucks and large SUVs to redirect much of it into more fuel-efficient passenger models.

“We have been allocating engineering to those programs, but the power of our capital in engineering is largely in cars and crossovers.”

As part of last week’s product preview, GM also showed two concept cars based on the ‘less is more’ concept, with a Chevrolet car and a GMC ute presented under the ‘Bare Necessities’ banner. Both vehicles have the most efficient designs possible with no fancy trimmings. The idea is to keep costs and weight, and therefore fuel consumption, to minimum.

The GMC ute features a reversible bulkhead that enables it to be used as a two-seater with a full tray or a four-seater with a shorter tray. GM did not specify the engine of the concept ute, but said it would achieve fuel consumption of 5.8L/100km and be able to haul a 680kg load.

Nor did it mention what lies beneath the bonnet of the Chevrolet hatchback, saying only that it was designed to be the “car with the lowest cost per mile of any four-seater on the road”.

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