FRANKFURT - An Opel prototype at the Frankfurt auto show in September will use a lightweight all-aluminum platform that will be the basis of almost all General Motors' European models by 2005.
The Astra-sized concept car will demonstrate how GM expects to meet Europe's future emission and fuel consumption standards.
The vehicle is being developed with Norsk Hydro, the Norwegian supplier of aluminum and magnesium casting alloys. It will boast significant weight reductions and will be extremely aerodynamic, said Opel sources.
They said that by mid-decade the prototype's front-wheel-drive platform will be used as the technical base for the majority of GM's European passenger cars.
GM sources say the aluminum frame could be adapted to meet the size requirements of each model.
The prototype will also be used by GM to acquaint customers with new aerodynamic styling concepts that also reflect the design limitations of aluminum body panels.
GM insiders say the space-frame construction is similar to Audi's A8, which uses aluminum alloy castings, extrusions and body panels. Audi claims the A8 is 40 percent lighter than competitive steel-frame models.
Carmakers' pledge to cut CO2 levels to 140g/km by 2008 is influencing car development. DaimlerChrysler sources say the next Mercedes-Benz S-class, due in 2005, will have a full aluminum alloy chassis and body.
But D/C insiders admit the company lacks experience with aluminum-car production processes.
'Volkswagen has an advantage,' said one senior executive at a rival German carmaker. 'They have been handling alloy in production and service since 1994 with the A8. This was an ideal learning opportunity because the car is produced in relatively small numbers.'
In autumn, Audi will begin producing the higher-volume Al2 small car with an aluminum space frame, subframes and stress-bearing panels.
In addition, the VW Lupo 'three-liter' version due to go on sale in the autumn uses aluminum and magnesium components.