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Two-wheel-drive Cherokee. American Motors takes a cue from GM and Ford

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American Motors, which claims to be the ``home of 4-wheel-drive for '85,'' is offering a 2-wheel-drive Cherokee for those drivers who may have no real need for all-wheel traction. The 2-WD Cherokee obviously is not aimed at the snow country of the North, but rather at the Sunbelt states from Florida to Texas and points west.

AMC took a look at what Ford and General Motors are doing with the 2-WD versions of their utility vehicles -- the Ford Bronco and Chevrolet Blazer -- says John C. Bird Jr., head of AMC's New England office for the past two years and now reassigned to Chicago, and that was all the incentive the company required.

In 1981 fewer than 23,000 full-size, 2-WD sport-utility wagons were sold in the United States. But with the arrival of the downsized wagon a year later, sales shot up. In 1984, 2-WD compact sport-utility wagons took 40 percent of some 105,000 total sport-utility sales.

With a dearth of new products over the next couple of years, AMC is scouting for new opportunities in the auto market at a time when its subcompact Alliance and Encore are chugging through deep sand in the marketplace. The problem is the intensifying competition.

The financially ailing automaker, which lost $29 million in the first quarter of 1985 after a modest profit in 1984, is 46.4 percent owned by Renault of France. Renault has its own problems at home, and last year chalked up a $1.4 billion loss that forced a top-level shakeup at the government-owned car manufacturer.

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