By on August 19, 2009

General Motors’ so-called Alpha platform has been something of an enigma since it was first conceptualized by Holden as the TT36 Torana for the 2004 Sydney Auto Show. The TT36 concept was Holden’s pitch for a sub-CTS RWD global premium sedan, although, in proper GM fashion, that job went to the late, unlamented BLS. Though fuel economy issues were said to have killed the possibility of introducing an RWD model below the CTS, the penalty wasn’t huge, making the decision to go with a Saab 9-3 rebadge all the more strange. “As a lightweight rear-wheel-drive car that is going to add about 1mpg compared to an equivalent lightweight front-wheel drive car . . . we just have to sort of wait a while and see where we are,” is how Bob Lutz explained it to Go Auto last year. More likely, GM simply had no money to develop the platform in those pre-bailout days. Now that taxpayers are footing the bill, what can we expect from Alpha?

“Torana is a rear-wheel drive vehicle smaller than the Zeta architecture and smaller than the current CTS Cadillac architecture. It is, or would be, about the size of a BMW 1-Series — maybe just a tiny bit bigger to enable larger wheels,” Mr Lutz told Go Auto in January 2008.

Now that is the architecture that has been bandied about the US press under the name of ‘Alpha Architecture’, and Alpha is still under consideration, but we haven’t kicked off any design work or any engineering work because we have to sort our way through this 35mpg (6.72L/100km) task . . . If we proceed with the Alpha Architecture, I think it is safe to say that Holden would be vitally interested in participating in that project.

If, in January of ’08, Lutz was still referring to Alpha as an “if,” the platform still has major engineering work to be done. And despite having previously made Holden GM’s RWD “global home room,” it seems that the Alpha platform will be developed in the United States. In 2004, when the Torana TT36 concept came out, Holden was raring to build it. “It could be designed and produced off a number of GM platforms, taking advantage of the virtual maths-based processes and component sharing which enabled us to build this working concept in a very short space of time,” said Holden’s design chief at the time. So if Holden came up with the Alpha idea and serves as GM’s in-house RWD  developers, why aren’t they developing it? No word for now.

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24 Comments on “Alpha-Bits...”

  • avatar

    Well, it’s a good idea… but GM will undoubtedly get it wrong. 1-Series sized cars with RWD will most likely fail here in the US, and making it a Cadillac would be a good idea to a few (very small) people, but it will flop.

    Now… what about a replacement for the Sky/Solstice for Chevy on this platform? And this time make it with a proper trunk and a top that is easy to use?

  • avatar

    Yuppers I just don’t see a 1 series size car making it (unless its a super niche car and GM can’t really afford that now) in the US. There’s a reason that we don’t have A3’s, 1&2 series and A&B class cars here, if there was a market for it the G3 would be able to capitalize in a way which GM can’t (mainly having the cache of reputation that would allow people to trade size for image).

  • avatar

    “So if Holden came up with the Alpha idea and serves as GM’s in-house RWD developers, why aren’t they developing it?”

    My guess is GM’s internal politics. US-based employees lobby for the assignment because it means better job security for them. (Their formal argument, however, is that they claim to better understand American tastes. Yeah, like the Aztek.) At the RenCen, the top bosses figure there are all those Americans on payroll anyway, so why not use them?

    I sure hope all the engineers responsible for fiascos like the Vega, X-cars, DexCool, faulty gaskets, etc., are now gone. You’d think they’d eventually run out of excuses for their incompetence and go swept out in the downsizing.

  • avatar

    This is another area the Big 2.8 are hopeless……people are willing to pay a premium for high-content small/compact cars.

    How can Lincoln/Cadillac ever have a chance with volume if they don’t have a 3-series-sized competitor? Not needing/wanting a big car, I’d seriously consider buying a Civic-sized Caddy with CTS design cues.

    I can’t think of one premium American car less than 185″ in length. Am I missing one?

  • avatar

    How hard could it be? Seems like a stretched Soltice/Sky platform would fit the bill just fine.

  • avatar

    I can’t think of one premium American car less than 185″ in length. Am I missing one?

    Well, there was the Cadillac Cimarron.

  • avatar

    If this car is 3-series size rather than 1-series, then there’s a good chance for a hit. I think the US market is looking for a fresh alternative to the 3-series. It also allows the CTS to move upward a bit in price to compete against 5-series and E-class. I for one have been waiting for a compact size RWD car at a reasonable price point.

    One word to Mr. Lutz, please make sure at least one trim trim level has a sports pkg with a manual tm.

  • avatar

    If BMW can sell 1-series cars, there should be a market for one that is better looking, more reliable and doesn’t use run-flat tires.

  • avatar

    The concept looks to be about the size of a Lexus IS, which is between a 1-series and 3-series in size. If it ended up anywhere between the IS and the 3 in dimensions and interior space, it could work. Any smaller and it will fail along with the 1-series. Any larger and it cannibalizes the CTS.

    +1 on the manual trans and sport package.

    Edit: To the B&B, If GM does make the Alpha, you KNOW they’re going to spread the platform around. What should it become in one of GM’s three other brands?

    I say stretch it about 6 inches and make it the next Camaro. Yes, the Camaro would shrink in size, but it makes perfect sense. 3.6 V6 as base engine, turbo or supercharged V6 for top-end engine.

  • avatar

    I’d agree with roadrabbit… if it was closer to 3-series size then it has a better chance of making it.

    I don’t think a stretched Kappa platform would work though… it was just plain not designed with moving passengers in mind.

  • avatar

    slateslate – The Lincoln MKZ is the closest at 189″. Checking relative lengths I didn’t realize how much smaller the 3 series and C class were than traditional midsize sedans. The Audi A4 tips in at just over 185″ as well.

  • avatar

    Bob Lutz is a complete idiot, this car appears to be 3-series/IS sized.

    Anyway the big problems with the 1-series are that it is 1) Ugly, 2) Expensive, and 3) Very close in price to the 3-series, especially with leasing.

    I’ll take the (AWD but bought by people that want a RWD car and don’t want to pay more than the mid-$20s) Subaru Impreza WRX as the test of whether people are willing to buy a small relatively powerful RWD sedan at a good price. They are.

    If GM can price this car in the mid-$20s it will succeed, but if Cadillac prices this close to the CTS then people will continue to buy the CTS.

    This is the platform that the bloated, overweight Camaro should have been built off of.

  • avatar

    re: slateslate:

    “I can’t think of one premium American car less than 185″ in length. Am I missing one?”

    The Corvette, but yeah, I get what you’re saying.

  • avatar
    John R

    I’m just surprise the “3-series market” isn’t over saturated with under $30k 4-door competitors.
    You can’t throw a rock anywhere on the coasts without hitting a second (or third) hand IS, Infiniti G or 3-series.

    Seems like a no brainer.

  • avatar

    “I can’t think of one premium American car less than 185″ in length. Am I missing one?”

    Currently the domestics are being killed at their own game – large cars for the US market – by the Germans, Koreans and Japanese. Making larger cars for the US market is the one dimension in which the domestics might have an edge. For the domestics to try beat the Germans, Koreans and Japanese at their own game (small cars) will never work.

  • avatar

    GM has a problem, how many of us trust them?

    I like vehicles that do a lot with a little such as the Prius, Fit, Transit Connect, 2CV, etc. but after the Vega, Geo, and Aveo it will be a long time before I trust GM.

    For those who want great handling like the BMWs and Infinities, are you going to trust the maker of Camaros whose answer to all problems is a bigger heavier engine?

    For those who like Miatas are you going to trust the maker of the 400 pound heavier Solstice?

  • avatar

    this is stupid, havent they already said the ATS will be a 3-series rival? and now they’re talking about 1-series sized alpha platform cadillacs?

    wouldnt the kappa platform be closer in size to a 1 series and then they could actually get some use out of it

  • avatar

    In terms of price, the CTS is a 3-series, G competitor.

    I think the CTS is as good as GM is going to get in terms of a competitior to the 3 and G. If they try to copy the size with another model, you know it still won’t be close to the handling of the 3 and G, and it will be small to boot. Who wants that? I don’t think that kind of GM car will stand a chance. Forget a 3-size Caddy and just keep the CTS the way it is in terms of price and size, at least it can get those 3 and G shoppers who want a bigger car, bigger back seat etc. The CTS is well positioned to pick off some buyers from both the compact (3) and mid-size segments (5). That is its only hope- to straddle the segments, it can’t go head to head with either of them.

  • avatar

    And again kids, the BLS was a re-badged, re-skinned 9-3, NOT 9-5.

    Why on earth would a RWD car have a 1mpg penalty?

    We do in fact get A3s and 1-series here, and both are selling reasonably well. The 1-series might actually sell better if it was smaller, cheaper, and simpler – problem is it is just too close in size and price to the 3-series.

    And lastly – I would say the CTS is very much a 3-series competitor, they are very similar in size. The latest 3-series is HUGE. Not the small car you may think it is, it is only fractionally smaller than the previous generation 5-series.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    krhodes1: you’d think I’d learn… text amended.

  • avatar

    re: krhodes1:

    I agree that people cross shop the 3-series and CTS, as they do the 3 and much larger G37, because of pricing. But the Cadillac CTS is much larger than the current 3-series.

    The CTS has a 5 inch longer wheelbase and a 13 inches longer length than the 3-series (the CTS has basically the same wheelbase and length as the current 5-series).

    So there is room for a smaller Cadillac sedan below the CTS. But it would have to be priced low enough that people aren’t just going to buy a CTS instead. Or it would have to be sold as a Buick or Chevy if GM doesn’t want to sell a Cadillac starting in the mid-$20s.

    Also, a 1 mpg penalty for RWD vs. FWD with the same engine is very good. RWD cars get lower mileage because they must weigh more (more torsional rigidity in the chassis, a stronger rear suspension, and the driveshaft and separate differential) and because their drivetrains have more mechanical drag than a transverse FWD car. AWD is the worst for fuel economy.

    This is one area where CAFE has really screwed up US car design. Europeans would rather drive a RWD car and pay slightly higher gas taxes or get a smaller engine, but CAFE makes US automakers think that they need FWD, instead of just RWD with more efficient engines like the brilliant GM 2 liter turbo direct injection ecotec.

  • avatar

    Just to demonstrate what a ridiculous company GM is, the CTS is actually smaller than the cheaper, base 3.6 liter V6 sharing G8:

    Maybe that’s the real reason the G8 won’t be revived as a Chevy.

  • avatar

    The Alpha is dead. GM Holden have taken a decision already and Cruze is it. My information is that no work is being done on Alpha and hasn’t been for sometime.

    BTW, Zeta missed its MPG target by about 15%.

  • avatar
    George B

    The Chrysler Crossfire failed largely due to insufficient leg room for most customers. It would be a mistake to make a Cadillac with less interior room than the fairly small 3 series.

    slateslate :
    August 19th, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    This is another area the Big 2.8 are hopeless……people are willing to pay a premium for high-content small/compact cars.

    Wrong! The VW Jetta is probably at the upper limit of price premium for a high-content small/compact car and it had to grow to fit it’s price.

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