Thursday, June 15, 2006

Auto Motives: More on the GM Death Wish

I grew up with Chevrolet Impalas in the driveway.

We were far from well off, so my dad always opted for a base model, and occasionally a used base model. In 1965, the year I graduated high school, General Motors sold over a million Impalas. Today it is still the best-selling American car, but less than a third as many are gracing Americans driveways and America's rental fleet parking lots.

Although Toyota's Camry and Corolla and Honda's Accord and Civic regularly outsell the Impala, you might be surprised to know that GM doesn't care. This became obvious on a 90-mile ride in a new Impala rental car last weekend:
The Impala was bland outside and in. The seats weren't uncomfortable, but neither were they comfortable. The dash looked like it was made of Samsonite suitcase castoffs. Acceleration was okay, unless you had an 18 wheeler bearing down on you.

But more than anything -- and I was riding shotgun so I was able to take a good look at the more interesting rides zooming by us -- I felt mildly embarrassed to be even seen in an Impala.
Micheline Maynard of The New York Times explains why GM doesn't give a honk about how many Impalas it sells:
The reason is that G.M. prefers to stick with its decades-old approach of breadth over depth, buckshot over a silver bullet. So rather than placing an all-or-nothing bet on a single car at one division, it sells family cars through a variety of brands, including Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Saturn. . . .

That idea served G.M. well when it sold more than half of all new cars and trucks back in the 1960's. But now G.M. controls less than a quarter of American sales.

And in today's ruthlessly competitive market, that strategy means that no single G.M. car will get the same amount of resources — engineering, design and marketing — as Toyoita and Honda devote to their best sellers.

The Impala "comes across as the best that the American companies can do," said Brian Moody, a road test editor at Edmunds. com, a Web site that offers buying advice to consumers. "In a vacuum, it's hard to find anything wrong with it. And then you drive the Camry and the Accord."

Go here for more on The General's death wish.

The folks at the terrific The Truth About Cars website take no prisoners, as the opening paragraph of a commentary by Andrew Dederer makes clear:
The New York Times recently labelled GM a crack dealer for using $1,000 gas cards to “addict” Californian drivers to its gas-guzzling SUV’s. There are several important differences between selling a Schedule II substance to low-income drug addicts and marketing a legal product to responsible consumers in a free market. Suffice it to say, the Gray Lady's got it backwards: GM is the addict. The General is hopelessly addicted to fleet sales. Although GM has publicly announced its intention to reduce their reliance on this part of their business, it’s nothing more than a junkie’s promise to reform. In fact, none of the Big Three are ready, willing or able to leave their dependency behind.
For the fourth straight year, the Cadillac Escalade is the most stolen vehicle in the U.S. despite the fact that General Motors equips these luxury barges with a device that's supposed to prevent starting without the proper key. (GM just can't seem to do anything right, does it?)
Rounding out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's top five are Ford's F-250/350, Dodge Ram 1500 quad cab pickup and Sebring four-door sedan, both made by Chrysler, and a newcomer, the high-performance Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, which is coveted by thieves because its parts can be used to customize the standard Lancer.

The Ford Taurus and the Pontiac Vibe and Buick LeSabre, both made by that GM, were among the least stolen models because they're so b-o-r-i-n-g.


The annual J.D. Power & Associates auto quality report is out and Porsche has taken the top spot for the first time.

Toyota and fast rising Hyundai again scored high marks for overall dependability, with Toyota/Lexus models topping 11 of the survey’s 19 categories.

BMW and Mercedes, venerable German marques, scored relatively low because of so-called design shortcomings, which were included for the first time in this year's survey.

The survey reported that Porsche had 91 problems per 100 vehicles, followed by Lexus (93), Hyundai (102) and Toyota (106). The industry average was 124.

Among U.S. brands, GM’s Cadillac ranked highest, tied at No. 7. Vehicles from GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group were rated best in four categories.

The rest of the Top 10 included Jaguar (109), Honda (110), Cadillac and Infiniti (117), Infiniti (117), GMC (119), and Acura and Chrysler (120).

The Bottom 10 included Subaru (146), Mazda and Mini (150), Jeep (153), Saab (163), Suzuki (169), Hummer and Volkswagen (171), Isuzu (191) and Land Rover (204).
Meanwhile, the folks at The Truth About Cars aren't buying the J.D. Power spiel and are mightily miffed about the inclusion of design shortcomings. The piece is a little dense, but worth a read.

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