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Price-wary buyer wins nod from GM

To make its cars more palatable to dollar-pinched buyers these days, GM is introducing lower-priced models to its lineup. In January it unveiled stripped J-car subcompact sedans and wagons and now is adding coupes.

At hundreds of dollars less than the earlier base-price Cavalier, plus a $355 trucking fee from the factory to the showroom, the Chevrolet Cavalier Cadet coupe, due in the window in April, will be at the bottom rung of all J-car models - a $738 price cut from the coupe's base price of $7,016. Pontiac also will field a low-line version of the subcompact J-car coupe, the J2000 S.

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A stripped-down X-car Citation also is on the lot.

Obviously, there is far less standard equipment on the cars - and this may not please motorists who may want and can pay for a higher level of equipment than the new stripped-down models provide.

Lost in the J-car price cut are such things as a rear defogger, radio, and some trim items. Color choices, both inside and out, are limited. But it's one way to get a new US-built car at a ''low'' price - by today's standards, at least.

Indeed, the stripped-down Cavalier stacks up quite well.

I've just driven a bare-bones 4-door Cavalier Cadet, equipped with a 1.8 -liter, 4-cylinder engine, some 2,000 miles. Even though the inside of this particular car seemed drab because of its charcoal decor, the outside was a bright red.

The car performed impeccably on the trip, was comfortable, and ran all day at a sustained legal highway speed without a twitch.

Average mileage, which included mostly Interstate travel, was 32.35 mpg.

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I slipped from the base-line Cadet which, incidentally, included only two options in the sticker price of some $6,800--tinted glass and an AM/FM radio--into a 4-door, fully equipped, midsize Chevrolet Celebrity with just about everything a motorist might want in a car. However, the price-shock sticker read just below $12,000--or a hefty $5,000 more than the base-level Cadet.

The sharply higher priced Celebrity won't go anywhere the Cadet won't go. It will, of course, provide a nicer visual environment for the occupants--and it's a larger car.

Price sensitivity is a cruel reality in the marketplace today.

The auto manufacturers ask: After the rebates, what? Clearly, American car buyers have got used to the rebate diet. Thus, the makers recognize a need to make their cars more acceptable to price-conscious, inflation-weary consumers.

To make way for the lower priced models, Chevrolet will drop its top-line CL series of Cavalier J-cars for '83, reports Ward's Auto World, offering it instead as a packaged option in the J-car.

''This eliminates four high-price Cavalier models and follows pricing actions recently taken to insert price-leader 4-door sedan and station wagon Cadet models at the bottom of the Cavalier line,'' writes Harry A. Stark in the magazine.