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Pretty Cruze hatch might miss US

Aussie style: The Holden-designed Cruze hatch is destined for GM markets overseas - but maybe not hatchback-resistent North America.

The Holden-designed five-door is still up in the air for North America

Holden logo7 Dec 2009

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in LOS ANGELES

HOLDEN’S design handiwork on the still-secret J300 Cruze hatchback may not see the light of day in the United States.

While General Motors executive director of North American exterior design Michael Simcoe reiterated that the Cruze hatch would be sold in many parts of the GM global network beyond Australia from the second half of next year, he said there was no guarantee that its destination would include the potentially big-volume US market.

This is despite the fact that GM’s other C-segment hatch, the Opel Astra J (ninth-generation), is not scheduled for a North American run and is unlikely to, even with Opel now remaining in the company fold and GM left with no five-door small-car alternative for the North America.

Traditionally, American small-car buyers overwhelmingly favour sedans over hatches – a truism painfully hammered home over the past two years by the previous Astra H’s disastrous run in the US under the Saturn brand. It struggled to secure one quarter of GM’s 40,000 initial sales projections.

Ironically, in the vital European market, GM will most probably pitch the Cruze hatch with the sedan that was released there this year against the recently completely redesigned Astra in the reigning small-car segment.

Yet according to Mr Simcoe, GM sees this is as no problem, since the Cruze is positioned slightly below the Astra as value-brand Chevrolet’s answer to the Hyundai i30, Kia Ceed, Skoda Octavia and Dacia Logan at the budget end of the small-car class, while the Astra gives GM full ammunition against the more premium Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Renault Megane and Peugeot 308.

13 center imageFrom top: Current Korean-built Holden Cruze, Opel Astra and GM US head of design, Mike Simcoe introducing the Chevrolet Cruze at the 2009 LA show (bottom).

The Astra and Cruze share the same GM Delta II architecture, although there are detailed differences for varying markets.

“Part of the original planning for (the global Cruze sedan) was that we were not sure whether it was going to come to North America,” he said.

“It is now, because it is such a good vehicle. And clearly it rates off the scale as a very aspirational vehicle.

“(But) the hatch is not traditionally a high-volume car (in North America). We do a notchback first … and if it works then we do the hatch (for the US).” Defending GM’s decision to go to the trouble and expense of designing two completely different small cars that will end up overlapping each other in many markets around the world, Mr Simcoe said variety worked best with consumers, and that they are not so easily fooled these days by ‘badge engineering’.

“That’s just taking care of business,” he said.

“You guys (the media) have accused us of badge engineering for years and years and years, so you can’t take a swipe at us now for using the same basic architecture to create two very distinctive looking vehicles.

“You can’t have (the same design) sitting in Europe as a Chevy and as an Opel as well … they have got to be differentiated. And we’ve gotten to the point now where differentiation doesn’t have to be the whole vehicle – it’s just the top (body) of the vehicle that matters.

“It’s what people have been doing for as long as they can.

“You know, the high cost of financing a development – you don’t repeat that, you modify it, or design enough flexibility into it, so you can differentiate the cheap parts, which is essentially the appearance.

“In the car’s development, things like the lamps and other aspects of the appearance of the vehicle, including the interior components – they’re the cheap bits (to change) the parts themselves aren’t that expensive – it’s the development and testing of the parts that go into them.

“So you’ve got a single architecture, and you make it flexible – but you have to do that from day one, you can’t do it afterwards.” Mr Simcoe spoke to GoAuto at this month’s LA Auto Show immediately after he unveiled the US version of the Chevrolet Cruze sedan that his team designed.

To be built at Chevrolet’s Lordstown assembly plant in Ohio, it will go on sale from about August next year.

As GoAuto reported last week, the American Cruze sedan differs from its Korean-made Holden Cruze sedan by offering 10 airbags, a more advanced rear suspension design (a Watts ‘Z-Link’ set-up as also used in the Cruze’s closely related Opel Astra cousin), and a new 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine.

Meanwhile, although Mr Simcoe would not reveal any details of what the Cruze hatch will look like, he did call it “a true hatchback”, suggesting that it will have a two-box silhouette.

This is as opposed to the two-and-a-half box profile that GM favoured with cars such as the 1998 to 2005 TS Astra – until the Cruze sedan, the most successful Holden small car since the pre-front-wheel drive halcyon days of the original Gemini.

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