Even if the design, engineering and quality of GM's new front-drive minivans are world class, without a clear marketing strategy sales may still fall short of what workers in Doraville, GA, can build.
Here's a peek at the brand management game plans of each division.
Make no mistake. Venture will be the value-priced variant of the U-platform.
"We will be priced very competitively and concentrate on the lower 50% of the price spectrum," says David G. Spence, acting brand manager for the Venture.
GM Vice President and Chevrolet Motor Div. General Manager Jim C. Perkins, who retires this month, says the U-van is among the most heavily researched vehicles Chevy has ever done.
"We learned a lot about the customer," chiefly that "function" in a minivan is far more important than "form" (aesthetic design).
"Our biggest challenge will be to get the volume up," Mr. Perkins adds. "We'd like to be in the. 4 50,000 to 200,000 (annual sales) range, but right now that's obviously not realistic."
Pontiac Trans Sport
The lines between the vehicle segments are blurring, and Pontiac aims to exploit that fuzziness by packaging the new Trans Sport as a minivan that looks more like a sport/utility vehicle (SUV).
Pontiac will call this treatment the Montana package, consisting of lower body cladding similar to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, large white-lettered tires, a luggage rack and traction control.
"There are a lot of people out there who are attracted to a sport/utility, but they need more space and convenience," says James Murray, Trans Sport brand manager.
Many minivan owners have a love-hate relationship with their vehicles. They adore its practicality, its room and the family-friendly creature comforts. Yet they detest the aura of domesticity it casts. At least that is part of the message Mr. Murray says he has picked up from consumer clinics.
The Trans Sport also will offer five different seating configurations.
Silhouette is the most upscale of the three North American vans. It will compete againstTown & Country, Mercury Villager, Quest and Previa.
Says Oldsmobile General Manager John D. Rock, "We'll try to tag along more on Opel's cues so that we can have more of an international flavor. It helps us get to where we are trying to go with the rest of our product line."
Silhouette will come in three different trim levels, with a short and long wheelbase available for each. The uplevel package will include six-spoke wheels, fog lamps and leather seats.
For the last seven years, engineers from Adam Opel AG worked to guarantee that the Sintra would hold many of the styling cues demanded by European customers.
The dashboard, for example, is smaller. The steering wheel is closer to the gauge cluster. The headlights are much larger than the U.S. designers would have demanded, again meeting some criteria listed by the 20-man Opel team.
These European touches, combined with a double sliding door bodystyle, eight-seat configuration and excellent gas mileage (up to 6.3 L/100 km. or 37 mpg with the 2.2L 4-cyl.) will give the Opel Sintra a leg up in Europe's cutthroat minivan market, Opel President David J. Herman is convinced.