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GM to produce retro cross-over
The new Chevrolet HHR will be introduced in 2005 as a 2006 model.
August 8, 2003: 12:25 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - General Motors Corp., looking to boost Chevrolet's U.S. sales, turned to the designer who sketched Chrysler's popular PT Cruiser to help fashion a wagon that recalls the design of the 1949 Chevy Suburban.

Bryan Nesbitt, the PT Cruiser designer GM (GM: up $0.23 to $36.94, Research, Estimates) lured away from Chrysler in 2001, played a role in designing the retro-looking Chevrolet HHR, said Gary Cowger, president of GM North America.

SSR, HHR, '49 Suburban  
The Chevy HHR between the SSR, left, and a 1949 Suburban.

The world's largest automaker will launch the HHR in about two years. The vehicle features a roomy interior and the retro styling that made the DaimlerChrysler (DCX: Research, Estimates) PT Cruiser a big hit when it went on sale in 2000.

"It wants to mimic some of the aspects you saw in the Cruiser," said Michael Robinet, vice president of global forecast services with industry consultants CSM Worldwide. It's not mimicking directly a vehicle but a genre of vehicles."

Like the Chevrolet SSR, a sporty pickup that goes on sale this fall, the HHR recalls the design of an early Chevrolet truck, in this case the 1949 Chevrolet Suburban, which presaged later sport/utility vehicles. The SSR is modeled after street rods built around 1940s Chevrolet trucks.

"Like the SSR, it's a bold nod to the past and a big step into the future," Cowger said Thursday at an automotive conference here. "The concept for this goes back to when we looked at how we can use Chevy's heritage."

The HHR, a codename for High Heritage Roof that could change before it goes on sale, is the last of nine new Chevys GM plans to launch over the next 20 months to boost Chevrolet sales above 3 million vehicles a year by 2005. The HHR is expected to cost about $20,000, about half as much as the SSR.

Last year, Chevrolet's U.S. sales totaled 2.64 million vehicles, down from 2.69 million in 2001.

The HHR is expected to be built in Mexico and sell in relatively low volume of tens of thousands a year, said Jeff Schuster, director of North American forecasting with J.D. Power and Associates.

The HHR is one of a growing number of tall wagons or SUV-like vehicles, such as Toyota's Matrix, the Pontiac Vibe and the PT Cruiser. The HHR, with seating for five, will be sized more like those vehicles than the Suburban on which it is based. Unlike those vehicles, Cowger said, the HHR will have rear seats that fold flat into the floor to allow more cargo-carrying space and flexibility.

Under the hood, the HHR will have one of GMs ECOTEC 4-cylinder engines that range from 140 to more than 220 horsepower.  Top of page

-- Reuters contributed to this story.

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