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…
It’s been a busy weekend. President Obama is preparing his speech to the country about the future needs of automakers. And, before the dawn breaks on Monday, it’s already being reported that GM boss Rick Wagoner is done. According to sources within GM and quoted by mainstream media, CEO Rick Wagoner will step down at the request of the Obama administration. Does Wagner leaving improve GM’s chances for survival, or was the self-inflicted damage back in November, combined with taking money from the Feds the ultimate undoing of the nation’s largest automaker?
Freshening for Pontiac’s Most Important Product
In 2007, Pontiac sold nearly 358,000 cars and trucks. Of those, a nearly even 150,000 were some form of G6. The G6 is Pontiac volume, a stable, steady contributor. It was introduced for the 2005 model year, and ready for a brightening. The 2009MY G6 went on sale late this past summer, but rather than waiting for the next model year, the G6 you see in dealers beginning in January 2009 should have a new look as a 2009.5MY product.
The G6 brings a nose and rear not unlike the larger G8, an I4 engine option (mated to a six-speed automatic for excellent fuel economy), and an updated instrument panel and new audio, HVAC controls, and gauge cluster. The V6 engines carry on, though a flex-fuel version of the 3.5L is a no-cost option. Available from the start will be coupe, sedan, and hardtop convertible.
Are we nearing the end of Chrysler? Or the beginning of a new blended family? Or just another day at the rumor mill?
Late on Friday, the first stories began appearing about GM and Chrysler in possible merger talks. And at least in Detroit, dominated the weekend news cycle. GM’s stock went up this morning, but given that the Dow was up 5.6% and GM went up only about 3%, the stock bump might have happened without merger talk. GM closed on Friday at $4.89, a number some say is actually less than the company would be worth in capital assets alone.
All of this merger talk, whether these deals are realistic or not, does nothing good for public perception. The economy is weak, last week’s events on the stock market don’t reassure anyone, and talking about GM and Chrysler perhaps needing to merge to survive only further erodes confidence in American business. While GM and Chrysler LLC, as well as any other maker in trouble right now, needs to consider even unthinkable options and test our common assumptions as they get out of this trouble, this merger does not inspire hope.
On August 3, I finally returned to one of my favorite summer events, the annual Meadow Brook Concours d’ Elegance. Held the first weekend of August every year since 1979, this Concours is one of the premier events of its type. Not quite as prestigious as the Pebble Beach Concours happening the weekend of August 16 (yes, the same weekend as Detroit’s Woodward Dream Cruise), Meadow Brook has earned a strong reputation. For me, it’s simply a chance to wander among cars from storied brands of today and yesterday. Delahaye, Packard, Auburn, Duesenburg, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker, Peugeot, Ferrari, Cadillac, Lincoln, Chrysler, Rolls-Royce, the list goes on and on.
As you enter the Concours d’Elegance, the show starts.
Meadow Brook is home to a mansion of the same name built by the widow of John Dodge, one of the two Dodge brothers that helped establish the automotive industry we know today. The home and its property now belongs to Oakland University. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of celebrating the automobile as an art from, the event’s purpose is to raise funds for upkeep of the 88,000-square-foot mansion and its grounds. Seems a fitting choice of fundraising event.
After a lovely 4th of July weekend, doing my best to focus energies on anything not related to work (something I hear is easy for most people to do, but I’ve never quite got the knack of), I started my usual workday morning routine at my local Bally Total Fitness. And, sure enough, as soon as I get near the gym TV, there’s the news, dragging me right back to 5:15 am Monday morning reality.
The 5 am scoop in Detroit was the rumor GM is considering dumping more brands, one way or another, and firing more mid-management white-collar employees. (No, UAW, you do not have the corner on losing jobs. I swear.) Of course, by time I was in the office and caught up with e-mail, GM has flatly denied that any brand, other than Hummer, is up for review. We’ll only know the truth of that if GM manages to hold onto the seven remaining brands, and assuming Hummer is sold. Here’s the thing: If GM is not considering reducing their brand count, they should be.
Rumors actually surfaced on this subject last week. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was on my way home to enjoy said holiday weekend that I heard an automotive journalist being interviewed for his opinions on the rumors and what GM should do opine that Saab and Saturn are the likeliest brands to go. Monday morning and it’s groundhog day again. Between that interview and Monday morning, it turned into “news” that GM is considering selling those two brands. Says a lot about how quickly (and recklessly) rumors and speculation fly in this industry, but that’s a story for another day.
It’s All About the Look
Pontiac introduced a hardtop version of the extroverted Solstice at this year’s New York auto show, along with the G8 GXP and G8 ST. As cool as it looks, don’t rush to the dealer. Your Solstice coupe won’t be there until early 2009.
The Solstice coupe looks great. With the same engines and suspension setup as the roadster, you can bet it’ll be just as fun on the road. But Pontiac built in compromises with a lift-off roof panel, liftglass (versus tailgate), and useless but nicely styled rear quarter windows. Yes, small coupes always offer less interior and cargo space and poor visibility compared with sedans and SUVs. Small, sporty coupes (or convertibles) are always compromised. But the compromises don’t need to be this obvious.
Two Doors and a Bed: Are We Ready for an El Camino Revival?
Pontiac is GM’s star at the 2008 New York Auto Show, introducing two new takes on just-launched G8 sedan. As well as a hotter GXP sedan for 2009MY, late in 2009 there will be a G8 Sport Truck.
Despite knowing quite a few people who profess their admiration for the old El Camino, the coupe-meets-truck thing never did much for me. A very unscientific show-floor poll found several people who thought the G8 ST looked cool, but didn’t think they really wanted one for themselves. This does not bode well for the G8 ST’s general acceptance. But Pontiac sees a market and has an inexpensive way to meet it, so meet it they will. The 2010 G8 Sport Truck gives Pontiac something no one else has and a truck that sort of fits with a sport-oriented lineup. They may not sell many, but as an image car it just might work in some circles.
Described by the marketers as “segment-bending,” the G8 ST is a version of Holden’s coupe-with-a-bed Ute. The G8 ST will offer strong performance, interesting looks, and give most buyers enough truckability with carlike fuel economy. Not to mention not seeing one on every corner can make it that much more interesting when you do. This isn’t a product GM would be wise to share among their many U.S. brands, and it is different enough from the GMC Denali XT shown at 2008 Chicago show that those two could co-exist, assuming the GMC reaches production.
Pontiac is asking consumers to name the car, which can help build excitement as well gauge real interest. Cast your vote at www.pontiac.com/namethiscar
; the winning entry is being announced April 15.
This truck will take 6.0L V8 of the sedan, the GT’s upgraded braking system, and all of its convenience and safety features. As you might guess, it carries distinct sheetmetal, including doors, roof, and everything behind the B-pillar. It shares the sedan’s rear-drive architecture, beefed up in key areas to allow for its expanded cargo and towing capacity. The truck is also longer than the sedan, almost all of the extra length between the axles.
Pontiac promises a zero-to-sixty time of 5.4 seconds, with 1074 payload and 3500-pound towing capacities, enough to tow a couple of jet skis, motorcycles, or a small boat. (The G8 sedan is only capable of towing 2000 pounds.) Though not my flavor, I can its appeal among the single, young, and nomadic.
402HP and Six-Speed Manual. Sign Me Up.
Pontiac has a new flagship sedan in the Australian-built G8 sedan, which we drove recently (read review). The line is already in expansion mode, with upcoming versions introduced at the 2008 New York Auto Show. The more traditional of the two additive models is the 2009 GXP.
Putting fuel-cost concerns aside, I find the GXP more interesting. Given the tight chassis and sound handling of the G8s we’ve already driving, the GXP promises to be a real treat. The GXP, which is set for launch later in 2008 as a 2009MY product, takes GM’s 6.2L LS3 V8 to give the range a 402HP entry and an optional all-new Tremec six-speed manual transmission, though the GXP comes standard with the six-speed autobox.
Along with the extra power, the GXP’s nose takes a lower splitter and the rear gets a rear fascia diffuser. Inside, it gets more standard equipment, including two-tone leather seats, XM radio, an uplevel Blaupunkt audio system, power front seats, leather-trimmed steering wheel, and alloy sport pedals. The GXP also makes XM satellite radio standard, and expect that feature to join the options list for the rest of the 2009 G8 range.