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GM Shifts Strategy With New SUV

April 19, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ In an overhaul of its midsize Oldsmobile Bravada sport utility vehicle, General Motors Corp. has come up with something a little larger, a little less gas-thirsty and a little more powerful.

The 2002 model that goes on sale next year represents a major shift in GM’s strategy for future midsize SUVs. By taking old technology and wringing more performance from it, GM hopes to cut production costs while delivering more of the key traits that SUV buyers want.

The model is to be shown Wednesday at news media previews for the New York International Automobile Show.

Until now, the Bravada has been a third-string player in GM’s SUV lineup. Started in 1991, dropped in 1994 and brought back in 1996, it competes in the crowded midsize SUV market against such established models as the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder.

The all-wheel-drive Bravada shares its basic mechanical parts with the Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Jimmy, and the past two versions of the Bravada have strongly resembled its cousins.

``The Bravada always came out after the Jimmy and Blazer, and both those vehicles would steal some of its thunder,″ said Michael Robinet, an analyst with CSM Worldwide, an automotive research firm.

Against newer competitors, the Bravada has seen sales slip recently, falling 3.1 percent in 1999 while other midsize SUVs posted large gains. Sales this year were up 46 percent through March, in large part because GM is offering $2,000 rebates and low financing.

The Bravada has a sticker price of about $32,000, but a price has yet to be set for the 2002 model.

The new Bravada will be powered by an all-new engine _ an inline, 4.3 liter six-cylinder that is the first of a line of engines that eventually will go into many of GM’s cars and trucks around the world.

The inline six is one of the oldest engine designs, dating to the beginning of the auto industry. Most automakers favor V6 engines because they’re more compact, easier to fit in front-wheel drive cars and can share some assembly lines with V8 engines. One automaker that has stuck with them is BMW, which uses them in several of its sedans and coupes.

But GM, which hasn’t built any inline six engines since the mid-1980s, has several reasons for reviving them. An inline six naturally runs smoother than almost any other engine. V6 and V8 engines require two sets of expensive pollution controls _ one on either side _ while inline engines require only one set.

And an assembly line that builds inline sixes can easily be modified to build four and five-cylinder versions.

``This was our opportunity to look at what was just right for the vehicle,″ said Ron Kociba, GM Powertrain chief engineer.

The inline six in the Bravada is slightly smaller than the V6 in the current model, but will have about 250 horsepower, a 60-hp gain. For the first time, GM will use a high-tech variable valve timing system similar to ones used by Honda and Toyota to increase power.

The new engine will equal or better the current engine’s combined city-highway fuel economy of 17 mpg and produce cleaner exhaust, even though the new model weighs about 300 pounds more than its predecessor.

The chassis carrying the Bravada uses a truck structure, instead of the car-like design used by the Grand Cherokee and the Lexus RX 300. As a result of a special manufacturing process, GM says the frame better absorbs road vibrations and holds up better in a crash.

On the outside, the Bravada sheds the plain styling of the current model for a more chiseled appearance that resembles other Oldsmobile models, such as the Aurora and Intrigue. It’s also slightly larger, for more interior room.

``It’s no longer an ugly stepchild,″ said Kay Jarboe, assistant brand manager for the Bravada. The styling ``is kind of a calling card for the way the vehicle performs.″

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