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April 15, 2005

Detroit's Continuing Problems « Car Issues »

From Via Drudge, the NY Times say Ford and GM stuck in Neutral.


The Big Two automobile giants offer plenty of explanations, from soaring health care costs to rising gas prices and creeping interest rates. But consumers and industry specialists say G.M. and Ford have swerved off course for a more basic reason: not enough people like their cars.

"I still hate to buy a foreign car," said T. J. Penn, a 44-year-old painting and drywall contractor walking through a Toyota lot this week in Ann Arbor, Mich. "But the quality and reliability makes it hard not to."

In other news, I think GM is probably going to end up killing off Pontiac, rather than Buick, if it decides it must kill off a division.


Because as Motor Trend (I think...I read it a dentist's office waiting room) editorial pointed out, Buick is a best-seller in China, whereas Pontiac has no such following anywhere else.

Making things even harder on Pontiac is that GM seems to be positioning Cadillac as the line that will take on BMW. That's really the only niche I think Pontiac ("Driving Excitement!") could go after. Not to mention, GM's entries into the Performance Sedan niche is further complicated by owning Saab and putting the Saab platform under the Malibu*.

The Corvette is going to be the ultimate horsepower production car for GM, and since they apparently have no plans to bring back the Trans Am, well, I don't see much space for Pontiac to grab customers. The general flop of the G6 just makes things even bleaker for Pontiac.**

I also gotta tell you: I think GM is making a mistake in its battle plan. Cadillac might be an excellent RWD performance car, but they seem to be trying to take on BMW and Lexus and Audi and maybe Benz, all at the same time. That's not smart. These cars all have different demographics, with the most overlap probably being between BMW and Audi. One car line can't attract everyone, and the recent Cadillacs are even more polarizing. I think they look like an 8-year-old's vision of a 'cool' car, and I probably wouldn't be caught dead in one. Yeah, despite my pragmatism about how a car performs, I really hate the ostentation of the current Caddies.

Lexus is "refined luxury for the rest of us". I heard it said once by a salesman in Hawaii that "Benz is for rich people, but BMW is for successful people". That seems to fit, too. BMW also aspires to be the "ultimate driving machine", and the car reviewers have agreed they do it quite well, with only Audi coming close. Cadillac doesn't usually get mentioned in the same articles as BMW and Audi's sports sedans (the others usually being Jaguar, Volvo, Lexus, and Saab, and the VW Phaeton for the top-of-the-line---complicating things for GM Saab never comes close to the leading Audi and BMW cars!), nor is it usually compared favorably to Lexus that I've seen, so it seems as if Cadillac is failing in its assigned mission. It seems to be making its own niche, and that's a good thing...but "testosterone-driven ostentation" doesn't seem like a very expansive category. They seem to be going after the type of person who would buy a truck just to brag about its horsepower without ever using it to the limit, and who now wants to buy a car.

That doesn't seem very smart.

Of course, that's just my impression.

Put another way, one that seems a little smarter, or more admirable: rather than analyzing why people buy cars and trying to put out the best car in a few chosen categories, GM seems to be trying to make the best car it can and hoping that demand will follow. But they are pricing it high enough, and cladding it in controversial enough appearance packages, that bunches of people will never even consider it. Not when there are other cars out there already meeting what they already know they want: reliability, comfort, and enough performance for daily commuting in a relatively inexpensive package, found in the Civic, Corolla, Camry, Accord, Altima, Mazda 6, and even Lexus (I'm not including the Forenza and Verona because few people really know about them yet).

My problem with GM continues to be summed up with the car I purchased:
An extremely comfortable/luxurious, sophisticated/grown-up sedan for an extremely inexpensive price. And GM decided it didn't want to make the car, so gave it to Suzuki.

Why should I even want to look at a GM product?

*although another source insisted that GM actually put the Malibu platform under the Saab, which would be much more depressing/troubling.

**The last commercial I saw for the G6 was nearly laughable. About all it said was: "We have the panoramic sun roof! Toyota and Honda don't". No reason given why I should even care about the panoramic sun roof; I guess they just assume it's already a proven winner or something. [shakes head]

Posted by Nathan at 10:48 AM | Comments (5)

correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the cheapest new Lexus on the market app. $30,280 (MSRP)? I don't really categorize that as "affordable".

I have driven both the Pontiac Vibe and the Chevrolet Cobalt...starting out at $17,690 and $14,190 respectfully...not including current incentives and rebates whcih drop the price drastically dependent upon what you qualify for. The Vibe is an excellent family car and handles nicely. Cobalt, in its base incantation, is just a good ol' reliable sedan.

Posted by: Jo at April 15, 2005 12:52 PM

"Affordable" is relative, just like "luxury". I was quoting a half-remembered slogan for Lexus, I think.

When "luxury" is defined as a $50k - $80k car (as it is for the people rich beyond our imaginings), $30k is affordable.

That's the thing. Cadillac is no more or less affordable than a Lexus at some models and some trim levels. But where a Lexus tries for dignity and sophistication, there's nothing I've seen in a Cadillac that even makes a passing attempt at either of those. It's all "Balls to the Wall" horspower and styling. My impression is a Cadillac's message isn't "This car is worth $30k" like a Lexus, it's "I paid $30k for this car whether it is worth it or not!".
But GM seems to think that they put out a $30k car with lots of horsepower and they automatically are in BMW's and Lexus' class.
That's a serious miscalculation, in my opinion.

Buick is already far closer to Lexus in sophistication. It would take 2-3 years of intent brand-image massaging to compete with a Lexus, but that's better than shutting down a car line. The Pointiac is already far closer in reputation to BMW than Cadillac, just known as the cheaper end of driving excitement (what BMW calls "performance"...which is part of the problem. When GM refers to "performance", it's just straight horsepower, with not a care toward braking, maneuverability, road sense, ride comfort...). Again, 2-3 years of brand-image massaging and giving Pontiac the best maneuverability and braking they possibly can...and they would steal lots of customers and cash from BMW, what with the styling and i-drive mistakes they've made lately.

Posted by: Nathan at April 15, 2005 01:13 PM

I personally would put money on Buick if one franchise will be eliminated. Most people just view Buick as "old".

Posted by: Jo at April 15, 2005 01:26 PM

In the US, sure. But Buick is a best-seller in the fastest growing car market in the world: China.

If you have to keep the leadership in place to sell in China, why would you shut it down here? The cars will probably continue to be decent, do you really shut down Buick just to rebadge 'em to something else? Or do you cut back on the number of models and keep the name to support the people who are still true believers? I'd do the latter.

Heck, based on a review I read, if I was willing to spend $30k on a car, I'd certainly include the La Crosse in my test-drives and research.

Posted by: Nathan at April 15, 2005 01:34 PM

Buick Regal98 was far superior to Lexus 330 I just got

Posted by: stu at May 2, 2005 12:29 PM
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