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GM planning a big splash at Detroit auto show

By Joseph Szczesny, The Detroit Bureau

General Motors Co. is vowing to make a splash at the North American International Auto Show next month with at least four new products set to make their debut.

Mary Barra, GM senior vice president of global development, said that one of the vehicles scheduled for introduction at the NAIAS will be the Cadillac ATS, the domestic marque’s new entry-level luxury sedan.

“ATS is a crucial part of Cadillac’s expansion,” Barra told the Detroit Automotive Press Association.

After several mis-steps, Cadillac is in the midst of a rapid expansion that will include both the ATS and the big STS premium luxury sedan introduced at the L.A. Auto Show last month.  GM officials have told TheDetroitBureau.com that additional products are also under development to fill in other luxury segments where Caddy currently doesn’t compete.  But the ATS – which slots below the Cadillac CTS – could be critical for the brand.

“ATS enters the biggest market segment in the global luxury car industry, both in terms of volume and importance,” Barra noted. “It’s a segment dominated by German cars, including the BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, so we’ve developed a compelling and convincing new challenger,” she said.

The unveiling of the ATS also will mark the debut of a new rear-wheel-drive-based architecture designed for agile, quick-and-fun driving dynamics and advanced technology. The ATS goes into production next summer at the Grand River Assembly plant in Lansing.

Described as the most influential woman in the auto industry, Barra oversees a $15 billion operation currently designing and engineering 113 major product programs globally “from concept to production … mini-cars to full size body-on-frame trucks … and everything in between.”

Since being named GM’s product development chief nearly a year ago, Barra said she has tried to stress stability and continuity. After taking her post, Barra made a point of eliciting the opinions of engineers and designers throughout GM’s product development organization.

“The GM product development staff is tremendously talented,” said Barra. But they were also frustrated because projects were often delayed or killed as the company struggled with its financial problems during the last decade. The delays were expensive for GM and cost the company as much as $1 billion annually, said Barra. Now GM has a “steady state” product development system that will ensure projects are completed once GM makes the initial investment, said Barra.

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