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Coming off the line: what's new at Indiana's assembly lines in Mishawaka, Fort Wayne and Lafayette?

"Welcome to Bob's All-American Truckland. What are we looking to drive home today? A truck, you say? Something with power? Well, have I got the machine for you. Just added it to our lineup. The ultimate off-road vehicle, fresh from the Saudi sand. Might I interest you in purchasing a Hummer?"

Such a scenario is no longer fantasy. Starting this month, South Bend-based AM General puts its all-terrain dream machine on sale at 30 civilian dealerships nationwide. It's the Hummer, also known as the Humvee, short for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.

Although AM General speeded up its consumer marketing plan in reaction to demand created by the Persian Gulf war, AM General planned to sell civilian Hummers long before the first tire hit the sand in Saudi Arabia, says corporate communications director Craig MacNab.

"The popular story is that because of the war we're producing it for the civilian market," MacNab says. "That's an oversimplification. We've been intending to bring the Hummer to the civilian market for a long time. What did change because of the war was that it multiplied the demand by a factor of 300. My phone started ringing and it hasn't stopped."

With 30 dealers already signed on and 20 left to bring aboard before 1993, MacNab says AM General has had no problem finding dealers willing to provide lot space for the Hummer.

"It's very American," MacNab says. "It was designed here, manufactured here by United Autoworkers, and it's recognized as the finest of its kind on the face of the earth. People just love that."

MacNab says instead of offering a contract for Hummer sales to one car company, AM General is picking its dealers one by one to ensure proper representation. The company plans to set up one dealership in every major market, with more in some larger cities. That means at least one lucky Indianapolis car dealer will enjoy the fruits of Hummer mania among Hoosiers.

Prospective dealers must fill out an extensive application before "signing on." AM General president Jim Armour is looking for three qualities in a Hummer dealer. First, the business must be large enough to handle large vehicle sales to industry. In addition, the dealer must have a reputation for customer service. Last and most important, the dealer must demonstrate the right "passion" for the Hummer.

"We at AM General feel very close to our product," MacNab says. "It's not just another off-road truck. In traveling across the country to car shows we've encountered people who really get weird about this vehicle. We want a dealer with that kind of passion who will pass it on to the customer."

Once the dealerships open, AM General will no longer sell Hummers directly. This year, as an introductory promotion, the company offered limited-edition Hummers to consumers. Four models were available: a two-door or four-door hardtop, a four-door canvas top and a four-door hard-cover truck. Prices ranged from $40,800 for a bare-bones, soft-cover Hummer to $54,700 for a four-door hard-covered vehicle with all the extras. MacNab says the 1993 models will cost more.

"People have to understand, before we were trying to entice the Army into taking a chance on us," MacNab says. "Now we'll be responding to market demand."

In 1993 a fifth model will be added: a two-door hardtop without a tailgate, allowing conversion to an ambulance or industrial-service vehicle.

MacNab says he expects the Hummer to sell best to government agencies, such as park, forestry and recreation departments, and to other large fleet and industry users. Individuals likely to snatch up Hummers include farmers, ranchers and other off-road enthusiasts.

"We've found lots of niches where the Hummer appeals," MacNab says. "Forest firefighters, law enforcement, land owners, mining, hunters, the list goes on. I just know someone's going to want to hook on a snow shovel. I've even heard that some veterinarians will like it because they can visit injured animals out in the field."

MacNab says the many varied requests for the Hummer make marketing the vehicle a daunting task. This was one reason AM General transferred responsibility for selling the Hummer to dealers, whom AM General hopes will help find Hummer-enthusiasts in their respective markets.

The civilian Hummer comes with the same off-road capability as its military counterpart. With 16 inches of underbed clearance and a 7-foot-wide berth for added stability, the Hummer can ford water 2 1/2 feet deep, climb 60-degree hills and be dropped from an airplane.

AM General also added a few features to make for a more pleasant ride. Along with a three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, new Hummers feature a padded interior, high-back bucket seats and an AM/FM stereo system with cassette. The vehicles also will have better locks, stronger doors and exterior lighting that complies with federal safety standards. Customers can even opt for a special feature called Central Tire Inflation, which allows the driver to change tire pressure while on the move to adjust to varying terrain.

MacNab, along with a team of AM General representatives and other agencies, spent this year filming the Hummer in action. Camera crews shot the vehicle in every corner of the country, from the dense swamps of the Florida Everglades to the snow-covered mountains of Aspen, Colo. Dealers will use the resulting footage to market the Hummer to prospective buyers. It's all part of AM General's campaign to ensure the Hummer is as successful on American soil as it was in the Saudi desert.

Such promotion may not be necessary. Few marketing schemes could match the exposure thrown at the Hummer during Operation Desert Storm, when the networks found a hero in the squatty, rough-tough vehicle that helped U.S. troops drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The Hummer, already in regular use by the Army since 1985, made headlines with its unparalleled off-road feats and dependability under adverse weather conditions. The Hummer was everywhere, spiriting injured soldiers out of bunkers under enemy fire, transporting bottled water to thirsty troops, even serving as a table for President Bush's Thanksgiving dinner.

"I had friends calling me and saying, 'Hey MacNab, how did you manage to get a Hummer into the background of every picture that came back from Desert Storm?'" recalls MacNab. "It's a very versatile vehicle."

Arnold Schwarzenegger's high-profile purchase made the Hummer an even bigger star. Phone requests for Hummers at the AM General plant sky-rocketed, and seemed to come from everywhere.

"I had one well-to-do gentleman who said he was willing to do anything to get his hands on a Hummer," MacNab says. "We told him we sold Hummers only to the U.S. government and to friendly foreign nations. He said well, he'd become his own nation if that's what it took. Now he doesn't have to do that."

A good number of celebrities have joined Schwarzenegger in signing up for a Hummer, including singer and avid hunter Ted Nugent, novelist Tom Clancy and Kitty Litter founder Ed Lowe.

AM General, which employs 946 workers at its factory in Mishawaka, sends 57 Hummers off its assembly lines each day. Of those, 40 go to the U.S. government, the rest to foreign nations. AM General should have no problem adding the civilian market to its production workload; its factory can produce as many as 100 Hummers per day.

In addition to the Mishawaka plant, Am General recently built a new 70,000-square-foot building for extra trim work, and a new obstacle course was constructed to allow test drives by interested customers.

Despite cuts in defense spending, MacNab doesn't foresee private Hummer sales replacing military sales, at least in the short run. AM General's latest military contract, including options, extends through the end of 1994.

"The Hummer is in no way rendered obsolete in the New World Order," MacNab says. "It's a very meat-and-potatoes piece of machinery."

CHEVROLET AND GMC TRUCKS

For new General Motors trucks made in Fort Wayne, beauty is more than skin-deep.

This year, refinement is the word at Fort Wayne Assembly, now in its fifth year of producing Chevrolet and GMC trucks. The manufacturer added an advanced, electronically controlled transmission to its lighter vehicles and an array of other enhancements hoping to make 1993 models equally appealing on the outside and inside.

The trucks produced at Fort Wayne Assembly already have demonstrated mass appeal. Chevrolet's C/K Pickup lineup, which is assembled in Indiana and at a number of other plants, has been General Motors' best-selling vehicle for several years. Among the models assembled in Fort Wayne are the Regular Cab pickups, with short and long boxes, and Sportsides, with regular and extended cabs. GMC offers similar models that come off the same lines, with names such as Sierra and Sportsider.

Chevy and GMC truck model enhancements for 1993 include reclining driver seats, with Scotchguard water protection. Both brands also will introduce Solar-Ray, a brand of window glass that reflects disturbing light rays, keeping the truck's inside cooler on hot days and reducing the damage done to the interior by ultraviolet light.

Standard in these trucks are rear-wheel anti-lock brakes, extensive corrosion protection, an all-welded frame and cargo box, clear coat paint finish, and an independent front suspension with an anti-roll bar. Four-wheel drive models feature GMC's patented shift-on-the-fly capability.

GM also continues to offer customers more engine choices than any other full-size engine manufacturer: seven different engines run the GMC and Chevrolet fleets, including gas, diesel and natural gas engines that range in size from 4.3 to 7.4 liters.

Fort Wayne Assembly's factory, built specifically to manufacture trucks, has kept quite busy, because pickups continue to increase in popularity. In fact, the vast majority of C/K Pickup buyers, 76 percent, now buy the vehicles for personal use, according to Chevrolet. The resulting demand had Fort Wayne's 2,600 employees producing 170,500 trucks last year, about 80 percent of them Chevrolets and the rest GMCs.

SUBARU LEGACY

The Legacy was hailed by Subaru as the mid-sized all-wheel drive sedan for the '90s when it was introduced nearly three years ago. A 1985 poll by the company had served as the framework for its design. Last year the Subaru received a new grille, different headlamps and plush velour upholstery, along with a new selection of exterior colors.

For 1993, the Legacy focuses on safety. Subaru switched the Legacy to new anti-lock brakes, modeled after the Bosch-licensed Nippon system. Legacys have featured ABS before, but the new system is more effective and safe for the driver. In addition, driverside airbags, once a rare option on any vehicle, become standard in all Legacys.

For more convenience, all Legacys will now feature a split-through back seat that offers access to the trunk. Both sides of the back seat fold down, with a slanted split between them. Once only an option on upper-end Legacys, the feature allows owners a choice between a small or large opening to the trunk.

"A lot of it has to do with our desire for utility," says Alex Fedorak, spokesman for Subaru of America. "This way you can still have room for a larger passenger in the back seat but still reach the trunk."

Leather upholstery also will change from gray to beige, and now is available not only in the LS luxury sedan, but in the Legacy LS Wagon as well. Legacy also will increase its color selection to 11, adding Jasper Green, a dark metallic shade of green.

Legacy offers three different models. Its upper-end vehicle, the Legacy LSi luxury sedan, in addition to all that the other models offer, includes electric windows, power "moon roof" and cruise control. The Legacy LS and LS Wagon come with premium AM/FM cassette stereo with equalizer and CD player. The Legacy Sports Sedan flaunts 160 turbo-charged horsepower, a sport-tuned suspension, full-time All-Wheel Drive and a rear spoiler for added stability. Lastly, the Legacy L Sedan and Wagon, like all non-sport models, contain 130 horse-power, 2.2-liter, 16-valve engines. Standard equipment includes tilt steering wheel with memory, dual electric side mirrors and vented wheel covers.

Most Legacys are made in Lafayette at Subaru-Isuzu Automotive, the first joint venture between two Japanese auto manufacturing companies, which began producing Subaru Legacys, Isuzu Pickups and Isuzu Rodeos in 1989.

The venture's two partners, Fuji Heavy Industries Limited and Isuzu Motors Limited, use the same stamping and painting equipment. Separate lines are used for body assembly and trim. The 2.5 million-square-foot plant houses every phase of production.

ISUZU PICKUP

Isuzu is making several style changes to its truck line inside and out for 1993, to better attract the increasingly design-conscious truck buyer. The new models are due out in the first part of 1993.

This year, four-wheel-drive models received a tachometer and other gauges as standard equipment, while the Spacecab added a jump seat and a retractable cargo cover to its standard equipment.

Exterior changes were even more extensive. Isuzu added a "Bright" option, which adds brighter front and rear combination lamp rims, door and tailgate handles, front bumper, rear step bumper and radiator grille to a truck's exterior. A high-mounted stop lamp was added, as well as a new grille, front and lower bumper.

Isuzu offers four different pickup trucks. The first is the Standard Bed 4X4, available with a 2.6-liter four-cylinder or 3.1-liter V6 engine. The second, called the Isuzu Spacecab, is available with a 2.6-liter engine, and adds passenger capacity or storage space with an additional compartment between the front seat and the truck bed. The two-wheel-drive Standard Bed Pickup, Isuzu's entry-level truck, comes with 2.3- or 2.6-liter engines. Finally, the 1-Ton Long Bed, also available with 2.3- or 2.6-liter engines, provides a 2,445-pound payload capacity and 2,000-pound towing capacity.

Extras include air conditioning, reclining bucket seats, fold-away back seats in the Spacecab, and a tinted windshield. All trucks have 5-speed manual transmissions and Rear-Wheel ABS, but two-wheel-drive Standards and Spacecabs are also available in automatic.

ISUZU RODEO

The Isuzu Rodeo, introduced in 1991 to compete with Chevrolet Blazer and Ford Bronco, continued its truck-in-the-body-of-a-luxury-car image this year with more than 60 feature refinements.

Ranked among the top 10 import new sport utility cars by Motor Trend magazine, Rodeo is recognized for its impressive passenger room and cargo space and affordability. Marketed for its go-anywhere, all-season, multipurpose capability and consumer-minded aesthetic design, the Rodeo's three trim models, made only in Lafayette, allow Rodeo buyers varying degrees of comfort, style and off-road ruggedness.

The Rodeo's 109-inch wheelbase and ladder-design truck frame set the foundation for a large amount of passenger room. Drivers and shotgunners get 36 inches of leg room, while the wide rear seat holds three comfortably. Rear storage offers 35 cubic feet of storage with a full load of passengers, and nearly 75 feet with the seat folded flat.

The S model uses a 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, and is rated at 120 horse-power, putting it in line with most station wagon competitors. With a bench front seat installed, the S Rodeo seats six passengers generously. A 3.1-liter V-6 engine is also available for more pulling power, and also adds variable-assist power steering, which gives the driver more steering power at lower speeds.

The Rodeo XS has the V6 as its standard engine with available 4X4 capability, as well as inclement-weather tires, aluminum wheels, fender flares, mud flaps and a gate-mounted spare tire. An enhanced sound system, reclining front bucket seats, and contemporary interior styling make the ride more pleasant, while air conditioning and power electronics are available options.

The Rodeo LS provides buyers with performance and comfort rivaling some automotive products costing thousands more, including tilt steering wheel, oversized front mirrors and a four-speaker logic stereo with available CD system.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:latest automobiles
Author:Murphy, Scott
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:2635
Previous Article:A recovery of fits and starts.
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