The first of a series.
In no particular order, the vehicles that have brought out the worst in GM during the last 25 years, in no order:
The Chevy Cavalier that the Cadillac Cimarron was based on was a completely average car for its day. Ok, maybe a bit below average. And that works for a Chevy, especially when it tends to be cheaper than everyone else. The Cadillac Cimarron however, with its added 'Cadillac features', Caddy badge, and additional few thousand dollars in cost, was a complete joke. It would be like Lexus offering a Corolla based entry level sedan. This single product was enough to set back the 'entry level' Caddy market for years- some would say until the CTS debuted in the early 2000s.
Up first, the venerable Grand Am- specifically the most recent examples right before the name was axed from the lexicon of Pontiac. Sure, the generations preceding this one were probably worse cars, but in the end, they were dependable and ran pretty well compared to the competition. By the time this Grand Am rolled around, the world was filled with great midsize and compact sedans from Honda, Toyota, Nissan et al, and it was woefully overmatched. The first problem was that it took the Pontiac 'style' to embarassing extremes with body cladding everywhere (a problem rectified too late). The second problem was that the interior addressed the concerns about hard touch materials in GMs to a fault- it looked like the inside of a solitary confinement cell in a mental institution with it's puffy shapes and Fisher-Price design. The engine options were bleak, the quality even bleaker. Just a depressing effort in a key market.
Up next on the list is what should have been the highlight of the brand that was supposed to be the saviour of GM against the Japanese. When the Ion was released, it was to be indicative of a 'new' Saturn (haven't we heard that before?). It was bolted onto a new and better platform, and it was to be the perfect little runabout vehicle for Civic and Corolla owners. Instead, it got anemic powerplants, incoherent styling that looked like 3 different designers worked on it at once, and an interior that could arguably be the worst in the history of man. And I haven't even mentioned the center mounted gauges. Even the Redline couldn't save this baby.
In 2007, the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu is being touted as the saviour of the midsize segment for GM. Back in 1997, the 1998 Chevrolet Malibu was touted as the saviour of the midsize segment for GM. The parallels are chilling. After being thrashed about by the Camry, Accord and Taurus for years, GM decided to finally lift their snouts out of the SUV trough and fight back. Their solution was a vehicle that made the Toyota Camry seem like a Supra. The Malibu was atrocious in almost every way possible. The exterior was as dull as anything ever formed in metal in history. The interior was an ergonomic mess. The engines were dull and weak compared to the competition. GM basically tried to Xerox the Camry, and ended up with the equivalent of a 3rd grade tracing job.
One of the most amazing things about GM these past 25 years has been their utter inability to make a minivan that was competitive in the marketplace. Things have gotten so bad that they've more or less abandoned the segment. Everything started promisingly enough- the dustbuster minivans of the 90's were innovative in a lot of ways, and actually took the minivan paradigm in a lot of new and interesting directions. Sadly, somewhere along the way, someone at GM decided that copying was better than innovating, and we got the next generation, which were decent enough vans I suppose, but with horrific crash test scores. Predictably, vehicles meant for chauffering children around that had bad crash test scores did not play well with the soccer mom set, so a few years ago, GM refreshed their lineup and bestowed upon us the SV6/Terraza/Uplander/Relay combination of death. The elongated snouts made the crash tests scores reasonable again... but made them the most ungainly vehicles on the minivan market. It didn't help that GM called attention to the looks in their marketing, touting 'SUV looks, minivan utility'. Of course, even the latter portion of the advertising statement was a falsity, as the minivans had an interior seating arrangement from hell that made even removing the seats a chore. Add to that anemic powerplants and a chassis/platform that felt like it was from the 50s, and you had a recipe for disaster.
The next vehicle on the list is still out there. Amazingly enough the Lacrosse/Allure is still on lots. And it's being touted as 'improved' because GM is going to drop a V8 into it and call it a Super. Yeehaw. The Lacrosse doesn't make this list because it's an especially BAD car- it makes the list because it's an especially BAD car for the market it's supposed to cater to- which also explains why platform mates, the Grand Prix and the Intrigue, didn't make the list. Buick launched this thing as a Lexus ES competitor. They then proceeded to stick a 3800 V6 and a 4 speed automatic in the base models, and even offered a stripper model for the fleets. Inside had a pleasing dash shape surrounded by some of the cheapest feeling switchgear known to man and a floaty ride and handling that made you think of a mid 80s LeSabre. Even now, the notion of an OHV V8 equipped Lacrosse being a competitor to the Lexus ES350 is laughable.
The easiest vehicle to place on the list. In retrospect, the Aztek was a 'good idea too soon' vehicle- GM was on the right path with the crossover idea. It was the execution that stunk. The very first thing to note is how ugly the thing is/was. How it got past the focus groups of the time eludes me. Apart from the styling however, was just how unusable this vehicle was for its intended purpose- it was supposed to be a 'lifestyle' vehicle meant for people who liked nature, camping, etc... but the interior space wasn't utilized correctly, and in the end you were paying premium money for a funky looking minivan. And we know how well GM does minivans.
Before Art & Science, GM tried to take a different route to success with Cadillac. The idea was to use global design to save money for the company, and to import vehicles from other parts of the world for the North American market. Sound familiar? Anyways, when Opel sent over the Omega from Europe, there was a lot of hope for Cadillac as they tried to retake a market that had become dominated by the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, not to mention the market penetration achieved by upstart Lexus. The problem with all of this was that the Omega just wasn't a very good car. In addition, Cadillac saddled the first Cateras down the line with an underpowered and problem plagued V6 that turned off more customers than it turned on. In a market where Cadillac was trying to establish a foothold, they needed to come to market perfectly- with the Catera, they failed. It's interesting to note that the CTS, which came after the Catera, had a lot of the same problems, but because it didn't have anonymous styling, it succeeded in getting Cadillac back into this market as a player.
The Chevy Cavalier/Pontiac Sunfire twins are perfect examples of how GM has gotten to the point they are at in the market. Built off of old platforms that were outdated a few years prior to their introduction, they were bound to fail from the start. Oh, they sold well- very well. But almost all of those sales were the worst kind- heavily discounted, heavily rebated, and to customers looking for bare bones transportation who didn't care about their vehicles. By selling these pieces of junk on wheels, GM reinforced their image as a maker of thrift store vehicles, and that's probably the greatest damnation of these vehicles that I can conjure up.
Last but not least is the Hummer H2. Yes, it provided a lot of media exposure for GM. Yes, it was featured in every rap video of the last 5 years. Yes, it's distinct. Yes, it's a pretty good offroader. The reasons the H2 is on this list are two fold- first, it absolutely destroyed the idea of GM as a green company, and in effect allowed Toyota to take the position of a green company, and second, it truly is/was an awful machine. To the second point, it's an underpowered beast burdened by too much weight and far too high a center of gravity- not to mention the second worst interior in a vehicle ever (only behind the Ion). To the first point, the Hummer H2 brought in sales, yes, but it was also the final nail in the coffin for the image of GM as a company that cared about the environment or fuel economy. The juxtaposition of a Prius and an H2 should haunt GM execs forever, especially as they try to jumpstart the Volt project.
That's it for GM- up next, who knows. I'll take requests.