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Chevrolet will introduce a model at the Chicago Auto Show today that promises to become the best-selling member of General Motors Corp.'s acclaimed family of crossovers.

The Chevrolet Traverse seats seven or eight people and shares its major mechanical systems with the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook. While those three models come from a plant in Lansing, GM will use its entire Spring Hill, Tenn., assembly plant to build the Traverse.

"It should easily be the best-selling of the four, and it may outsell the other three put together," said analyst Stephanie Brinley of the Southfield office of consultant AutoPacific. GM sold a total of 136,799 Acadias, Enclaves and Outlooks last year and should sell more in 2008, the models' first full year of production.

The four models constitute GM's Lambda family of crossovers, the common name for vehicles that look a bit like SUVs but are built like cars for better fuel economy and passenger room. Chevrolet, with the largest dealer network, is GM's best-selling brand.

"It hits the sweet spot in our lineup," said Don Butler, Chevrolet executive director of truck marketing. "Crossovers are hot. It's one of the few segments of the market that's growing, and we can use the Traverse to build the momentum that began with the Malibu," the Chevrolet midsize sedan that was named 2008 Free Press and North American Car of the Year.

The Traverse goes on sale this fall as a 2009 model. Workers at the Spring Hill plant, which previously built Saturn cars and SUVs exclusively, are to begin training to produce the new model this week. Chevrolet said it expects the Traverse to compete with the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.

The Traverse will feature a new direct-injection version of GM's 3.6-liter V6 engine that improves power and fuel economy compared with its three cousins that are already on sale. The engine produces 280 horsepower and will be added to the other models for the 2009 model year. GM will reveal the Traverse's fuel economy later this year.

"It will do very good things for Chevrolet as people move away from traditional SUVs and look for more value and better fuel economy," said Joe Phillippi, principal of AutoTrends Consulting, in Short Hills, N.J. "And 4,000 Chevrolet dealers can move a lot of metal.

"The Traverse will really do a lot for GM's profitability."

The Traverse will come in front- or all-wheel drive. Standard equipment includes GM's six-speed automatic transmission and six air bags, including curtain air bags that protect all three rows of passengers.

Options will include real-time traffic and construction information, a navigation system and Bluetooth capability for hands-free mobile phones.

The Traverse's grille, headlights and taillights share the Malibu's look in what Butler calls "a bridge between what the Malibu says about Chevrolet cars and our strong truck portfolio."

The Spring Hill assembly plant always has scored high in quality surveys, but struggled when it was tied to the limited model line Saturn used to offer. After an 18-month layoff, the 2,500 workers who return to the plant are delighted at the Traverse's prospects, said UAW Local 1853 President Mike O'Rourke.

"Crossovers are a growing market," he said. "It's been a long 18 months. We're happy to be back at work and excited to be building such a great-looking vehicle."

Source: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080206/BUSINESS01/802060424/0/BUSINESS06
 
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