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American pleas for ‘sexy’ Cruze hatchback

In demand: The Chevrolet Cruze hatchback's design has won bouquets from American critics.

High praise for Holden-designed Cruze five-door prompts calls for US launch

15 Sep 2010

A GROUNDSWELL of popular support is applying the blowtorch to General Motors to speed the Holden-designed Cruze hatchback on to the United States market alongside the sedan.

The Australian-crafted small car has won high praise from some of America’s leading motoring commentators who have urged Chevrolet to re-think its decision not to release the versatile five-door model in North America.

So far, only the sedan version of the GM’s small car is slated for launch in the US, with the hatch confined to other markets such as Europe, Asia and Australia where it goes on sale in the second half of next year.

The hatchback, designed in Melbourne by a Holden team led by chief designer Richard Ferlazzo, is set for its public launch at the Paris motor show on September 30.

It will be built at a number of sites around the world, including Holden’s Elizabeth plant in South Australia where it will travel down the production line alongside the Cruze sedan and wagon to join the Holden range from the second half of 2011.

The release of pre-Paris publicity images of the hatch last week triggered a wave of accolades for the five-door design in the US where the Cruze sedan has just gone into production at GM’s Lordstown factory for imminent showroom release.

Motoring writers from the authoritative Automotive News and Wall Street Journal are among those who lament Chevrolet’s decision to stick with the sedan version for North America, apparently because of common wisdom that American buyers overwhelmingly favour four-door sedans over five-door hatches.

13 center imageFrom top: Chevrolet Cruze hatchback, Chevrolet Cruze sedan and Holden's Cruze hatch sketch.

Writing in Automotive News, product editor Richard Krantz described the hatch as sleek, adding: “Frankly, the photos show a more attractive offering than the sedan.”

Krantz says he has difficulty accepting reasoning that suggests hatchbacks don’t appeal to US buyers.

“I guess I am in the minority – I would prefer a five-door compact over a four-door every time,” he wrote.

“I believe Chevy would be surprised by the sales response.”

Krantz said Ford was set to release a five-door Focus in its 2012 range.

“The five-door Cruze would make Chevy dealers more competitive with Ford, plus give dealers a potential advantage over its primary target, Civic and Corolla offerings.

“So Chevy dealers, is one Cruze flavour enough, or do you need two?”The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Welsh echoed the sentiments, saying: “Am I the only one who thinks the Cruze hatchback looks good enough to sell here.”

Welsh said consumer feelings toward hatchbacks were changing in the US, as evidenced by the success of such models from Subaru, Mazda and Volkswagen.

“In the end a lot of people buy cars for their looks, and I think the Cruze hatch looks a lot better than the sedan,” he wrote.

“It’s the difference between dowdy and sexy. The new Cruze five-door hatchback will go on sale in Europe mid 2011 and later in other markets.

“Despite what Chevy officials say now, I have a feeling the hatch will reach our shores, too, within a couple of years.”

The commentary has been taken up on numerous public blogs in the US, where car fans have urged GM to add the hatchback to its line-up.

If Chevrolet does launch the Cruze hatchback in the US, it is unlikely to be exported from Australia, at least in standard form. More likely, it would join the sedan in production at Lordstown, giving GM a fresh small-car entrant as Ford launches Focus as a 2011 model.

GM executives responsible for such as decision are all well aware of the Cruze hatch, as GM North America president Mark Reuss and Chevrolet marketing sales and marketing Alan Batey were both at GM Holden when the Cruze hatchback was hatched.

The Cruze is built on GM’s Delta II small-car platform that has also spawned the Opel/Vauxhall Astra, GM Volt and Chevrolet Orlando – the latter also designed in Australia.

Cruze development was controlled by GM’s South Korean design centre, which also took responsibility for the sedan design. The hatchback ‘home room’ was allocated to Holden’s design centre at Fisherman’s Bend – one of only three GM technical centres that can take a car from scratch to production.

In both the US and Australia, the Cruze is regarded as the most import new model to go into local production since GM’s emergence from chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.

In both markets, the 2011 Cruze will get GM’s new high-efficiency 1.4-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder petrol engine.

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