More MBS CoverageTRAVERSE CITY, MI – As mass-market auto makers shift to product plans that rely less on 6-figure production volumes for any single vehicle line, industry pundits wonder whether low-volume production models can generate sustainable profit margins.

Mark Reuss, executive director-GM Performance Div., says the auto maker not only plans to make money on its upcoming crop of low-volume models, it also will hike its image.

In a presentation at the Management Briefing Seminars here, Reuss says GM expects big things from low-volume vehicle programs such as that used to create the Pontiac Solstice roadster.

The market is buzzing about the stylish and sporty Solstice, which was designed and will be manufactured with a low-volume business and engineering model Reuss says demonstrates a high-volume auto maker can shift gears to niche production.

Saturn Sky epitomizes new-age thinking for low-volume engineering, production.

Solstice, in fact, begins shipping today (Tuesday), says Reuss, “amid some of the reports we’re delayed.”

Earlier this year, it was reported GM had delayed Solstice’s ramp-up, and that a steady stream of the 2-seaters would not reach Pontiac dealerships until this fall, missing the heart of the season for top-down driving.

Regardless, GM last month reported it had in excess of 10,000 orders for the Solstice. (See related story: Solstice Demand Outstripping Supply)

Solstice and its Saturn Sky sister model are being built with a variety of new techniques and processes at the auto maker’s Wilmington, DE, assembly plant.

Reuss is particularly proud of the design and engineering program that brought the new roadsters – as well as a variant for GM’s European Opel and Vauxhall brands – from design to production with newfound haste.

“We went from math (digital design) straight to production tooling,” says Reuss. “There was no existing GM playbook. We had to write it.”

Solstice and its multiple siblings are based on GM’s new Kappa rear-wheel-drive architecture. A new hydroforming stamping process is employed for the roadster’s body panels.

To speed the design and development process, says Reuss, GM engineers also scoured the company’s component catalogs for parts that could be integrated quickly into the interior design.

GM also is participating in the Center for Automotive Research’s Low Volume Vehicle Production consortium, Reuss says.

The LVVP initiative is bringing together auto makers, suppliers and other entities to share knowledge and experience that could help the industry shifting to low-volume vehicle programs.

He defines “low-volume” as production runs of 7,000 to 25,000 units annually.

GM’s low-volume approach relies heavily on performance variants of existing high-volume platforms, Reuss says.

These vehicles, such as the Cadillac V-Series and Chevrolet SS variants – developed by GM Performance – will serve as halo models that “reestablish GM’s performance heritage,” in addition to being profitable, says Reuss.

He says, for instance, there soon will be nine SS variants of standard Chevrolet production vehicles, and GM is working on several customization programs that will enable buyers to individualize their vehicle quickly and easily.

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com