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GM unveils Chevy Cobalt

General Motors Corp. unveiled its Chevrolet Cobalt on Monday, a premium small car meant to compete with the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.
GM North America President Gary Cowger smiles Monday after unveiling the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. The Cobalt is the latest new Chevy in a revamped line designed to boost the brand's sales to 3 million units -- a level last reached in 1979.Joe Polimeni / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

General Motors Corp. unveiled its 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt on Monday, the latest new Chevy in a revamped line designed to boost the brand's sales to 3 million units _ a level last reached in 1979.

The Cobalt is Chevy's entry in the premium small car market and will compete against the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. The Ohio-built model will debut in the fall with two versions for the 2005 model year.

"We know we face an uphill fight to regain passenger car share lost to the Japanese over two decades, and in recent years to the entry-level Korean imports," said Gary Cowger, president of GM North America, who gave the keynote speech at a media preview of the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show.

The show opens to the public on Friday.

Both the Cobalt sedan and the coupe will feature wood on the dashboard, leather interior and other premium features such as satellite radio, MP3 player and the company's OnStar emergency notification system. Pricing was not announced.

The Cobalt, along with several other recently announced Chevy models, will be backed by a nationwide ad campaign dubbed "An American Revolution" that features television spots shot by Hollywood action movie director Michael Bay.

GM has said it will maintain 3,600 jobs at its Lordstown, Ohio, complex for production set to start Oct. 18. The company is merging the northeast Ohio assembly and metal stamping plants and renaming them as the General Motors Lordstown Complex.

The Cobalt is one of 10 new or revamped Chevys to be introduced over a 20-month period. Chevrolet accounts for more than half of GM's annual volume. The brand sold 2.6 million vehicles last year, down from 2.7 million in 2001.

The launch is part of a wider move by GM to fend off Asian competitors, especially to its truck and SUV lines. To aid in that fight, GM will also add three new models to its Saturn brand by 2007, including a small sports car.

"This shows how serious we are about the future of this brand," Cowger said.

GM also intends to shift its advertising focus in coming years to target consumers, rather than blanket television airwaves with costly commercials, he said.

GM will seek to replicate the success that Mercedes-Benz had when it took its 2000 M-Class on a 10-city tour, allowing potential customers to drive it on three test tracks.

Starting next month, GM will rent a million square feet of the former El Toro Marine Base in Orange County and invite owners of competing luxury car brands to a gourmet dinner and test drive of new Cadillac models.

Cowger said GM will also continue its 24-hour test drive program through March.

"It's not all about who has the biggest advertising budget," Cowger said. "It's about who is being heard and who's relevant."

The Los Angeles auto show traditionally kicks off the annual roadshow of new and concept cars. But most auto makers are holding their more significant announcements for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which opens Jan. 4.

Cowger said GM's decision to debut the Cobalt in Los Angeles is a recognition of the importance of the California market.

"These trends start here in California," Cowger said. "We recognize that. We're here in full force."