General Motors Corp. launched the equivalent of a $50-million revival meeting here this week, the estimated price of its humongous, 164,456-square-foot, two-story exhibit at the 2000 North American International Auto Show.

Called "The GM Experience," the display easily rivals the best and biggest exhibits at premier auto shows in Europe and Japan; and it ranks as the largest ever presented in North America.

The total cost of the exhibit, including the automaker's staffing of its product pavilions and hosting of related media events, could exceed $100 million when all of the numbers are in, according to GM and show officials.

Clearly, GM is trying to make a statement.

The question is whether the buying public will get the message, or simply be mesmerized by the glitter.

For years, GM, the world's biggest car company, has been tainted by the image of a stumbling giant.

The company substantially improved the quality and presentation of its products, while presiding over a continuously declining market share. In 1999, it launched a bold plan to open factory-run auto stores nationwide, only to be forced to retreat by angry GM dealers who said the GM-owned dealerships would put them out of business.

Even more disturbing to GM executives, the company spent hundreds of millions of dollars and half of the 1990s trying to establish GM as a brand, in much the same way that Toyota Motor Corp. has made "Toyota" a valued product name. But GM executives say their efforts have fallen short, largely because of the company's long history of emphasizing divisional brands, such as Buick, over a corporate GM identity.

This morning the company announced plans to buy the remaining 50 percent of Swedish luxury automaker Saab Automobile AB. Terms of the deal were not announced. GM has owned 50 percent of Saab since 1990.

The show here is GM's expensive signal that the company is putting an end to all of that, and is embarking on an "aggressive" new plan to build GM as a brand in itself, said Ronald Zarrella, GM executive vice president and president of GM North America.

The company wants to achieve that goal the old-fashioned way -- with product.

To that end, GM on Sunday presented a dazzling group of concept vehicles, several of which are headed for production, probably in 2002.

Four of those models were hybrid, or "crossover" vehicles, meaning that they share characteristics with sedans, sports cars, minivans, pickups and sport-utility vehicles. And then there was Hummer H2, a more graceful, but unmistakably muscle-bound version of the giant Hummer sport-utility vehicle designed by AM General of . . . Indiana.

GM, which owns the rights to the Hummer name, plans to roll out the H2 in 2002. AM General will handle vehicle assembly.

All Under One Ceiling

A key purpose of the GM exhibit is to show the public that the Detroit company is a global automaker. Accordingly, all vehicles under GM's corporate banner are on display in one area of the cavernous Cobo Hall. That is different from the days when Buick and Chevrolet exhibits were set up as if they were the products of competing companies. GM's divisional brands include Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn in North America; and Holden, Opel, Saab and Vauxhall in Europe.

GM also has holdings in Isuzu and Suzuki of Japan, whose displays are adjacent to the formal GM exhibit.


The GM Concepts

Here are thumbnail looks at the "concept cars" General Motors is previewing at this week's show.

*Buick La Crosse:_A luxury sedan that also doubles as a kind of pickup truck, or what, in this case, GM design chief Wayne K. Cherry calls a "carrier of oversized cargo."

Voice-activation technology is used to convert the La Crosse from car to pickup, as well as control other functions. The prototype is equipped with a 4.2-liter, 32-valve V8.

* The Chevrolet SSR:_A roadster that doubles as a pickup truck. The exterior look is retro_late 1930s/early 1940s. It is built on a modified Chevrolet S-10 platform and is powered by 6-liter, V8 engine. GM officials say that this one is headed for production, though there is some speculation that the engine might be downsized.

* The GMC Terradyne sport-utility:_Industrial strength styling_sharp angles, squared rear wells, riveted fender flares_in a combination pickup truck , sedan/wagon, and sport-utility vehicle. It seats five people and comes equipped with a 6.6-liter V8 and automatic four-wheel drive. Production possible

* The Opel CVC, produced by Adam Opel AG, one of GM's European subsidiaries: A compact, full-time, four-wheel-drive minivan/sport-utility vehicle expressly designed for winter driving. Production for U.S. sales is likely. A version of the Opel CVC, the Zafira minivan, already is running in Europe.