Category Archive:

General Motors’ Failures – Kudos for Trying

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General Motors Company (formerly “Corporation”) today is a shadow of its former self.  It sells fewer models through fewer brands since its bankruptcy in 2009.  It is reconstructing itself and building itself into a competitive and profitable car company.  That transformation appears to be going very well.

Over the years, however, General Motors has often tried to be a trailblazer (no pun intended) in new vehicle design and development.  Many of these vehicles failed, but we believe GM deserves a tremendous amount of credit for trying where other companies did not have the creative thought or resources to make a “segment breaking” product.  Here are some examples…


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2013 Nissan Altima Mid-Size Game Changer

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Going on sale in July 2012,  the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market.  Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.

It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class.  The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.

First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling.  The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous.  Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.

Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling.  That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car.  Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold.  The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way.  Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall.  The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest.  Nissan calls it “Altimaness”. 


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Chevrolet Traverse – 2013 What Were They Thinking?

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We have always liked the General Motors Lambda Platform crossover SUVs (XSUVs).  The Buick Enclave is the most elegant and chrome laden.  The GMC Acadia picks up sheetmetal from the now-dead Saturn Outlook for 2013.  That’s OK.  The Outlook wasn’t bad looking and GM likely saved bundles by using /modifying tooling for the “fresh” Acadia.  The Chevrolet Traverse was the last Lambda launched and was arguably the better looking of the three “mainstream” Lambdas – Traverse-Acadia-Outlook.  It carried the bold crossbar in its grille that has come to clearly identify a Chevrolet when seen in the rearview mirror.

Chevrolet Traverse Front End Goes Plain Jane

Now they’ve gone and ruined it.  For the 2013 mild freshening, Chevrolet has abandoned its bold and distinctive front end appearance for a milquetoast “car” front end look for its crossover.  This fits into the VehicleVoice category of “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?”


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AutoPacific’s 2011 Plug-In Car Supertest

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Without question, one of the most buzzworthy topics surrounding automobiles this year has been plug-in cars.  Issues like fuel price instability, dependence on foreign oil (or oil of any sort!), and the environment have stirred the imaginations of many people.  Could we really rid ourselves of oil-powered transportation?  Could America really free itself of its addiction?  At the very end of last year, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf went on sale (retailing at $41,000 and $32,780, respectively, minus a $7,500 Federal tax credit), finally bringing plug-in transportation to the masses and, plug-in fans hope, heralding a new era in automotive history.


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2012 Chevrolet Sonic: Another Small Car Done Right

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As I drove the new Sonic, Chevrolet’s replacement for the unloved Aveo, I realized something.  There really are no bad small cars in the marketplace anymore.  The Sonic accelerated with authority.  It was quiet.  It was nimble.  It rode nicely.  It had plenty of creature comforts.  It was even nice to look at.  Truly, being behind the wheel of the Sonic was an entirely agreeable place to be.


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Volt Wins Among Today’s Hybrids and EVs

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Two new, completely different high efficiency cars entered the American car market earlier this year – the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt – and AutoPacific set out to find out how different the owners of those cars were from owners of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.  We also are looking at how satisfied buyers are with the cars and what they would like changed.

Think of these four cars as being purpose-built for their technology.  They did not simply adapt their new powertrain technology to an existing vehicle such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid or the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.  The Chevrolet Volt is an Extended Range Electric Vehicle.  The Nissan Leaf is a pure Battery Electric Vehicle.  And the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are pure Hybrids.

Based on AutoPacific’s annual New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey which has a total of almost 73,000 new car and light truck owner responses to a comprehensive questionnaire about the car buying and ownership experience, the comparison finds some interesting and insightful results.

Leaf and Volt Owners are Dramatically Different from Prius and Insight Owners: Volt owners paid $43,000 for their new car.  Leaf owners paid $34,500.  Prius and Insight owners paid $25,000 and $21,000 respectively.  Given the price points, Volt and Leaf owners are the most affluent with incomes of $150,000.  Prius owners have an income of $100,000 and Insight owners have an income of $80,000.

Leaf and Volt owners are much more likely to be male and much more into the technology of their new car.  They are very similar to early buyers of hybrids who were enamored with the new innovative technology of their vehicle.  The Leaf and Insight owners are the youngest of the group at 53 and 54 years of age respectively.  Owners of the much more expensive Volt are 58 as are owners of the Prius.

Leaf owners have the highest level of education.  About 90% have a college education.  About 70% of Volt, Insight and Prius owners have a college education.  Leaf owners are much more likely to be retired (almost 50%).  Only 17% of Insight owners are retired.  About a third of Leaf owners are in a technical profession as are 20% of Volt owners.

Leaf owners are most likely (24%) to have owned a hybrid before.  Prius owners are almost as likely to have owned a hybrid (23%) as Leaf owners.  Volt (8%) and Insight (8%) owners are newcomers to the world of alternative fuel vehicles.  Volt owners are most likely to have previously driven a compact car (18%) or mid-size car (14%), Insight owners were most likely to have previously driven a compact car (23%) or a mid-size car (23%).

Satisfaction – Volt Wins: About 86% of Volt owners are very satisfied with their vehicles compared with 80% of Leaf owners, 70% of Prius owners and 54% of Insight owners.  Among these four cars, Volt owners are most satisfied by a substantial margin.  Leaf and Prius owners are about equally satisfied.  Insight owners are the least satisfied among the four cars.  Out of 48 satisfaction categories in the research,  Volt owners are the most satisfied in 38 of the categories… an overwhelming win.


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2011 Chevrolet Volt: No Fear of the B.S.O.D. with this Tech-Laden Halo

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In November of 2010, General Motors delivered on a promise they made to start producing the Chevrolet Volt.  Just after production started I had the opportunity to spend a day with a Volt.  While it was a very interesting car to drive for a day, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to drive a vehicle that had the ability to be plugged in, so Chevrolet let me drive one for a week earlier this year.


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New C-Class Entries Do Not Disappoint

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Over the years, most Americans have considered small cars penalty boxes they were forced to drive because they couldn’t drive anything bigger or better. The Big Three concurred with their small cars designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator driver, at the lowest cost and at the lowest price. No wonder the Pinto/Bobcat, Vega, Omni/Horizon, Escort/Lynx, Cavalier/Sunbird, Cobalt/G5 never resonated. They sold in relatively large numbers because they had to to help their manufacturers meet CAFE requirements, but rarely did a buyer purchase one out of desire or lust. The Japanese partially solved the small car equation offering Civic, Corolla, Mazda3, Lancer, Impreza and more recently the Kizashi. All were desirable small cars with great quality offered at affordable prices. With their latest offerings, the Koreans are fully engaged with the new Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra. So, the small car – C-Class – segment is now ready for more real competition this time from Chevrolet, Hyundai and Ford.

Over the past couple of months, I have driven three new high volume C-Class cars that redefine the small car category in the United States if not the world. The Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus will each be a big seller and each has its positive attributes. They are within inches of each other in size and take each takes the word “cheap” out of the definition of a small car. The missing entrant in this bunch is the upcoming Honda Civic that will evolve for the 2012 model year, but while we’ve seen the car, the official specs and fuel economy data have not yet been released.

Dimensions of New C-Class Cars


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Chevrolet Aveo Premieres in Paris

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VehicleVoice got a sneak peek on Wednesday before the Thursday world debut of four Chevrolet Vehicles at the Paris Auto Show: the Cruze Hatchback, Orlando MPV, Captiva SUV, and Aveo compact. The Aveo captured most of our attention, since it is the only one of the foursome that we will see here on US roads. The new Aveo will be built in Orion Township, Michigan, utilizing the global Gamma platform.
The outside The Aveo RS show car was shown at Detroit and Geneva earlier this year. We like the fact that the production model shown here in Paris and due in US showrooms next summer carries a lot of the concept with it. Unlike historical Chevrolet small cars, the Aveo has a pretty bold stance with large headlamps that don’t look cute, a rising beltline and short overhands. While the c-pillar door handles aren’t novel, we like the way it cleans up the overall look of the vehicle.
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The inside The new Aveo is longer and wider than the current model, giving it a fairly spacious interior. In recent years, General Motors has proven that it is more than capable of delivering nice interiors. We’ll give our final opinions when we get some seat time, but he overall look of the vehicle here is Paris was nice. Better materials, fit and finish than the current model, which is pretty nice in its segment. The interior of the Aveo incorporates a motorcycle-inspired instrument binnacle with an analogue tachometer and a digital speedometer. The interior includes blue backlighting, a nicely styled center stack with a symmetrical appearance and easy to read and understand controls. A dual cockpit setup gives it a sporty feel. The audio system incorporates USB, aux-in and Bluetooth functionality.
How will it drive? While we have yet to get behind the wheel, Chevrolet promises an improved experience, as the new Aveo has been engineered to provide better handling with improved torsional rigidity. Chevrolet claims the new Aveo will be among the stiffest in the small car segment. Electronic power steering (EPS), Electronic stability control (ESC) and ABS brakes will be standard.
Under the Hood We expect the U.S. Aveo to be offered (at least initially) with a 1.6L gasoline engine and most of those to be equipped with a six-speed automatic. A 138HP 1.4L turbo may be offered later as a performance model. Electronic power steering and stability control are expected to be standard.
The Challenge Chevrolet hopes the Aveo will appeal to younger customers with its sporty hot-hatch look. AutoPacific data show that the current model has median age of 58, which is 6 years older than Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Honda Civic. In addition, the current Aveo buyer has a median household income of $50,000, which is a full $20,0000 less than the Fit. Improving both of these key metrics will be an important role for the Aveo. We’d agree that a smartly priced Aveo could be compelling the US market. Now it’s up to Joel Ewanick and Chris Perry to get the word out.


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2011 Chevrolet Cruze: GM Stops Thumbing Its Nose at Compact Cars

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The Detroit Three have for most of the prior half-century treated compact cars with disdain, even disgust at times. They represented loss-making endeavors that they were forced to build only to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations. As a result, the American automakers for years built compact cars with contempt. Vega, Cavalier, Sunbird, ION…all are nameplates synonymous with automotive underachievement.
Even Chevrolet’s Cobalt, while not entirely a bad car, never strove to be best in class; it merely tried to be class competitive. It was conceived during a time when big trucks were the profit center for GM and gas was cheap, so building a great compact car just wasn’t a priority.


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