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…
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.
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?”
The Saturn Aura wins AutoPacific’s 2009 Ideal Vehicle Award for the Premium Mid-Size Car segment with a solid showing across the board. “The Aura owners’ ratings show that Aura has been designed to meet and exceed their needs,” said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, Inc. “In one of the largest and most important product segments, Aura’s win shows that Saturn targeted the right buyers when developing this car.” Attributes where owners of the Aura concluded it is a clear leader include:
* Exterior Styling
* Ride and Handling
* Exterior Size
General Motors’ June 1 bankruptcy declaration was quickly followed by the announced sale of HUMMER to China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company (June 2) and Saturn to Roger Penske’s Penske Automotive Group (June 5). Having the futures of both of these brands out from under the General Motors umbrella can give many American dealerships and their communities cause for celebration.
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?
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.
AutoPacific: Owners gave high marks to the Sky for its interior and exterior styling and overall image. They felt safe while driving and ranked the Sky as having the best innovative technology and anti-theft features, as well as a best-in-class ride. Also adding to the car’s 2008 Motorist Choice Award® win were high marks for controls that are easy to understand and use.
IntelliChoice: The Saturn Sky was a 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction Award winner. In addition, the Sky has best-in-class repairs and insurance along with excellent fuel costs.
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.
For years, many automotive enthusiasts have bemoaned the fact that both GM and Ford make beautifully executed vehicles for Europe, while we Yanks get cheap and plasticky land yachts with marshmallow suspensions. It killed me that – for example – we would get crusty old Ford Tauruses while Europe got the slick Mondeo – the latest generation of which Europeans genuinely consider to give the BMW 3-Series a run for the money, despite its everyman market positioning. It also annoyed that American GM owners on a budget were stuck with Cavaliers and Ions while Europeans got the stylish Opel Astra – a sporty and stylish small car with build quality that most American GM cars of the time could only dream of.
The best looking US-brand GM small car…ever?
Sometimes, GM and Ford’s American operations would bring over Americanized versions of their European cars. For the most part, however, they were simply sad shadows of what they were in Europe, with all the appealing features and finish removed for cost. Why? The rationale was that Europeans pay a lot more for their vehicles than we do, and in order to bring those costs down to levels amenable to price sensitive American customers, all the cool stuff had to come out.
Things have changed though. Gasoline’s $4.00 per gallon now, and GM is undergoing something of a product renaissance. Saturn
, as a GM brand, is undergoing a transformation as well with customers being asked to “rethink American”. The new Aura, Outlook, Sky, and Vue are clear winners (the latter two are AutoPacific’s 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction Award winners in their respective segments), and the new Astra aims to continue that success.