Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – If Cadillac proceeds with plans to produce the ATS entry-level sport car, the new model likely would boast driving characteristics akin to the BMW-3-Series, the brand’s top marketer says.

BMW is the volume leader and casts a very big shadow in that segment,” Steve Shannon, executive director-Cadillac marketing, tells Ward’s at the Chicago auto show here.

“An important thing would be to make it different from them, but it would certainly be in that idiom of a fun, more youthful, driver’s car,” he says.

Former CEO Fritz Henderson last summer unveiled a concept version of the ATS at GM’s Tech Center in Warren, MI, that would slot below the midsize Cadillac CTS sedan.

The ATS likely would ride on GM’s Alpha rear-wheel-drive architecture, which before the auto maker’s bankruptcy last summer and the run-up in gasoline prices, was supposed to underpin a lineup of smaller RWD cars.

GM has yet to formally announce when a production version of the ATS may arrive, but various reports indicate prototypes already are in development.

Shannon is mum on details, but on Aug. 12 GM design chief Ed Welburn said the car would launch within 24 months and feature a longitudinal layout with RWD and optional all-wheel drive.

While it’s not clear what a production model would look like, the ATS concept boasted sheetmetal based on GM’s “Art & Science” design philosophy, which is showcased on the Cadillac Converj concept car displayed at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

In order to match the renown driving characteristics of the BMW 3-Series, Shannon says Cadillac “would put our best engineering effort into making this a light, nimble fun-to-drive” car. “Clearly the No.1 reason for purchase in that segment is it’s fun to drive,” he says.

bpope@wardsauto.com