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All eyes on GM. They made the most of it.


It’s hard to find a company in America that took a bigger public beating than General Motors did over the past three months. But with all eyes on the company and how it will make use of the $3.4 billion in government loans it will receive, GM made the best of its place in the fish bowl.

At the Detroit auto show Monday, GM has a trio of Chevy cars (not to mention a decent Buick LaCrosse sedan and Cadilaac SRX suv) that could make a difference. These are the sort of cars the company needs to bring buyers back. While crossover suvs are hot—well, hot as this car market goes—GM has only a few of them on the market. It has been a glaring hole in GM’s business. So the company offered up a Chevrolet Equinox with bold styling to replace the bland and cheap Equinox that sells in showroom right now. The new Equinox comes out this spring.

While GM telegraphed that unveiling, the company surprised the motoring press with a couple future Chevy cars that could also make a difference. The first is the Chevy Spark, a Korean-engineered microcar with Boy Racer looks that will take square aim at Smart. It will give Chevy—known more for its pickups and suvs—a bit of urban street cred. Chevy also showed off a small, seven-passenger crossover called the Orlando. The body has some European flair to it and GM managed to packed three rows of seats on a small frame that will also host the Chevy Cruze compact next year. That’s smart product planning, especially if GM can use some of its small-car factories to make a car that reached a different buyer than the Cruze. Keep those assembly lines busy, boys. The Orlando (pictured above) should also get close to 30 miles per gallon.

The new crossovers should really be a big help. Chevy, one of America’s top-selling brands, sold only 67,000 copies of the Equinox last year. The company did launch the traverse in November, a larger crossover. But the Equinox and Orlando will really shoot for a bigger piece of the crossover market since they are smaller and sell at lower prices. Chevy general manager Ed Peper says the Orlando will replace the retro HHR and target Honda Element and Mazda 5 buyers. In fact, Peper made a rare Joe Namath-like statement about the Orlando’s challenge to the Honda Element: “We’ll kick their ass,” he said.

There is only one problem with the Spark and Orlando. While they seem to have the right combination of styling, fuel economy and value to find buyers, GM needs them now. But we won’t see them until 2011. Better late than never, I guess.


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