Saturday, February 18
- Malibu's not on fire.
Hypothetically, I am average, 31 and gave up on trying to be an individual long ago. I don’t really go out that much. I work in an office. I feel my desktop pattern is an insightful comment on who I am as a person. I am not the junior. Not the boss. Not quite a beggar, definitely not a chooser. I was quite good at algebra back in state school. I prefer long-term relationships with girls I think of as ‘not traditionally attractive.’ I figure a car is supposed to get me from ‘A’ to ‘B.’ Getting noticed makes me have to double-up on my Zoloft.
I am a rent-a-car company.
I like cheap, decent looking cars that can take a set of big wheels, tinted windows, 15-inch subs, maybe a couple pullies and an exhaust system before I dip it in chameleon paint and take it cruising with my heinas.
Who am I? I am a Ford Fusion buyer!
The Fusion's got a lot going for it! It offers a good-looking and cheap platform to get a nice custom look without having to do too much. Fusion’s simple and attractive lines are what made cars like the ‘84 Regal and the ‘96 Caprice along with the current 300 such great platforms for customising, modifying, pimpin-out or Pep Boysing up. Putting an understated body on a popular platform like the Mazda 6 means whether you read Consumer Reports or Street Source -you'll like the Fusion.
These are qualities that the current Malibu doesn't even aspire to. Chevies used to be about designing cars with looks that you won’t mind - even if you don’t like. Now Chevrolet's uncertain about who actually wants a Chevy car. The Fusion is being marketd to pretty much everyone. Office slave? Just keep it out of the bosses spot or no company retreat for you! Fast and furious? You can at least make it look like it. Space mutant? Buy a Malibu to distract people from your ooziness. The Malibu is now marketed as a family car. Though the orange SS concept with a six-speed doing the show circuit in '98 told a different story. Now, you can't get it with a stick. Generally, people buy cars like the Malibu for the same reason they get the big bucket at KFC. It's kinda gross, but a cheap way to deal with having kids.
Like with Marauder and the last real Impala that inspired it, Ford is now following in GM's platform-sharing footsteps, but with the benefit of hindsight. GM couldn’t make us buy the Opel as the ‘Caddy that zigs,’ and there’s not even plans to let us have the hardtop convertible version of Malibu available in Europe. It’s what the Brits call ‘taking a piss.’ Ford’s platform-sharing with a Motor Trend Car of the Year - they don’t have to drop anything, including their top or the price to get us all into it.
Meanwhile, the Ford Fusion isn’t not selling. Anyone at all looking for some sensible transportation - whether they be in IT, sales or even IT sales, will find something they like in the genuinely handsome and determinately vanilla Fusion. There's something of the 99 Honda Accord, the 90s Dodge Stratus, 98 Honda Prelude and a Gilette Mach 3 about the Fusion.
Its blandness is its winning formula. And, as Ford spends millions on sponsoring concerts, events and TV shows to make us see the Fusion’s awesomeness to the max - Malibu remains the true king of middle-aged people who aren’t doing so hot financially and immigrants looking for that first American car experience. Meanwhile, just to prove my very point (but in the past), the Ford crew was clever enough to sprinkle some Fusions on last November’s SEMA Show(one pictured) . And if you haven’t seen them, you should. If you haven’t seen the Malibus or Impalas at last year’s SEMA, you should get used to that.
The General's 'hoe.
-The new Tahoe bodystyle is selling out like crack - but will it be enough to give GM's financial burdens the back of the hand?
There’s something special about a big, truck-based SUV. Look down on fragile, little Highlanders, MDXs and Muranos with loathsome contempt. Old-school V8 torque and plenty of room for stuff, people, subwoofers, TVs, a dog and a barbecue grill. GM hopes that no one will ever get enough of that big SUV feeling with high hopes for the new Tahoe. Will it do for GM what the Taurus did for Ford in the 80s - and what Ford hopes the Fusion will do in the ...00s? Well, probably not - but it looks better.
det news )- this is no indication of long-term success. In fact, will SUVs be around forever? The '07 Sentra fetures two glove compartments and one is 'extra deep!' And it gets like 29 to the gallon (though that's sure to come down in real-life driving.) Detroit News’ article profiles a guy who replaced his old Tahoe with the new one when his lease ran out - not quite the against-all-odds triumph GM will need to change some minds or even make Cars Cars Cars guy forget about the Monte Carlo.
The new Tahoe does look good! And this summer's custom shows are sure to show off a slew of pimped out Tahoes with TVs, dubs and airbags. But its current popularity doesn’t really signal a big revival. The truth is, while the shiny new Tahoes have been flying off dealers’lots in the 49 days since Tahoe’s debut (
Drivers hooked on the ass-flattering comfort of the Tahoe platform will have a hard time staying away from the couch-like goodness of the new one. But, according to PIN Insights, an arm of J.D. Powers and Associates, the first five months of sales for a new model doesn’t reflect long-term success.
Of course, we all want GM to succeed and rain down with cheap, high-performance, roomy cars and trucks for years to come. The big push and the new grille are paying off for now, but let’s see if sales volume drops to where it was for the previous model by 4th of July.
Sunday, February 12
The General Takes a Golden-Yellow Shower....of Innovation
- GM are taking the lead as ethanol fuel innovators. Can hybrids leave us alone now?
I’m sick of hearing about hybrids. The super-dorky Prius and even GM’s new hybrid trucks. The electric motor in a hybrid only does the work at very low speeds and in reverse. Meanwhile, the added weight of the batteries, power control unit, planetary gear, generator and electric motor itself means you’re carrying a lot more junk in the trunk on the highway (and at highway speeds). Neither the Chevy nor GMC websites will reveal the weight difference between a standard and a hybrid Silverado - but it’s sure to be tremendous. Little hybrid cars are perfect for city centers where driving under 10 miles per hour is normal. Big trucks are meant for the highways, the backroads and the wild frontiers of the suburbs and the sub-suburbs. This means that a hybrid truck will rarely find itself running on electricity - especially if you’re one of those crazy critters that put stuff in the back. Sure, there’s traffic out there and you’ll sit in it with zero-emission smugness - but the added weight of hybrids, says a Ford dealer whose name we won’t reveal, means that the Escape Hybrid gets worse gas mileage overall than the 4-banger version.
General Motors is making yellow the new green with corn-powered cars! Just when I was getting cynical, GM launched their big E85 push with a nifty show truck (above) and partnerships with Shell and VeraSun Energy Corp! Ethanol is set to quickly become the new choice of performance-hungry tree huggers. GM’s already got a heart-warming website touting its benefits with tons of corny puns (stalk car racing game) and occasional free t-shirts. Corn, of course, has a few problems of its own. The corn used for ethanol is genetically modified and the government subsidises corn farmers - but, compared to hybrids which are a bit of a scam, corn’s great! We won’t ever need a war to get more cord and reducing our reliance on foreign oil will give America new political leverage (one day). Not only is corn great but GM is showing some surprising leadership by encouraging more ethanol stations (just in Chicago for now) and raising awareness.
There’s something inherently American about corn and ethanol’s performance-enhancing qualities and inherent patriotism should signal the eventual demise of deceptive, hugely overpriced and always wimpy hybrids. Compared to your standard, friendly Vortec V8 running E85 - the stuff under the hood of a Prius is more washing machine than car - and any performance mods are out of the question. General Motors might be onto a winner! With the 2007 Tahoe updates announced for the now great-looking 2007 Avalanche - it’s a good time to be touting why we shouldn’t feel guilty about driving the big truck - which, when costing only three grand more than a hybrid Accord - is looking better and better. Let’s hope it doesn’t end with a corny website and a couple dozen ethanol pumps in Illinois.
Monday, February 6
Would you pay an extra ten grand for a fridge-sized piece of metal? GM says 'Oh Yeah!'
Pontiac’s G6 Convertible is here and it’s roof is hard. It’s not soft. It’s made out of metal. It’s not made out of canvas. It is, in fact, a retractable hardtop convertible. I have to think I’m not alone in saying ‘so what?’ Hard top convertibles are pretty neat. I still remember seeing the debut of the 3000GT Spyder from Mitsubishi in 1994. I was a kid and had never seen anything like it. Importantly, the 3000GT was already cool without the magic roof. That’s not the point. The Pontiac G6 is very much a Sunfire with a V6. It's front-wheel drive, not very big, and looks like a rental. That’s why pricing the G6 at the groin-grabbingly ridiculous amount of $28,490 - $3,755 more than the mustang rag-top is just not a good way to get rid of some.
With a bland name, nurse shoe design and crazy price - going against the Mustang, with its rear-wheel drive umph and boulevard cruiser style - GM's drop top is dropping trow.
The problem isn’t that there might not be car buyers out there to whom a retractable hard top isn’t worth an extra few bucks. After all, the SLK came out costing thousands more than the Z3 and surpassed the BMW roadster in popularity. The problem here is that the Mustang has tons more to offer overall while costing less. It’s roomier (G6 360 / Stang 360 [not direct link]), faster and prettier than the Pontiac.
It’s hard not to wonder why another hardtop (ssr dies) sounded like a good idea to the GM folk while the shockingly great Solstice is still hard to get in the sunny states due to limited production numbers. There's no other GM car like the Solstice. It's daring, it's got personality and the fun for money represents the very best of American cars. Why make the $30K dork-mobile while the Solstice is rationed? Dealer mark-ups don’t help pay those pensions.
Saturday, February 4
-The Camaro Concept will be one of the last deck chairs General Motors gets to rearrange before submerging.
-Looking at the last decade, it's clear GM let themselves forget who really pays those pensions.
It’s proving an impossible task to look over any media coverage of Detroit’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) without seeing a picture of the Camaro concept on the cover or splash page. On the heels of bankruptcy rumors and frenzied industry pessimism, the stakes had never been higher for the one of the show’s legendary unveilings.
Those unable to make it to the show had to watch GM’s webcast of the unveiling, along with its baffling prelude. Only true car fiends were able to endure watching a high-school marching band doing their thing for five minutes before we could catch glimpse of the upcoming keeper of the famous pony car flame. And really, after seeing the concept which would hope to save GM, a marching band seems an appropriate introduction. The concept design is gaudy, obnoxious and without direction. Like the efforts of teenaged nerds dressed in white uniforms with big, brass buttons, the lines of the Camaro concept make a valiant effort to grasp for coolness and find it out of reach.
Online rumors already swirl around General Motors' Chairman and CEO, Rick Wagoner demanding a redesign of the concept car’s exterior in the 11th hour running up to the NAIAS - to make the car’s style "less retro" and more of an ‘interpretation’ of the unforgettable 60's Camaros. And that may very possibly be the problem. In recent years GM has almost has consistently failed to deliver the kinds of designs Americans have come to demand from their American car. While trucks have maintained the neutral stance that always made Chevy the choice of government agencies, GM cars in the last ten years have been renowned for their confusing design and polarizing looks. The ‘stretchy’ body-panel cladding of the Grand Prix and the rental-like ambivalence of late nineties’ Buicks came to replace the determined, function-driven designs of old-school GM staples.
The truck platform became the bread and butta of the product offerings and continued the downward spiral of design confusion. Pointless lumpyness and garbage can plastic misplaced on vehicles like the the early Avalanche assured that the conservative buyer on the lookout for his or her next grocery getter would be looking to Japanese rivals. They might stop to contemplate why a refrigerator built into the Pontiac Aztec’s center console should entice them to spend over $30K on the IHOP-shaped crossover, now relegated to the Edsel club (will be highly collectable for misguided, future, rich people). Meanwhile, Chevy badge heros like the Monte Carlo managed to miss all the marks buyers look for in a GT coupe, let alone the Monte. Front wheel drive and Lumina-derived re-design of the 1995 Monte Carlo assured that the drama and bad-ass cache of previous (83-88) MCs was replaced by a two-door rental car with low self-esteem and a 3.8L. It was barely able to capitalize on the NASCAR tie-in, let alone the pedigree of Monte Carlos of the previous 25 years.
Platform sharing seems to dictate everything the General shoves onto dealer lots, with SUVs leading the pack of near-identical platform-shared derivatives. Chevy, GMC and Cadillac are still stamping their name and bolting-on slightly varying front clips to the rapidly ageing Tahoe/Suburban. The new bodystyle for Suburban clones offers a bit of hope for the platform’s skin problems but we can be assured that the re-design will spread to GMC and Caddy with damn-near no differences in the exterior (and GM plug-in luxury on the inside).
GM also seemed to use the nineties to forget a crucial reason Americans had always made room for a Chevy or an Oldsmobile in their driveways. Car shoppers, especially in snowless states were being left with no option but to look elsewhere if they were in the market for an inexpensive, rear-wheel drive car with decent power - the former calling card of Chevrolet. Unfortunately for GM’s financial situation, this also included police departments that were now forced to opt for the historically inferior Ford Crown Victoria, with its less powerful and less-reliable engine and infamous safety problems. The Crown Victoria’s design faults have been conclusively linked to at least 18 police office and state trooper deaths . But it was now the only game in town and the only alternative to the smallish, front-wheel drive Impala which GM was trying to foist on law enforcement after they killed the Caprice in 1996. Even after an aggressive marketing campaign by Chevy, the 2000 Impala, another warmed-over Lumina never got mainstream take-up by departments counting on V8 power on the interstates. Cab companies were also left with no choice - and GM knew better than to attempt an Impala Taxi package.
Thus, the Camaro Concept, even when its distant relative hits showrooms in 2009, is unlikely to turn the confusion around. Camaro people will definitely snatch up whatever is on offer. And it's also likely that Camaro's reputation for being America's deadliest car will be resurrected too. But - just as marching bands do crap-all for winning the game - this thing will do little for regaining decayed market share for a car-maker that forgot about the car buyer.
As dozens of truck-platform products loose momentum - post $3.00/gallon - GM, their pensions burden and all, will only continue to struggle. With the only other GM concept introduced at the 2006 NAIAS being the Buick Enclave crossover, it’s clear that lessons aren’t being learned as thousands of GM workers continue to loose their jobs.
Getting back to basics doesn’t have to mean ‘re-interpreting’60s’models but refocusing on making the relatively simple, never slow and always affordable cars we associate with General Motors. Certain GM dreams will never come true. A new Buick will never appeal to consumers under 50 until they offer something as single-minded and inspiring as any sixties' Riviera (without ‘re-interpreting’ it), still popular with under 30s today. Other GM aspirations are more realistic, like maybe making a Malibu into a car people would buy even if a Mazda 626 wasn’t more expensive. The success of the now-dwindling H2 proved that dropping truly different bodies onto an off-the-shelf platform can deliver success instead of consumers using their budget to decide which brand's Tahoe they'll drive.
But the bigger lesson has to be that GM will always be shoppers’ first stop for red-blooded, big 'o rear-wheel drive cars. Now’s the last chance to stop shoving these good people toward Ford and Chrysler showrooms.