The Vindicator/Geoffrey Hauschild
A Chevrolet Cruze signed by President Obama at the Lordstown Auto Plant on Tuesday morning.
GM Lordstown prepares for the Cruze.
GM Lordstown shows off preparations for the Cruze during a June 24, 2009 media tour.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
Forget the buzz over hybrid and electric cars this week. The real story of the Los Angeles Auto Show is the Chevrolet Cruze, an industry insider said.
“It’s the most significant car of the show,” said Jake Fisher, senior auto engineer for Consumer Reports, shortly after the car was introduced Wednesday.
The new compact car towers over other vehicles displayed at the show because it provides cutting-edge technology and design in a high-volume vehicle that people will be able to afford, Fisher said.
Quite simply, the Cruze gives GM a good chance to compete in small cars, he said. The car promises better fuel economy and has more space than Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.
“This is a big step forward for General Motors and for small cars,” he said.
GM used the LA show to show off a Cruze built at its Lordstown complex for the first time. Cruze models are being sold in markets around the world, but the local plant will begin producing them for public sale sometime between July and September.
GM is so committed to the Cruze that it is giving it a next-generation powertrain, which will provide a combination of power and fuel efficiency, Fisher said.
The Cruze has a six-speed automatic transmission, and two of the three trim lines will have a turbocharged engine.
The transmission provides enough gears so that the car can travel at highway speeds at low engine revolutions, which saves gas, and still have enough power to handle rapid accelerations and hills, Fisher said.
The turbocharged engine allows the upper-end LT and LTZ trim levels to operate with a smaller engine, which also saves fuel. But when power is needed, the turbocharger can deliver more air and boost the acceleration.
GM isn’t being specific about fuel efficiency. It says the Cruze will get up to 40 mpg on the highway in its high-efficiency models.
Fisher said he thinks the turbocharged models will get 40 mpg, and the LS model will achieve close to that number.
The Cruze also shows a change in how GM is approaching the design of the interior of its small cars, Fisher said.
The placement of gauges and use of premium materials makes a good impression when someone steps into the car, he said.
“No longer is GM putting bargain basement materials in its smaller cars to try to put people into a bigger car,” he said.
AutoGuide.com, which also viewed the Cruze in Los Angeles, was pleased with the interior.
“Inside we were surprised to find that it’s actually as nice as the original press photos had us believe. Sure the leather isn’t Lexus quality, but it is reasonably good, and the two-tone cockpit has loads more style than pretty much any other compact car,” its report said.
GM highlighted the Cruze and the Chevrolet Volt with its first press conference of the LA show.
The Volt is an electric vehicle that will be launched late in 2010. It will be able to run up to 40 miles without any gas, but it will have a small gas engine that will provide additional range. The electric batteries can be plugged into a household socket and recharged in a garage.
Mike Simcoe, executive director of Chevrolet global design, said GM studied the Volt extensively in wind tunnels to improve its aerodynamics, and it applied those lessons to the Cruze.
He said the Cruze was given a wide stance with a bold face so that it would be recognizable as a Chevrolet.
He said he wanted the Cruze to have a premium feel on the interior but noted that it is still targeted at families because of the room devoted to the interior and trunk.
“The intention was to create a modern, upscale package,” he said.
GM hasn’t released pricing for the Cruze.
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