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AUTO COLUMN: Don't bet against the fast G8

You could get whiplash this week following the volleys of apparently conflicting statements GM CEO Fritz Henderson and Vice Chairman Bob Lutz made about the company's plan for the Pontiac G8 sport sedan.

You could get whiplash this week following the volleys of apparently conflicting statements GM CEO Fritz Henderson and Vice Chairman Bob Lutz made about the company's plan for the Pontiac G8 sport sedan.

It's dead. It'll make a nice Chevy. We don't re-badge cars. It won't be a Chevrolet, only maybe it will.

Were they arguing through the media? Did Lutz miss the memo about Fritz being CEO? Do these guys even talk to each other?

No, no and yes. Here's what's up:

GM will offer at least one more car based on the same engineering as the G8, but not right now, and probably not in Chevrolet dealerships.

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Fitting together GM's future product plan is like completing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of an iceberg: Lots of pieces look good, but they only work in the right place. It takes several tries to find the right spot.

The confusion began shortly after Henderson said he doesn't like re-badging vehicles -- that is, trying to turn a Pontiac into a Chevrolet by pasting a new badge on the grille.

He's absolutely right. That kind of nonsense devalues GM's brands and wastes the time of engineers and designers who could be doing meaningful work.

The G8 is a great car, as much fun to drive as a BMW 5-series at about half the price. It should have set the world on fire when it went on sale last year. The fact that it didn't was all the evidence anybody should need to know Pontiac was beyond salvation.

Lutz, who never saw a fast car he didn't want, adores the G8, and understands the people who love it. He knows GM needs more cars like it, so he started looking for new places for this piece of the puzzle.

He mentioned Chevrolet, probably because a G8-based Chevy Caprice is the farthest option from reality. Lutz loves to tease the press and tantalize the public. He'll politick for cars he'd like to build, but he's too smart to tell competitors about GM's plans.

A Caprice based on the G8's engineering is low on the list of things Chevrolet needs. GM may build a police-only version, but the next G8 sibling U.S. customers will be able to buy is more likely the sumptuous Park Avenue that's winning luxury-minded buyers in China.

A new Caprice cop car could win GM some sales when Ford stops building the venerable Crown Victoria. For the civilian customers who are Chevy's livelihood, though, GM must focus on the successor to the Impala. The big sedan is a low-profile success story. Regularly one of America's best-selling cars, it's getting old and faces stiff competition from the new Ford Taurus.

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Moving the successful front-wheel drive Impala to the G8's rear-drive platform would be a risky move. Enthusiasts prefer rear-wheel drive in big cars, but not all car buyers are enthusiasts, as much as Bob Lutz and I might wish otherwise.

Creating a big Chevy with a roomy interior, excellent fuel economy and the layout buyers are used to -- maybe a choice of front- or all-wheel drive -- is a safer bet than reusing G8 parts for a car some customers might resist.

Buick, on the other hand, must add a big car that can compete with lower luxury brands like Infiniti and Acura. The Park Avenue that was developed for China fits the bill.

GM can build it in North America alongside the Chevrolet Camaro -- another G8 sibling. It could help re-establish Buick as a prestige brand, and GM can charge more for it as a new Buick than as the replacement for the Impala.

GM knows the G8 is a valuable piece of the puzzle. It will find a place for it.

It's safe to assume Fritz Henderson and Bob Lutz agree on that.

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