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GM‘s Smart Moves

General Motors has weathered some tough years over the last decade, but lately the tide seems to be turning in its favor.

General Motors has weathered some tough years over the last decade, but lately the tide seems to be turning in its favor. The ascendancy of relatively young, sharp-minded leaders like new CEO-designate Rick Wagoner has brought fresh focus to the efforts of the world’s largest automaker. Now the results are starting to show as the latest concept vehicles and products emerge from the pipeline.

Case in point: Cadillac has added more substance to its ‘art and science’ mantra with the recent unveiling of the Imaj concept. Coming on the heels of last year’s well-received Evoq concept luxury roadster, the Imaj stakes out the ground for Cadillac’s next generation flagship sedan, with an unprecedented example of a high-tech, luxury mobile communications center.

Opel's Agila
Opel’s Agila, a microvan for a niche in the European market.

At the other end of GM’s world product spectrum is a new model from Opel. The Agila, a 3.5-meter long microvan based on the Wagon R from GM’s Japanese partner, Suzuki, is a cleverly designed vehicle which Opel hopes will exploit a yet-untapped niche at the lower end of the European market. If the Agila is even half as successful as the Zafira, an ingenious seven-passenger compact minivan launched last year, Opel will be sitting pretty and creating yet another headache for its struggling rival, Ford of Europe. Credit for the Agila and the dashing Astra coupe, another new niche model from Opel with a promising future, goes in part to the company’s product engineering director, Karl-Friedrich Stracke. Aggressive, incisive and knowledgeable, Stracke has just the skills needed to deal with the challenges of an intensively competitive European market, especially as GM wrestles with the product implications of its recent collaboration with Fiat.

On this side of the Atlantic, a key player in Cadillac’s revival plan is Jim Taylor, GM’s VLE (vehicle line executive) responsible for Catera, Seville, Eldorado and the forthcoming Sigma rear-wheel-drive plat-form vehicles. Like Stracke, Taylor has a great deal on his plate but he also has the smarts and the youthful energy to deal with the challenges ahead.

One of Taylor’s major goals is to successfully follow through on the audacious efforts Cadillac is making to redefine its market image. To judge by the Imaj concept, no one can accuse Cadillac of making a half-hearted attempt to turn over a new leaf.

As a potential flagship sedan, the Imaj develops on the dramatic styling themes established by the Evoq, and, whether you like it or loathe it, you will not confuse this concept with anything from top European or Japanese luxury marquees. One indication of Cadillac’s out-of-the-box thinking is the fact that Simon Cox, a top designer at GM British studio, was assigned to create the Imaj. “We think it defines a new segment for the modern executive who has to squeeze the most out of every day,” says Cox.

Opel's Agila
Cadillac’s Seville-sized Imaj was designed in GM’s British studio.

To that end, the Seville-sized Imaj is packed full of the latest technologies, with a focus on communications systems. Not that the Imaj neglects the driving experience, far from it. Under its extruded aluminum space frame chassis, the concept has a four-wheel drivetrain, powered by the latest iteration of Cadillac’s respected Northstar engine, a 4.2-liter supercharged, intercooled V8 with continuously variable valve timing. With 425 bhp and 400 lb.-ft of torque going to all four wheels via a new five-speed automatic transmission, the Imaj promises exhilarating performance.

Opel's Agila
Opel’s product engineering director, Karl-Friedrich Stracke.

To get into Imaj you have to use e-lock, a fingertip-based security system. Inside, the cabin looks simple and elegant. But behind the traditional leather and wood trim hide a multitude of high-tech systems. For the driver, a heads-up display, night vision, rear-view TV screens, front- and rear-facing parking radar, and adaptive cruise control are just some of the aids. As well as being individually heated and ventilated, each seat has its own LCD screen, cell phone, e-mail access, and navigation and entertainment systems. Three linked IBM 10-gigabyte Thinkpads form the core of the on-board computing system, integrating all the communications, audio, visual and mobile office functions of Imaj. A key element of this “Communiport” system is its hands-free internet browsing capability that uses the new wireless application protocol (WAP) to make internet use fast and safe on the road.

So on one hand we have the spectacular Imaj, stretching the boundaries for Cadillac, and on the other, the practical Agila, opening a new entry-level segment for Opel. In between, GM is busy on numerous fronts, particularly in the full-size truck arena, where several clever innovations are coming (more on these at a later date). Don’t hold me to this, but from where I’m sitting it looks like GM is finally making more smart moves than dumb ones. 

 

 

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