21 June 2008

GM Slowly Coming To Their Senses?

GM Inside News is saying that there are division closures on the horizon for the company.

With Hummer on the auction block, it has apparently come down to GMC or Pontiac. While I applaud a move towards what was obviously necessary years ago, namely to get rid of a division or two, are these really the two that should be axed?

Of course not.

First, let's deal with the GMC nameplate. There are obvious advantages to getting rid of it- the entire lineup is essentially rebadges of Chevy products, and the truck market is slowing to a standstill. However, in my opinion, GMC provides GM with a perfect fleet work truck outlet- a market that wants base model trucks with interiors that can be hosed down and mechanicals that can be used for what they were intended. What's stopping GM from selling GMC trucks solely to fleet, and saving upper trim level trucks (ie. Silverados and Colorados) for the average buyer? Absolutley nothing. By getting rid of GMC, they would in effect alienate a still large chunk of buyers.

On the surface, Pontiac would appear to be far more ripe for pruning. No real retail volume hits, and an increasingly confused strategy- is the company about RWD sporty vehicles or SUVs or FWD milquetoast sedans? Who knows at this point. The pluses to getting rid of Pontiac are many- the negatives at this point are very similar to the Oldsmobile situation. In light of all that, Pontiac is NOT the brand that should be axed. It fits in perfectly with Buick in a shared dealership environment, assuming Buick moves beyond the blue haired crowd to become a reasonable near luxury alternative again, and Pontiac moves towards the more sporting side of the ledger. A Pontiac/Buick dealership with a small/medium/large lineup of RWD true sports sedans and the Solstice and a medium/large/CUV lineup of Buick vehicles would be perfect.

The brands that are obvious axe nominees are Saab and Saturn. The good thing about Saab is that someone will buy the company if GM sells it. The good thing about Saturn is that it can be shuttered somewhat painlessly with a far smaller dealer network, and the lessons learned can be transferred to other GM dealerships (no haggle at ALL GM spots? hmm). Plus, the current neglected by the mass market Saturn lineup could immediately be inserted into the Chevy lineup with little pain and much gain.

The solution is obvious. Will it be obvious to GM?

12 May 2008

Obvious Statement Is Obvious


Over the past 15 months, Saturn has launched a complete line of vehicles including the Aura sedan, which won 2006 North American Car of the Year. Yet Saturn sales are down 15.4 percent through April.
Let's see. An entirely new lineup. Every single car and SUV replaced with a new better model. Better quality. Better performance. Better everything. More overall models available in the lineup. And sales are down 15%. Isn't it amazing? Isn't this exactly what everyone with half a brain said would happen? The Aura continues to flounder. The Outlook is only going to see sales descend further once the Chevy Traverse hits the public. The Sky is niche and and will always have limited sales.

Who thought this was a good idea? Imagine if every single one of these vehicles was given to Pontiac, Chevy or Buick to help revitalize lineups that actually matter in the grand scheme of things? Already in a position where the margin for error is very small, GM keeps making errors, wasting money, and wasting vehicle launches.

5 May 2008

The Cadillac Conundrum

GM has a problem that goes beyond product when it comes to Cadillac. The problem is that Cadillacs are sold in the same showrooms as Cobalts and HHRs. No, I'm not the first to bring up the point, and no, it's not some sort of revelation that this is a problem, yet I'm continually flabbergasted that such a sore thumb continues to be overlooked as Cadillac strives to become a legitimate luxury nameplate again.

Peter DeLorenzo, whose ravings can be found at Autoextremist noted last year that there were strong rumours about a possible mid-engined Corvette variant in the wings from Chevrolet. While the traditionalists immediately threw their hands up in the air and bemoaned the 'idiocy' of such a move, I would welcome it as it would allow GM to reconfigure their branding paradigm.

Imagine this world for a moment:

  • Pontaic/Buck/GMC operating under one roof, with Pontiac offering RWD performance cars, Buick offering FWD near luxury cars, and GMC offering SUVs and trucks
  • Chevrolet becoming a one brand dealership selling all of the mass market offerings, with an emphasis on economy and midsize cars, and with nothing costing more than 30k US if it's not an SUV or truck
  • Saturn continuing as the redheaded stepchild
  • A fully fleshed out Hummer lineup with competitors across the lineup to Jeep, from compact trucks to fullsize behemoths, all focused on offroading
  • And finally, a combination Cadillac/Corvette dealership
The last point is the most important. GM nees to 'spin off' Corvette into its own brand. This is a perfect opportunity for them- with the regular Corvette, convertible, Z06 and ZR1, there are already 4 distinct models in the lineup. Add in a mid-engined variant, and you'd have the makings of something special. The upside to this is that GM could sell expensive cars next to expensive cars as well, giving a halo effect to both the Corvette and the Cadillac lineup.

Of course, in the real world, this will not happen. And Corvette buyers will continue to jostle for dealer attention with Aveo buyers, and Cadillac buyers will be subjected to Cobalt mentalities when trying to buy XLRs.

Such is life.

18 April 2008

Audi Q5 Pictures Leaked

I'd be all excited at this thrilling news, but really, who cares? Another boring design from Audi that looks like a big bar of soap, but with a large chromed mouth. Yeehaw. Apart from the R8, does this company have any idea what they're doing or who they are?

Audi, and VW for that matter, have to be the most overrated automobile manufacturers on the planet. Yes, they have a very nice VR6 engine, and yes the 2.0 turbo engine is nice and tractable (but probably not suitable for a luxury car...and that's an argument for another day), but everything else is bland, uninspired and suffers from a severe case of resting on laurels. The vaunted interiors? Yeah, the feel nice and the materials are top notch, but sitting in one feels claustrophobic and the actual DESIGN is lacking. The handling? Apart from the RS4, we're talking copious amounts of understeer due to a FWD biased AWD system.

The cars are bland, the designs are bland, and the outlook is horrendous- Audi and VW are two companies in search of an identity. And they better find it fast. And no, cute utes that look like every other vehicle on the market are not the answer.

And don't even get me started on the VW CC.

13 April 2008

You Stay Classy Jaguar

The brand new Jaguar XF for '09 is quite the practical and functional sedan with much cabin room, a huge trunk complemented with 60/40 rear fold-down seats, a button on the console, once pressed, adapts the vehicle for winder driving modes, has a heated windshield and rear windscreen, and best of all, retains its prestigious Jaguar heritage. There are so few on the road, and thus, the model I showed you will only be produced in limited numbers, since it's the S-Type replacement. The true 'Jaguar' substitute for a Lexus LS430 would really be the XJ8, or the extended wheelbase Vanden Plas saloon.

Please accept my token of appreciation for your visit, and 'Jaguar' product considerations. Perhaps you'll at least win a cup of coffee or a lunch on me. I remain appreciative of your interest in fine English motor cars.
That, verbatim, is a handwritten note I received from the local Jag dealership after looking at the new XF. Included with the note, the 'token of appreciation' was 3 scratch and win tickets, one of which won me $12.

In regards to the tickets...

Unique and fun touch by a salesman looking to sell a car?
Budget mindset not suitable for a high end luxury dealership?

I'm leaning towards the former.

Oh, and the XF is stunning, at least on the inside.

Chrysler Hates Nice Door Cut Outs

Surely I'm not the only who has noticed this, but the next time you're on the road, pay close attention to the Chrysler vehicles around you. It's dawned on me that they have a curious design element that I see on basically no other competitor vehicles on the market- a rear door cut line that goes straight down into the rear fender.

What's the reason for such an odd touch? Is it cheaper? Is it easier to set up the manufacturing facility? I have no idea. What I do know is that it looks very cheap. Very very cheap. It looks as though the designers have put function, or ease of manufacturing, over style- and for all their faults, that's not something I've come to expect from Chrysler over the years. In contrast, most vehicles on the road have a rear door cut line that looks like this:

And I didn't put another Chrysler up there by accident. Coincidentally, the 300/Charger were designed and built during the Daimler era, and probably not so coincidentally, they're one of the few continued bright spots in the Chrysler lineup to this day.