GM's new concept car, the Chevy Borrego
General Motors is using the Los Angeles Motor Show as the launch platform for its new Vibe, a sporty SUV that will replace the Toyota Corolla-based Prizm on the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. assembly lines in Fremont, California, next year.

GM also unveiled a new concept car, the Chevy Borrego, based on a Subaru four wheel drive platform.

The 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol-powered Vibe seats up to five passengers and rivals established small SUVs such as Toyota's RAV4, Subaru's Outback and Honda's CRV.

Standard equipment includes a CD player, a unique 110V AC dashboard outlet to power household appliances, remote control central locking, front and side airbags and the OnStar navigation and communications system.

Mimicking an idea first introduced by Mazda and other car makers, the Vibe has a front passenger seatback that folds flat on to the seat base and this, combined with a fold-flat rear seat, allows long objects like surfboards to be carried. There's also a standard roof rack.

GM has not yet announced plans to sell the Vibe outside North America. It goes on sale next year as a 2003 model and will be targeted at competitors such as the Outback, Ford Focus and Honda Civic, models that are often bought by young, first-time new car owners.

Foreign brands have dominated this sector in recent years and GM is hoping the Vibe will bring some of them back into its fold.

Younger buyers are also the target of the Chevy Borrego, on display at Los Angeles as a 'concept car'. GM holds 20 percent of Fuji Heavy Industries, maker of Subarus, which has donated the Borrego's four-wheel drive platform.

The Pontiac Vibe

Looking something like a cross between a low-slung sports coupe, a high-riding mini-SUV and a small pickup truck, the Borrego has what the engineers call a 'reconfigurable mid-gate' at the rear of the passenger compartment.

To convert the Borrego from a two-seater to a four-seater, the rear window retracts, the mid-gate slides back and a 'full roof', which normally resides under the pickup truck load floor, is snapped into place. Up goes the rear window again and self-inflating seals ensure the expanded passenger cabin stays waterproof.

Though clever, the reconfigurable mid-gate is not entirely an original GM idea; Skoda displayed a Favorit-based 'lifestyle pickup' concept vehicle featuring a similar system at international motor shows several years ago.

The Borrego is powered by a Subaru-built horizontally-opposed 'flat-four' engine. GM says, if the Vibe goes into production, it will "be aimed squarely at a 20-something consumer who wants a uniquely functional vehicle… a first car for active people or a trade-up for those who didn't find enough excitement in an import coupe or SUV".