Gm Upgrades Suvs, Sedans to Pump Some Life

By: Lauren Woods

General Motors Corp., on a mission to pump some life into its dull sedans and sport utility vehicles, will showcase its latest efforts at the New York auto show. GM will display a redesigned Buick LaCrosse and performance versions of the LaCrosse and the Buick Lucerne. It will also showcase a refreshed Cadillac STS.

The new Buick LaCrosse flaunts a redesigned front end and lots of premium equipment to enhance the driving experience. All versions of the car will come standard with a remote start, a chrome exterior appearance package, the XM Satellite Radio and dual-zone climate control, and other fabulous features.

The LaCrosse will be the latest addition to GM's sedan lineup, for years in the shadow of more popular trucks and SUVs. But as jitters over fluctuating gasoline prices send more consumers back to compact cars, GM is giving family cars more attention. Auto statistics shows that the midsize sedan market increased by two percent last year, with about 3.6 million sales. "We're putting a much stronger face on the vehicle," GM engineer Ed Zellner said while showing off the made-over LaCrosse.

At the auto show, GM will also display the new Super high-performance versions of the LaCrosse and Lucerne. The LaCrosse Super will feature a 5.3-liter block V-8 that generates 300 horsepower. The Lucerne Super, on the other hand, will come with a 4.6-liter Northstar V-6 that produces 292 horsepower. Both vehicles will come with the efficient to boost performance. It will also showcase the automaker's special badging, which Buick first used on cars more than 60 years ago.

Zellner said that much work went into making sure the larger, more powerful engine did not compromise the ride and handling of the vehicles. Larger brakes, an advanced steering gear and 18-inch wheels are part of the Super packages. "In the old days, when you started making engines big, it would make it hard for the cars to drive," Zellner said of the Super models. "This isn't the case."

Buick's models have been strong, but are hurt by the brand's less-than-stellar reputation, said Tom Libby, the senior director of industry analysis at J.D. Power and Associates. To be successful, Libby said, Buick needs to have a clearly identifiable lineup and make sure vehicles stand apart from Cadillac. "They need to create a clear and distinct brand entity," he added.

GM's upgraded Hummer H2 also will be displayed at the New York show. The larger H2 gets a completely refashioned interior and new powertrain, Hummer's executive director, Ross Hendrix, said. "I'd call this a major midcycle enhancement." The 2008 H2 features new 6.2-liter V-8 to boost the horsepower to 393, 28 horsepower more than the previous model. It will add 90 pound-feet of torque, from 325 to 415.

Ross said, "While the new engine will provide more power, other changes, such as adding a six-speed transmission and cutting several hundred pounds from the vehicle's weight, will make the engine 10 percent more fuel-efficient than the current one. The H2 will feature a new instrument panel, a two-person third row, which is removable, and a lot more brushed aluminum accents, Ross said. "We're making the interior closer to the Cadillac Escalade," he added. "When people get into the new H2, they're going to say, 'Wow, this is a really high-end truck.' "

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