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Chevrolet displays ’98 Prizm, first without Geo nameplate

March 27, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Chevrolet showed off its 1998 Prizm subcompact sedan Thursday, the first to carry the Chevy bow-tie logo in place of the import-sounding Geo name.

Mazda, meanwhile, displayed the next generation of its 626 sedan and B-series pickup as the media preview of the New York International Automobile Show concluded.

General Motors’ Chevrolet division announced in December that it planned to drop the Geo name from the three small vehicles that carried it and rebadge them as Chevrolets starting with the ’98 model year.

Geo was created in 1988 to lure import buyers into Chevy showrooms. It was felt the separate ``umbrella″ name was needed to distance the then-Japanese-made model line from Chevrolet’s then-tarnished image.

Today, Geos are made in North America in joint ventures with Toyota Motor Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp. And Chevrolet says its improved image means its nameplate carries more ``brand equity″ with consumers than Geo.

The Prizm is made alongside Toyota Corollas (they are largely the same car) at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif.

The new model maintains the conservative look of the current one. Thomas Kibbey, Prizm program manager, said Chevrolet’s research showed Prizm owners _ 65 percent are women _ liked the styling and didn’t want any major changes.

Chevrolet says the new model offers a more rigid body for a quieter ride and more power from its 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine, as well as optional side-impact air bags _ rare in a subcompact. The bags probably will cost between $200 and $300, Kibbey said.

The car also features an unusual fuel-vapor recovery system at the gasoline filler. It’s designed to prevent noxious fumes from escaping during refueling. The feature will be required on all cars by 2000.

Chevrolet hopes to sell 60,000 to 70,000 of the new Prizms a year. That’s down from around 85,000 last year but up from the 50,000 to 60,000 units anticipated this year. Prizm brand manager Richard J. Scheidt said Chevrolet has cut back on fleet sales of the Prizm and lost some sales to the larger Cavalier compact, which was redesigned for 1995.

Prizm is positioned in Chevrolet’s sedan lineup as a step above the Cavalier, but is targeted more at import buyers, Scheidt said. It typically is priced slightly more than the Cavalier.

Scheidt said GM remains satisfied with its Toyota joint venture, even though the California plant will produce about twice as many Corollas this year than Prizms (120,000 vs. 60,000). As recently as 1994, the plant produced more than 100,000 Prizms. It also produces Toyota’s Tacoma pickup.

The Prizm goes on sale in October; prices have not been set.

Mazda’s new 626 and B-series pickups also go on sale in the fall.

The 626 is larger and more powerful than the current model. Its styling is more aerodynamic and borrows some cues from the larger Millennium luxury sedan.

Mazda’s best-selling model is built in Flat Rock, Mich., solely for the North American market, at a joint venture plant with Ford Motor Co. Ford owns one-third of Mazda.

Mazda’s B-series pickup is built at the same Edison, N.J., plant as the Ford Ranger pickup. Like Nissan’s new compact Frontier pickup introduced Wednesday, the Mazda has a more muscular look than its predecessor.

The B-series will offer three engines: the standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and optional 3-liter and 4-liter V6s.

The Japanese automaker has been struggling at home and in North America. It plans to introduce one new model annually through decade’s end as it overhauls its entire product line.

Richard N. Beattie, recently named chief executive of Mazda’s North American operations, predicted the automaker will increase its U.S. market share soon. Beattie formerly was Ford’s executive director for worldwide export operations.

The auto show opens to the public Saturday.