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GM to Show Rear-Wheel-Drive Cars in U.S.
Associated Press
Wednesday March 31, 6:32 pm ET
By John Porretto, AP Auto Writer
General Motors Set to Introduce Series of Rear-Wheel-Drive Cars in United States

DETROIT (AP) -- Americans soon will see several new better-handling rear-wheel-drive cars now that technological advances have allowed manufacturers to overcome past drawbacks such as poor handling on ice and mediocre fuel economy.

General Motors Corp. is one making a big push to rear-wheel drives, with several versions planned. The world's largest automaker is scheduled to introduce a rear-wheel-drive Buick concept car Tuesday in conjunction with media preview days at the New York International Auto Show.

The Buick Velite, a four-seat convertible, is the first example of a car GM could produce for the North American market from a new global vehicle platform for rear-wheel-drive models.

Cars with front-wheel-drive systems began to dominate the market in the 1970s because they were lighter and more fuel efficient. They also tended to handle better on snow and ice.

But advances in fuel economy and technology, such as traction control and electronic stability control, have prompted some automakers to venture back to rear-wheel drives, targeting customers who crave enhanced performance.

Rear-wheel drives typically handle better than front-wheel drives because the car's weight is more evenly distributed -- engine up front, followed by the transmission, driveshaft and axle and differential at the rear.

In front-wheel versions, most of the components are up front.

"A big part of good ride and handling, particularly in terms of turning capability, has to do with mass distribution," said Mark Hogan, GM's group vice president for advanced vehicle development. "We're far more able to get 50-50 mass distribution -- which is ideal from a ride and handling standpoint -- with a rear-drive car versus a front-drive."

Hogan said the rear-drive's different internal configuration also allows designers to move the wheels out a bit farther and provides different styling options, another plus for customers.

Already, GM has reintroduced the sporty rear-wheel-drive Pontiac GTO. Pontiac also plans to bolster its lineup with the new rear-wheel-drive Solstice roadster next year.

GM has said its Saturn brand will add a RWD sports car in 2006.

Wall said the new RWD offerings likely will not generate huge sales for the Big Three, but they can't afford to ignore any segment in the increasingly competitive marketplace.

"We're not talking about modern-day replacements for the Taurus or Accord or Camry, but they can carve out a decent niche," Wall said. "It may be enough to at least complement their front-wheel-drive offerings and help bolster market share."

Buick's Velite is named after an elite class of quick-moving soldiers in Napoleon's army. A sister car, the Opel Insignia from GM's German arm, was shown at the Frankfurt International Auto Show last year.

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