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GM ready to Cruze in Japan

GM Asia-Pacific President Rudy Schlais (r) shows off the Cruze with Akira Tsutsui, a VP at Suzuki, whose plant is making it  

By Alex Frew McMillan CNN Hong Kong

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- American car-making icon General Motors this week unveiled its first car since World War II that is made in Japan.

Chevrolet, one of GM's most famous brands, will start selling the Chevrolet Cruze to the public on Nov. 1.

It cut the ribbon on the compact car on Monday, ahead of this weekend's Tokyo Motor Show. That starts Oct. 27 in Makuhari, an eastern suburb of the city.

Very much a Chevvy

The Cruze was designed by GM on a Suzuki body, or "platform." It is being made at Kosai, west of Tokyo, in a Suzuki plant and sold through Suzuki's chain of car dealers.

But GM stressed that this is very much a Chevvy. The car has the look of a small sport-utility vehicle with a compactness that should appeal to Japanese consumers.

The Cruze has a big version of the trademark Chevrolet cross on its front grill.

"The Cruze is symbolic of the way our alliance has leveraged the partners' different knowledge and strengths," GM Chairman Jack Smith said at a press conference.

Smith is on an Asia visit that also involved a keynote speech at last week's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai, China.

No Plymouth Cruiser

Some analysts said the Cruze lacks a significant feature to make it stand out in a crowded Japanese market.

It doesn't have the groundbreaking looks of the Plymouth PT Cruiser.

DaimlerChrysler had a huge success with the distinctive PT Cruiser in Europe and the United States, thanks to its chunky "Bonnie & Clyde" meets "Mad Max" look.

But like the Cruiser, the Cruze is also a cross between a car and SUV. The company is pitching the Cruze to young people, focusing on 25-to-40 year olds who like American products.

Japan is a tough market to break into, experts say, because the car-buying public is very fussy and demanding.

Popular with gangsters

Smith said importing cars into Japan wasn't enough.

"We will still import name brands from the U.S. market, but they are not going to give us the kind of numbers that we should be doing," he said.

GM owns 20 percent of Suzuki, one of its three Japanese partners. The Detroit-based company also owns 20 percent of Fuji Heavy Industries, famous for its Subaru vehicles, and 49 percent of Isuzu, which specializes in sport-utility vehicles.

This is GM's first car to target Japan, made by Japanese, in more than 60 years. GM stopped making cars in Japan in 1939.

It has long imported cars into the market, even American-made left-hand drive models. Japan drives on the left, unlike the United States, so Japanese-made cars are right-hand drive.

Besides Chevrolet, GM makes Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn cars in the United States.

Internationally, it also sells Holden cars in Australia and Opel, Saab and Vauxhall cars in Europe.

Analysts have faulted GM for its lack of a cohesive strategy in Asia. Instead it has tended to pick up bits and pieces, striking partnerships and buying plants opportunistically.

In September, it paid $400 million for much of the manufacturing and sales operations of bankrupt Daewoo Motor. GM, which had sold out of a joint venture with Daewoo

Rudy Schlais, head of GM's Asia Pacific operations, told CNN that deal is part of a 10-year Asian plan that the company launched in 1994. It plans to use Daewoo to target South Korea and, some say more importantly, the booming market in China.


• GM's Schlais explains Daewoo deal
September 21, 2001
• GM seals $400M deal for Daewoo
September 21, 2001
• GM targets online car shoppers in Japan
September 18, 2001
• Isuzu slashes 9,700 jobs
May 28, 2001
• GM warns on 4Q; 3Q EPS drop tops target
Oct. 18, 2001

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