GM to put electric Cadillac Converj into production

 

The Cadillac Converj concept won praise at the ’09 Detroit auto show.

 

 

 

 

November 10, 2009

http://detnews.com/article/20091110/AUTO01/911100373

 

 

GM to put electric Cadillac Converj into production

 

ROBERT SNELL

The Detroit News

General Motors Co. will expand its electric vehicle lineup by building the Cadillac Converj, a luxury car some feared would never move beyond the concept stage because of GM’s financial troubles.

The Converj, an extended-range electric car that uses the same technology as the Chevrolet Volt, was included in a production plan Cadillac officials presented to GM’s board of directors last week, according to sources familiar with the plan.

The concept won accolades at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. The car is a couple of years away from reaching showrooms and a production date has not been set. The decision to build the Converj means GM can add to its electric vehicle lineup amid growing consumer demand, spread the technology’s cost over more models and command a premium price.

"You can charge more for a Caddy than a Chevrolet," said auto analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics in Birmingham.

"It’s one of God’s immutable laws."

Earlier this year, GM said there were no plans to build the Converj, but that was before the automaker emerged from bankruptcy in July with about $50 billion in federal loans and a slimmer brand portfolio.

The decision to green-light the Converj marks the second major product reversal for GM in recent months. In August, the company killed plans for a new Buick compact crossover after it was panned by consumers, dealers and other groups.

The Converj will join GM’s growing fleet of electrified vehicles, which, along with the Volt hitting the market in late 2010, includes the Opel Ampera, scheduled for production in 2011.

GM is spending more than $1 billion on the Volt alone. It will be built in Hamtramck and powered by battery packs to be assembled in Brownstown Township.

The electrification of vehicles is seen as a growth area in the auto industry.

Major automakers, as well as startups, have launched electric vehicle plans amid the introduction of stricter federal fuel-economy standards and strong public pressure to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The Converj could also help re-energize Cadillac. Sales have plunged 39.2 percent so far this year, the steepest decline among GM’s four core brands: Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC and Buick.

"Cadillac needs as much excitement in its portfolio as possible, so I think it’s a good strategy for them," said Rebecca Lindland, director of auto industry research at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass.

A Cadillac spokesman declined comment Monday.

At the Detroit auto show in January, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said that, if approved for production, the Converj that would appear in showrooms would resemble the concept car, likening it to the redesigned Chevrolet Camaro’s evolution from concept to production.

The remade Camaro debuted at the Detroit auto show in 2006 and went on sale this year with a design that remained true to the concept’s roots.

A similar path for the Converj would be a departure compared with the Volt. The sleek Volt concept wowed the public, but the production version has a more traditional look to account for aerodynamics and other factors tied to improving fuel efficiency.

Lutz said it would have been easier financially to produce a Cadillac electric vehicle first because a premium brand would justify a higher sticker price, helping to defray the cost of lithium-ion batteries to power the vehicle.

But the Converj concept wasn’t born until after the Volt program was under way, analyst Hall said. He estimated it would take about two years after the Volt reaches showrooms for the Converj to start production.

The Volt will allow commuters to travel up to 40 miles on electric power alone. The engine will kick in after the battery is drained by about 70 percent to sustain the remaining charge and keep the car running for several hundred miles.

The Converj concept featured solar panels on a glass roof, rear view cameras instead of exterior mirrors, 21-inch tires in the front and 22-inch in the rear.

California dealer Scott Allen was excited by GM’s decision to build the Converj.

Although the automaker sells a hybrid gasoline-electric version of the Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle, Allen’s green-minded customers don’t normally think of the big SUV as a traditional, environmentally friendly hybrid. The Converj would be something altogether different.

"A snazzy-looking little car like that," Allen said, "would be cool."

 

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