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OAK PARK -- He customized millions of vehicles for Detroit's Big Three automakers, but Heinz Prechter always dreamed of shepherding a new car from conception to production.

The German-born industrialist, who committed suicide on July 6, 2001 after a lifelong battle with manic depression, didn't live to realize his goal.

But the company he left behind, ASC Inc., is fulfilling Prechter's ambition to help design and assemble low-volume, specialty vehicles for major automakers.

ASC's breakthrough product -- the Chevrolet SSR -- began rolling off the assembly line last month at General Motors Corp.'s Lansing Craft Centre.

A funky, retro-styled roadster inspired by Chevy pickups of the past, the SSR is proof that ASC can play an integral role in developing niche vehicles for an increasingly fragmented market.

Once known primarily for its sunroofs and convertible systems, ASC is now intent on emulating European "coachbuilders" that assist in the styling, engineering and manufacturing of specialty cars and trucks.

"Heinz had a dream and a vision that extended well beyond sunroofs," ASC President Paul Wilbur said at a media briefing Wednesday. "That dream lives on at ASC."

The SSR is the linchpin of ASC's revamped corporate strategy. Working closely with GM, ASC played an integral role in the design, prototyping, and engineering of the SSR.

The company also constructed a 142,000-square-foot factory near GM's Lansing plant to manufacture 42 "sub-assemblies" for the SSR including wheels, instrument panels, and retractable hard tops.

Priced at $42,000, the SSR has all the makings of a mini-hit for GM in its efforts to inject excitement in its product lineup.

GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said GM hopes to sell 16,000 SSRs annually. With an industrywide proliferation of new models, automakers need niche vehicles to capture fickle consumers.

"It is the growth part of the market," said Jim Hall of the automotive consulting firm AutoPacific Inc. "The market isn't niching -- it's atomizing. And everybody wants something different."

Wilbur, who joined ASC after 21 years with Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, said ASC is partnering with GM in the same way that Italian and German coachbuilders link up with European automakers.

"ASC is really trying to fill a void in coachbuilding in this country," Wilbur said. "Today, low-volume production has become a way of life."

Based in Southgate, ASC built several early versions of the SSR at its design center in Oak Park.

While he declined to reveal financial figures, Wilbur said the SSR is shaping up as a profitable program for both ASC and GM.

"It's always about a partnership and a collaboration," said ASC manufacturing chief John Hrit. "We are a resource for the (automaker)."

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About time - I've been checking with my local dealership for the past year when these 'bad boys' would be out. First it was early spring 2003, then early summer 2003, then early fall 2003... O.K., I guess winter 2003 will have to do.

I was gonna wait and order one of these, but decided to get a 4th Gen Z28 before they stopped making them instead.

I just wanna check one out...
 

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All the SSR's that have been built are 2003 models :angry: .

Should get a past model year discount for anyone who gets one :D
 

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did this company do any other GM cars? i seem to remember saturn hiring out a company do fiddle with an ION and they showed it at the NAIAS [i think] and thd CIA this summer. anyway, it had a twistec turbo kit and discs all around.
 
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