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New article, from Jim Mateja, reveals that the 2006 Solstice is basically sold out. Pontiac will soon be taking orders for the 2007 model and it looks like Pontiac is going to increase production of the Solstice to 20k units per year.


HHR, Solstice leave doubters in dust, GM exec says

Published September 30, 2005

Bob Lutz was jovial.

General Motors' vice chairman of Global Product Development, in town to give the media a look at the automaker's 2006 vehicles, was especially pleased with how two new offerings have fared.

"In a few weeks we're going to have to start accepting orders for the 2007 model Pontiac Solstice," he said of the roadster that is basically sold out for 2006, having had 13,000 orders before the first was built.

And GM already has doubled output of the Chevrolet HHR, a compact crossover that borrows heavily from the 1949 Chevy Suburban, from the initial 60,000 a year. There's even talk of raising it again.

The decision to bring out HHR for 2006, which competes with the Chrysler PT Cruiser, was questioned inside and outside the company, Lutz said.

"Some said `sorry you should have been here sooner, Chrysler already filled that need with the PT Cruiser,'" he said.

Solstice and HHR are two of Lutz's "gotta have" cars, vehicles that attract consumers with emotional appeal rather than a hefty cash incentive, which neither has.

"Solstice and HHR prove to doubters we can do things right," he said.

Pontiac insists it's going to stick with its plan to produce about 20,000 Solstices a year, in part because Saturn brings out a cousin, the Sky, early next year that will give consumers another option.

But the decision to boost HHR output is surprising, in light of what happened with the PT Cruiser. The media prodded Chrysler to turn up output on the retro sedan when supplies were so greatly outstripping demand. But it raised production just as the novelty wore off and Chrysler had to bring out turbo and convertible variants, among others, to revive interest.

Deja vu all over again with HHR?

A popular retro-mobile isn't the only thing GM has in common with Chrysler. There's also billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian. He has amassed 9.5 percent of GM stock, raising fears he might make a play for controlling interest.

Though Kerkorian initially characterized himself as a passive investor with no thoughts of acquisition, last week he said he'd like a seat on the GM board.

"I know Kerkorian better than most. He always smells a turnaround," Lutz said of the man who has made a fortune buying low and selling high. "We have no reason to believe he's not" a passive investor.

Lutz and Kerkorian go way back. Lutz was vice chairman of Chrysler Corp. in the early 1990s, when Kerkorian bought a small interest in the automaker, insisting he had no design on control. But by 1995, he had enlisted retired Chairman Lee Iacocca in his bid for the company.

Lutz revealed that Kerkorian phoned then Chairman Bob Eaton saying he'd like to "pull the trigger on the deal," and asked whether Eaton would take the offer to the board.

He did, but "Kerkorian thought Eaton would take the offer to the board to approve, not that he'd take it to them to reject," Lutz said.

Kerkorian was rebuffed, and Daimler-Benz got Chrysler.

Lutz remains excited about 2006, though reports show consumer confidence in the dumper in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and that could hurt sales.

"The public has a short memory for disasters, and it's not a trend where we have 10 to 12 hurricanes bearing down on us. Like Yogi Berra once said, `It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future,' but if you have great product intelligently priced, you'll always do well," Lutz said.


Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation and Wednesday and Friday in Business. Hear him on WBBM-AM 780 at 6:22 p.m. Wednesdays and 11:22 a.m. Sundays.

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