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GM's success dependent on California market

As the nation's No. 1 auto market, California has long been key to General Motors' business plan, but the state's environmentally conscious consumers might be even more important to GM's post-bankruptcy fortunes.

On Wednesday, the automaker launched a national TV advertising campaign touting its future as a "leaner, greener, faster, smarter" company. Given California's status as the nation's top green car market, GM hopes to reach the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of motorists statewide.

"California is a lot more environmentally conscious and tends to buy more hybrids than other (states)," said Jesse Toprak, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds.com, a Santa Monica-based auto information site.

"That will be very important for GM as it tries to regain market share not just from Toyota and Honda, but Ford is also emerging as a very viable competitor."

And the state could be just as important to Chrysler, which is basing much of its post-bankruptcy strategy on selling small, fuel-efficient cars in conjunction with Italian automaker Fiat.

GM already has shed brands that hamper its overall fuel-mileage ratings – Hummer in particular – and will focus on a core group of Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Three of those brands have gas-electric hybrids in their 2009 lineups – Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Silverado, Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon.

The highlight of the green strategy is the upcoming Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric designed to travel 40 miles on a single charge, before a three-cylinder gas engine takes over to recharge a lithium-ion battery pack. The car hits the market for the 2010 model year.

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