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Voters to choose new GM minicar

Korean-designed Chevrolet Trax, two other concepts will be choices in online vote after unveiling April 4 as company eyes growing segment.

chevy_trax.01.jpg

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- General Motors is set to unveil three new minicar concepts and give potential customers a chance to vote on the best one.

The minicars will be smaller than GM's current subcompact offering, the Chevrolet Aveo, which is built in South Korea by its GM Daewoo unit.

The new minicars were designed at GM's Design Studio in Incheon, South Korea. While a company is not committed to production when it releases a concept car, the growing popularity of the segment, both in the United States and Asia, make it more likely one of the versions will make it into production. The three cars will be unveiled Wednesday during the press preview days at the New York Auto Show.

GM released a photo and the name of one of the offerings, the Trax, early Thursday. It will have a 1-liter gasoline engine and despite its small size will have four doors.

Once the three cars are unveiled next week, GM will have a vote between the models at www.vote4chevrolet.com.

"The results will help Chevy determine U.S. market interest in the minicar segment, and which design resonates best with potential buyers," said the company's statement.

The minicar segment saw a number of new entries into the U.S. market in 2006 by Japanese automakers as well as strong growth in sales in the face of record gasoline prices. But the low prices for the entry-level vehicle make it a difficult segment for the automakers to make money in, despite rising demand.

Toyota Motor brought the Yaris that already was established in other countries, including Japan, while Honda Motor brought the Fit and Nissan the Versa.

Before those offerings from the Japanese brands, the low-price minicar segment, also known as "B segment" cars, had been dominated by the Korean brands Hyundai and Kia, which are both controlled by Hyundai Motor, as well as GM Daewoo, before the latest push by the Japanese automakers in the sector.

Figures from sales tracker Autodata estimate that the segment's U.S. sales rose 59 percent in 2006 to 314,225, from just under 200,000 in 2005, if the Nissan Versa is counted as part of the segment.

If the new GM minicar is successful, it could also help sales for the company in Asia, which is its fastest growing and most profitable market. The Aveo is sold not only in the United States but also in South Korea and China, among other markets.

GM is the only U.S.-based manufacturer to have an entry in the B segment market here, although DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group has signed an agreement with Chinese automaker Chery to build a minicar in China for sale here. DaimlerChrysler also plans to bring its European two-seater smart car offering to the U.S. in 2008.

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