G. Richard Wagoner sounded more like former Chrysler Corp. product wizard Robert Lutz than a typically reserved General Motors Corp. CEO, when he made it official, the Chevy SSR retro pickup truck is going into production. It will be available in dealerships in "late 2002," he promises.

"We know we can do it. That's good enough for me. How many? How much? Those answers will be decided soon. Bottom line, you're going to be able to buy this vehicle," he says.

Mr. Lutz, known in the industry as the consummate "car guy" bolstered Chrysler Corp.'s stale image with bold, unresearched initiatives for the Dodge Viper, Plymouth Prowler and lastly, the new PT Cruiser.

In his effort to bury the company's reputation as a maker of bland, uninspired cars and trucks, Mr. Wagoner promises to announce in the next few months that more of GM's latest concept vehicles will be heading into production.

Many attendees are surprised by Mr. Wagoner's often light-hearted tone. He pokes fun at past GM blunders and earnestly promises that the company now "would learn from past mistakes." Highly uncharacteristic statements from a GM CEO.

For instance, he jokes that GM's look-alike brands in the mid-1980s - for which it was savaged by critics and consumers alike - actually showed that it was ahead of Volkswagen AG in "platform consolidation." And when questioned about reducing complexity, he says the company is simpler than it used to be because "we reduced our market share." Then he quips: "That wasn't part of the strategy to get less complex, by the way."

Chevrolet's SSR high performance retro-styled pickup, now confirmed for production in late 2002 as an '03 model, is an ideal candidate for composite body panels, WAW sources say. General Motors Corp. hasn't provided details of what materials might be used in the vehicle.

"The flowing, rounded shape of the SSR would be especially well suited to composites," says an independent industry authority. "I don't know how many they'll make, but if it's 30,000 or 40,000 a year - or less - that would be just right for composites, which are especially adaptable to low-volume applications," he says.

Using a plastic body also would closely align the SSR, dubbed by some as a "Corvette pickup" because of its V-8 power and other high-performance hardware, with the fiberglass-body 'Vette. There's also speculation SSR might be built in Bowling Green, KY, where Corvette is produced.

GM sources say the production model will be engineered and assembled by an outside supplier - or suppliers - but would be built at a GM facility. Possible candidates are Magna International Inc., which reportedly is itching to take on the project, or ASC Inc., long a supplier of special niche vehicles. ASC may have an edge, sources say, because of its convertible mechanism technology. SSR has a retractable top that can be removed by one person and stored between the seats and pickup box.

It's a certainty, however, that wherever the SSR is built, workers will be represented by the United Auto Workers union.