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GM takes a stake in creating supercar

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General Motors plans to take an active role in development of a new $250,000 U.S.-built supercar to rival such brands as the Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin.

The vehicle under development is now known as the Cunningham C7, a prototype of which was shown at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The car was designed by the Cunningham Motor Co.

GM and Cunningham announced last month that GM has acquired a minority ownership interest in Cunningham to help the company "develop a successful business plan to make the dream of a virtual car company a reality," said John Devine, GM's vice chairman and chief financial officer.

Cunningham Motor was created in January 2000 by Briggs Cunningham III and former Chrysler Corp. executive Robert A. Lutz, who is now vice chairman for product development at GM.

The Cunningham C7, described as a "world-class touring car," as currently configured is a 2-plus-2 coupe with a 600-horsepower, 6.8-liter V-12 engine, which is supposed to be available sometime in 2004. It will come with either a manual or automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, and most of it is to be built by subcontractors. Now that GM has a stake in the company, GM may help build the cars or at least help set up and farm out parts of the production.

Lutz will continue in his role as a part owner and board member with Cunningham Motor but will not actively participate in transactions between the two companies, GM said in a news release announcing the alliance.

GM almost certainly got involved with this project for two reasons: first, because Lutz is involved and sold GM on the idea, and second, because GM wants a supercar brand, too. Ford owns Aston Martin, BMW owns Rolls Royce (or will soon), and Volkswagen has rights to Bentley, so GM doesn't want to be left out.

"Cunningham Motor Co. is pleased and gratified to have GM as an investor in the company's efforts to develop the first true American grand touring car since Briggs Swift Cunningham last did so in 1953," said Jack McCormack, Cunningham's president and chief executive officer.

Cunningham's business plan calls for outside suppliers to be responsible for the design, engineering and production of its vehicles. Roush Industries of Livonia, Mich., has been selected to develop and integrate the C7.

Cunningham intends to build and sell about 600 C7 cars each year.

Cunningham Motor was an automotive icon in the 1950s, known for its sports racers, and this is something of a revival of the brand and concept.

E-MAIL: chambers@express-news.net