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Cosmic Creation: GM blasts past apogee en route to production Solstice Roadster

When Bob Lutz drove the Pontiac Solstice roadster on stage and into the spotlight at the 2004 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, his triumph was manifest: By creating a production-ready prototype of an inexpensive, low-volume two-seater, the former Marine had done what no one thought possible. At least no one within General Motors, where just a few years back selling 200,000 vehicles per year wasn't enough to sustain Oldsmobile, and where business cases for new vehicle programs typically demand hundreds of thousands of anticipated sales to get the green light.

From the outset, Solstice was always a little different. From its inception 15 weeks before the 2002 Detroit auto show, through its smashing premiere as a concept car at that show, to finally winning approval just weeks before it was displayed in production form in Detroit this year, the Solstice was clearly a priority with the powers that reside in GM's corporate headquarters.

"Solstice is the type of car people dream of driving," boomed Lutz at the unveiling.

The leverage of vice chairman Lutz, the retired Chrysler product whiz that GM chairman Rick Wagoner risked bringing on board in September 2001 to salvage the company's sagging product lineup, only partially explains the project's staying power. To make the Solstice a reality required a substantial departure from GM's hidebound-and expensive and time-consuming-way of developing new vehicles.

"I don't think you could have done this 10 years ago at GM-or even five years ago," said Lori Queen, the vehicle line executive who drew the assignment to make Solstice a reality. "Even the risk takers were scared."

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