10 November 2003

Vauxhall’s Lightning two-seater sports car came a step closer to production reality last week when parent company General Motors signed off the Kappa platform upon which the roadster would be based.

The approval gives the go-ahead to the Kappa-based Pontiac Solstice sports car (pictured right) that was unveiled at the Detroit show in January this year, though as yet, no other versions.

Europe’s VX Lightning – sold as both Vauxhall and Opel – remains under consideration, as does a Saturn version for the US market. The possibility of a Saab version, say insiders, appears to have receded.

The go-ahead for the Lightning has been complicated by new European pedestrian-impact rules, the first of which come into force in October/November 2005. It means that 2006 model-year cars would have to comply, and that the Lightning would need to be in production by late summer 2005 to meet the deadline.

Sources close to the project reckon this is achievable, but only if it is fast-tracked. Alternatively, if the Lightning has to be re-engineered, it would not be launched before 2006. General Motors is still debating a course of action which, at worst, could see the Lightning project abandoned altogether, although insiders remain optimistic.

If, however, the European part of the programme dies, it would mean that Vauxhall and Opel would have no replacement for the Lotus Elise-based VX220/Speedster, which in Britain at least, has been performing well.

Pitched at lower prices than the VX220, the VX Lightning uses a front-engine, rear-drive format putting it head to head with the bestselling Mazda MX-5 and MG TF.

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