Exhaust Note #26: Don’t Just Cruze Along, GM; You’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

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Last week, GM loudly trumpeted the pending arrival of the Chevrolet Cruze compact car, to be officially unveiled at next month’s Mondial de l’Automobile (that’s Paris Motor Show to us ‘Murricans). First, they unveiled photos of the car and then revealed the real thing at the Lordstown, OH plant where the car will be built for American consumers.

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This is a US-market Chevrolet compact? Yes, and you’ll see it in Paris next month. Sacre bleu!

As earlier spy photos had suggested, the Cruze, which in the US will effectively be the next generation Cobalt, is a very handsome compact sedan. It’s as appealing as the Cobalt is appliance-like. There’s some real design going on here with a sleek profile and great surface tension and great interaction between the exterior’s various design elements. GM also promises a very intriguing efficient powertrain choice in the form of a tiny 1.4L direct injection turbo engine. This engine is rumored to produce at least 140HP (on par with much larger engines) while achieving 45 miles per gallon. It will also be among the first compacts available with a 6-speed automatic.


In other words, this isn’t your bottom feeding Cobalt or Cavalier that’s meant for undiscerning bargain hunters. Rather, this car appears to be a slick, high-tech, and genuinely appealing car that appears to have enough draws to conquest buyers away from the Asian leaders of the segment.
To understand just what a break from tradition Cruze represents, keep in mind that GM (and Ford and Chrysler) have long treated its small cars with disdain. GM offered small cars in part because CAFE rules required them to offer fuel-efficient vehicles to offset the larger, thirstier, and more popular vehicles that also generated a lot more profit. As such, GM produced a raft of half-hearted (dare we say dismal?) small cars over the last few decades. In today’s rapidly changed environment, more and more people want small fuel-efficient vehicles, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to accept cheap and unrefined econoboxes. The age of the premium small car may indeed be upon us.
Unfortunately for GM, Cruze is still some ways away. Though we now know what it looks like, we won’t get it until the 2011 model year. With fuel prices being the way they are and style- and tech-savvy Generation Y producing more and more first-time buyers daily, GM needs this car right now.

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Cruze looks to be a winner; can it contribute significantly towards fixing what ills GM?

GM’s financial situation these days is extraordinarily grim. This is despite the fact that its latest generation of products are world beaters that are being tremendously well received by the press and most importantly by consumers. Sadly, the product renaissance spearheaded by Bob Lutz may have come too late. There’s a possibility that no amount of great product will be able to save the company; bankruptcy or a government bailout might be the only ways out. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
From a product perspective, GM is most certainly on the right track. GM needs to continue the level of innovation and progress seen in the Cruze throughout the company’s vast product portfolio. With as many vehicles and brands as GM has, that’s certainly easier said than done. But with competition like Toyota (whose global product lineup is about as vast as GM’s) and exponentially growing upstarts like Hyundai around, a portfolio-wide product development revolution is really just the start of GM’s long-term survival strategy.
Cruze is a very promising step in the right direction for General Motors. Let’s hope it’s not too little, too late.

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