For the first time since, well, ever, heading up small car development at General Motors commands some respect, both outside and within the company. The Chevrolet Cruze is a certified sales hit, and newer entries like the Sonic and Buick Verano have been well received. And it’s no coincidence that every one of the products and concepts General Motors has revealed here at the Detroit show is small, including an exotic-looking coupe that would ride on the same platform as the Chevy Cruze. We sat down with Jim Federico, who currently sits atop GM’s small-car heap, to discuss what challenges and opportunities lay ahead.
GM is finally earning some credibility in building small cars. What do you do next to maintain and build on that momentum?
The Spark will come here this summer, then I will have all my small architectures in a global position and continuing to grow, but at the same time, I’m already working on the next generations. The Cruze – we’ve hit over a million sales now – we’re soon to bring a diesel version over to the U.S., a 2.0-liter.
Any chance we’ll get the Cruze hatchback sold in some global markets?
It’s available. It is Federalizable. But the market will tell us. Right now it’s not in our plans.
Consumer Reports recently ranked the Cruze last in terms of small car value. Are you addressing this? If so, how?
We have to deal with it, we work with them. It’s true input, we take that input, modify as appropriate. I think we’ll tip it over to the positive side. I can [address] everything Consumer Reports talked about except I can’t really improve the rear knee room. I can’t improve rear knee room without designing a new car.
Another complaint with the Cruze and other GM vehicles has been with heavy curb weights. How far away are lighter GM small cars?
Not that far away…It really depends on your starting point…. A Chevrolet Cruze has opportunity [to shed weight but] for a major reduction in mass, it takes closer to a clean sheet redesign. But, within the Cruze’s lifecycle you’ll continue to see some mass reduction.
In Europe you offer the Opel Astra OPC hot hatch (which rides on the same architecture as the Cruze)? How long would it take you to respond to the likes of the Focus ST in this market?
[Pauses] Not too long.
What would it be? A Buick?
Chevrolet has lot’s of opportunity – but we have no plans.