General Motors Corp.'s answer to the new sport/utility vehicle (SUV)-pickup sub-segment is getting rave reviews from analysts, who got a sneak preview Jan. 29 of GM future products timed to appear in '00-'02 timeframe.

The automaker also raised new speculation about a Holden-derived line of U.S. vehicles, possibly including new Cadillac Catera, Chevrolet Caprice and Camaro/Firebird.

“Overall, these are the first cars I've seen in a long time from GM that truly had some emotional, visceral appeal,” says one analyst. “They're going to take some chances. This is not the dumbed-down by committee stuff of the last 20 years.”

The Chevy Highlander, a '00 model headed for production this fall, was seen as a sure hit by at least one analyst. The analyst says the SUV pickup, codenamed GMT805, has some of the aggressive styling reminiscent of the Lamborghini LM002, a sort of Italian Hummer.

The Highlander has a Dodge Ram-type stance with Chevy styling and a real crew cab that could sit six people with a front bench seat. A molded bed-cover adds to the styling of the vehicle. Another securities analyst on the tour says he was told that the cargo box features storage compartments along the inner walls.

“I think these things are going to fly off the lot. It's a lot better done than the Blackwood,” says one analyst, referring to the Lincoln sport/utility pickup shown at the Detroit auto show in January. But the Highlander apparently will be aimed at “active buyers” rather than the luxury segment.

The new lineup of GM's traditional midsize SUVs, Jimmy/Blazer/Bravada, are more differentiated with the Olds model featuring an Intrigue-like front end.

GM also intends to switch from rear springs to five-link coils for its SUVs — offering a more refined ride.

On the car side, Evoq styling cues will be evident in the new Cadillac lineup, showing up in the new Catera and Seville. A future DeVille concept has a more Seville-type design. The new Aurora is described as cleaned up and sophisticated, with smoother lines.

Although GM executives did not say they plan to bring Holden-based vehicles to the U.S. market, a Caprice-badged, left-hand-drive sedan and a right-drive coupe on display gave some suggestion of the possibility. Both vehicles had 3.7L Gen III Corvette-based engines. The Catera also is reportedly based on the Holden Sigma platform.

One analyst agrees the Holden coupe, which is much roomier but slightly shorter than a Camaro, would make a viable replacement for the Camaro/Firebird line. That could mean that the Ste. Therese, Que., Camaro/Firebird plant gets a new lease building Sigma-based cars. Any other suggestion of a future for Camaro/Firebird was conspicuously absent from the meeting, says an analyst.

At least one GM source at the analyst meeting also said there is “a better than average” chance of something like the halo-style, roll away roof of the Buick Cielo concept car actually being developed in the '02 or '03 time frame.