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On the Scene: Some details from GM's product preview

by Mark Elias

Our Mark Elias is on site in Michigan at General Motors' extended product preview. Aside from this morning's announcement that the Chevrolet Volt is expected to be given at least a 230 mpg city rating by the EPA, GM took the wraps off of some of its upcoming concept and production cars for select media members. Though our cameras were confiscated, our opinions and descriptions could not be contained.

The vehicles shown mostly featured blacked-out windows and no powertrains as they are simply considered design concepts at this stage. Most of the new concept and production-intent models did not feature nameplates.

Buick
GM intends to double the size of its Buick lineup and offer all-wheel-drive on all vehicles down to mid-range models (entry-level variants will come standard with front-wheel-drive). A new small crossover, a Saturn Vue-based SUV and a small sedan are expected.

A new, small Buick crossover sized about like the current Pontiac Vibe was shown. Though GM didn't reveal much about its architecture, which is either Delta platform-based (Cruze, Astra and upcoming Buick small sedan) or Gamma platform-based (Aveo), we can assume it will come with front-wheel-drive and optional all-wheel-drive. It looks like a scaled down Enclave and features standard Buick styling bits, like portholes. In terms of its size, we liken it to the Nissan Rogue. It's clearly smaller than the Saturn Vue.

As we already knew, Buick will get a version of the Saturn Vue. Available next year in plug-in hybrid trim, the Buick is expected to get a more refined interior. The Vue's status is unknown, but given a Buick variant will be on offer, we doubt GM will sell the Saturn version to new owner Penske.

Buick's new sedan, which comes from GM's Chinese operations, looks like a scaled-down LaCrosse. The sedan, which would replace the Daewoo-engineered Buick Excelle in China, is based on GM's Delta front-wheel-drive platform, not a rear-wheel-drive platform as had been previously suggested.

Cadillac
Cadillac's new sub-CTS model, tentatively called ATS, is sized more like the BMW 3-Series than the larger CTS. Shown in coupe format, the ATS would also be available with four doors. The design is much like a scaled-down CTS, especially in the fastback-esque design of the coupe, which looks much like the CTS. GM said that a manual transmission will be standard on this rear-wheel-drive sporty model and that small displacement engines would be under the ATS' hood.

GM hopes that the ATS will offer an "exhilarating driving experience." GM wants drivers to think the car is agile and athletic.

The new, range-topping model, designated XTS, will be available in both front- and all-wheel-drive. Its design is a bit more four-door coupe thanks to chrome trim surrounding the side windows. It features a tighter mesh grille than its smaller siblings with new headlamps that flow back into the hood - more like the Malibu. Its side profile features smooth creases not unlike the now-defunct Infiniti Q45. A large, dynamic C-pillar finishes up the design. Expect GM's 3.6-liter V6 to start, with a larger engine to come later.

The upcoming Cadillac interior design theme reminds us of a Ventu cell phone, both in terms of design and perceived quality of the prototype interior designs.

Cadillac won't confirm a CTS-V wagon, and though we'd love to see it, we question the demand. After yesterday's rumors, it appears quite unlikely that a CTS-V wagon will see the light of day.

Chevrolet
The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu was on display. Essentially finished, design-wise, the new Malibu is a totally new design. There are more creases in its sheetmetal and its headlamps are swoopier, while a sculpture line changes the slab-sided profile of the current model. The tail lamps are Camaro-esque, while the trunk lid is like that on the current BMW 5-Series. The creases are Buick-like, but crisper, not curvy.

The upcoming Chevrolet Orlando, which was previewed at the Paris Motor Show last year, is a three-row, seven-seat crossover based on the Chevrolet Cruze. Its nose is similar to that of the Equinox. The strong fenders feature big flares with a nice cutline down the entire length of the model. Expect four-cylinder power for this model, which is sort of a neo-minivan, and expect pricing below that of the Equinox.

The Chevrolet Aveo, which is not the same as the Chevrolet Spark, takes a page from Scion by offering numerous personalization features available from dealers. The Aveo will be the first vehicle to debut on GM's Gamma architecture. The model shown featured quad round headlamps without lens covers. The overall shape is again similar to the Pontiac Vibe. A three-door hatchback was considered initially but GM was unhappy with the shape, so a five-door will be the only hatchback offering.

Shown with 17-inch wheels, the Aveo could be configured in either high-performance or eco-friendly variants, GM says. It's clearly more upscale than the current model, which would allow an opening for a smaller, urban-style runabout (Spark) at the bottom of Chevy's portfolio.

GMC
GMC surprised us by showing off a new small model that would likely be unique to the lineup. Sized and shaped about like the boxy Scion xB, the model features a GMC-typical front end, like that on the upcoming GMC Terrain. Production hasn't been confirmed, but the model would be a clear rival to the Scion xB, Nissan Cube and Kia Soul - an interesting departure from typically more upscale GMC.

The new GMC model is clearly smaller than the Terrain.