By on August 14, 2009

A few weeks ago, I received this from GM Communications: “I’ve noticed some of your comments on our Fastlane blog. We are looking for passionate and influential consumers to participate in an upcoming showcase on August 10, 2010 [sic], in Detroit, MI. Would you be interested in a GM-hosted opportunity like this to learn more about our future vehicles and company?” I was more than a little surprised; my FastLane posts are generally uncomplimentary regarding GM’s products and business decisions. “Do they know we own three Toyotas?” my wife asked. “And we gave a fourth to our daughter, who’s happily driving it at 150 thousand miles?” “I think that’s part of it; they want to know what it will take to win me over.” “They could try building cars that are as reliable as Toyotas.” “I’ve suggested that.” “Don’t you dare bring home a GM car,” she warned.

I asked my long-time Scouting buddy Dave to come along. Dave recently bought his second Hyundai; he’s as pleased as punch with it. He looked at me warily. “They’re not going to expect us to buy a car, are they?” “Oh, no, certainly not. They’re probably interested in what they can do to win you over, though.” “They could offer a ten year, 100 thousand mile warranty, like Hyundai,” Dave suggested. “Until then, no sale.”

We flew to Detroit on August 9th, courtesy of GM. A company rep met us at the airport and whisked us to the GM Heritage Center via Cadillac CTS. This was also my first ride ever in a CTS—possibly my first ride in any Cadillac since I’d driven my grandfather’s ’68 Sedan de Ville back in 1971 or so. I remember taking a girl on a date in the de Ville. When I pulled up in front of her house she actually said, “Oh my, a Cadillac!”

The CTS’ rear seat didn’t have enough legroom. A fairly short writer named Sean Kennedy occupied the passenger seat in front of me. When I asked him to move his seat up, he fumbled around for power-controls on the right of the seat for a few minutes. He eventually discovered the standard, manual lever under the front lip of the seat, and moved his chair forward enough for me to be comfortable.

When I got home, I looked at the Lexus web site; power seats appear to be standard on an ES350. It also looks like they come standard on a Camry XLE. Is manual seat adjustment a problem for Caddy’s supposed BMW beater? The CTS’ rear-seat passengers get cup holders in the flip-down armrest. Dave and I placed a pair of water bottles inside. They kept threatening to fall over and out of the cup holder. Again, no biggie?

The CTS rides smoothly (if illegally) at 80. I guess Cadillac thinks stiff leather is somehow sporting; I prefer soft skins. The CTS roofline was a bit of an issue: I couldn’t see out of the windows without craning my neck (I’m just over 6′3″). The next day, I asked a GM’er who works in interior design about passenger visibility. He acknowledged the tradeoff between ergonomics and style. Anyway, the more important question: would someone say, “Oh, my! A Cadillac!” I’m not so sure.

Heritage

From an architectural point of view, GM Heritage Center is slightly above warehouse grade. But the cars put Dave and me in Car Guy Heaven. The selection seems geared towards the Boomer demographic and just a tad later. The collection showcased a number of GM concept cars, including some of those early fighter-aircraft inspired Firebird concepts—the type of machines I ogled in Popular Science convinced they’d one day hit the road.

Dave and I wandered around, identifying cars from our personal history. “My aunt had one of those. My Dad had one of those.” “I had one of those, it died at 20K miles.” That too.

I located a couple of Cadillacs similar to my grandfather’s ’68, and Oldsmobiles similar to his and my parents’ ’64. We admired the 442s and Goats of various vintages. Yes! A Judge! In orange! Note: I was fourteen when that car was unleashed, and I loved the look. And I’m still buying a Prius when we need a new car. Times have changed, and so have I.

Tweet This

After a time, we ceased wandering and started scarfing. GM had scattered the space with buffet tables. As we refilled our tanks, I tried to get a feel for my fellow junketers.

On the ride over, Kennedy told me he’d tested the CTS-V at GM’s invitation in upstate New York. The Brooklynite claimed to have written for Elle and New York magazines. Aside from Dave and me, our feeding table was populated exclusively by women, who didn’t seem to be “into” cars. The most automotive-engaged of the bunch had recently purchased a CTS, replacing a MINI Cooper. She advised Christine Somebody from GM to “spread some of that CTS mojo to the rest of your cars.”

In fact, we were surrounding by Social Media types: Tweeters and Facebookers charged with spreading the GM message “virally.” I’m no stranger to computers and networks. I’ve worked in Information Technology for quite a long time. I can manage servers, set up a LAN, repair PCs, do anything you like with SQL databases, write useful programs in several different languages, etc. But I don’t bother to keep up with what the kids are doing. So I checked out some of the Twittering that resulted from this event.

None of what I discovered was “Tweeted” by children, but you wouldn’t know it from reading it. Self-editing doesn’t really figure; the group tends to communicate without inhibition, without any idea of sentence structure or coherent composition (call it “puddle of consciousness”). So it’s no surprise that some of the Tweeters in attendance didn’t have a lot of inhibitions about the things they said in person, either.

Social Media may be “hip,” but I doubt it’s as influential as GM and other large corporations believe. The effective lifespan of a Tweet or Facebook entry—should we admit that it contains editorial value—is measured in minutes. The lifetime of information on social media matches the lifetime of fads, not the lifetime of most of the things we need in our lives. And certainly not cars.

Anyway, Tom Pyden welcomed us. I made some illegible notes, something about “Proud Past/Bright Future.” And then it was off to bed.

At breakfast, I met a fellow FastLane commentator: “edvard.” His daily driver is a 14-year-old Toyota Tacoma. Although he likes the idea of the Chevy Volt, I think he’s going to be a tough sell for New GM.

Our first stop: GM’s Design Center, close to the Marriott. We started in the auditorium. Chris Preuss, due to replace Steve Harris as GM VP of Communications, told us who we were and why we were there. Yep, there was a lot of mutual love between GM and the new Social Media.

It’s the Perception Gap, Stupid

Then, to my delight, Bob Lutz appeared, introduced as GM’s “Chief Creative Officer.”

Lutz launched into an attack on the “perception gap,” identifying the “crappy state of journalism” as one of its causes. The room ate it up. Lutz also played the humility card, stating that the New GM had many people to thank, starting with the U.S. and Canadian taxpayers.

At about that time, I began to wonder when, exactly, GM was going to start to try to win me over. I consider GM’s insistent talk of the “perception gap” an insult to my intelligence. I know what value I’m getting from my Toyotas. I know what value my friends and neighbors did not get from their GM cars. My experience, my neighbor’s experience, Consumer Report’s evaluations and resale values all point one way: GM’s cars, for quite some time, have not been as anywhere near as good as the competition.

GM’s 2009’s may be just as good as the competition, or better, but we won’t know for ten years. Meanwhile, all this “perception gap” talk just digs the hole deeper. It makes me wonder if GM is still thinking they can win me over with tailfins, by blowing smoke.

At least Lutz admitted that “earlier models” had interiors that looked like they were made from “solidified lava.” But that’s all changed! “Why?” I wondered silently, “Is there a shortage of lava?” Lutz also revealed that he’s as happy as a clam about the New GM and its nice tidy balance sheet and its consequent new ability to compete and un-retired because the opportunities were now so much better for GM.

Amongst other things, Lutz failed to mention the fact that New GM’s nice tidy balance sheet came courtesy of a whole lot of people who got thrown under the bus. And he was one of the drivers.

We still don’t know the full extent of the collateral damage. TTAC recently reported that GM has abandoned its obligations to Olds dealers, who were receiving annual payments as compensation for closing down. New GM has also shifted its environmental cleanup obligations to Old GM.

Lutz addressed the “Government Motors” meme. According to Lutz, the Presidential Task Force on Automobiles (PTFOA) is letting GM run the business to make money so that the taxpayer can get the taxpayer’s money back. This makes quite a bit of sense and, frankly, I believe it.

Lutz implied that the PTFOA and the new Board of Directors were at least partially ignorant about what GM was really like. According to Lutz, the new Board was completely unaware that GM absolutely rocks on fuel economy. The Cobalt XFE (available only with a manual transmission) beats the rest of the class on the EPA tests.

Just don’t look too closely at the EPA web site because you’ll find that the XFE actual fuel economy reports don’t measure up to its EPA test scores. And at least some of the competition routinely beats their EPA test scores. And never mind the Prius or Yaris or any of those profitable small Toyotas against which GM doesn’t even compete.

Naturally, someone asked Lutz about global warming. Lutz was delighted to have the opportunity to call it a “crock of shit” without actually using the word “shit.” Happily enough, he’d just told a joke about “shit” that involved a clueless politician giving a speech and Native Americans whose word for “shit” was “hoya.” The audience had laughed at this joke, which I found astonishing; the joke is as old as elected office itself.

Lutz’ calling global warming a “crock of hoya” would be somewhat more credible if his lengthy answer hadn’t involved several “facts” which I know to be wrong. Why he bothers defending himself on this topic, or even discusses it, is an open question.

Someone (not a Tweeter) asked Lutz if GM was generating the necessary cash flow to survive at the current U.S. annual new car selling rate (SAAR). Bearing in mind that the Old Guard at GM claimed they were OK right to the bitter end, I’m taking Lutz’ “at 10 million, we’d like to break even” with a grain of salt. He also proffered that, at an 11 – 11.5 million SAAR and a consistent market share, New GM would be “comfortably profitable.”

New GM’s first income statement should be interesting.

Ed Welburn Lifts the Skirt

After Lutz rallied the troops, we visited the “Design Salons” for GM’s four remaining brands, starting with Cadillac.

I’ve gotten used to Cadillac’s “Art & Science” design language. While I’m not its biggest fan, I admire the way that the designers are applying it across Cadillac’s product line. Cadillacs look distinctive and resemble each other in key ways. I think this is important for a brand, and I think Cadillac is getting it right.

There were no particular surprises in the design salon, but we did get a chance to admire the cars and a couple of clay models. Dave burst out, “Those are made of clay?” I’d never seen clay models either; they are amazingly lifelike. Just don’t grab the door handles . . . they come right off.

Our next stop: GMC. For the most part, I am not a big fan of GMC. The new Terrain is, in my opinion, ugly. I know this sort of thing is highly subjective, but GMC’s adding design cues to an Equinox-sized vehicle to give it Yukon-sized visual dominance. The end result is grotesque. GM had better hope the Terrain sells on the surprisingly good fuel economy it shares with the Equinox.

GMC also showed us a clay model of a possible smaller GMC CUV, which was much more attractive than the Terrain (no pointless bulges over the wheel wells, for example). There was no mention of the vehicle’s proposed drivetrain. One of the GMC reps said they could squeeze 40 mpg out a [presumably four-cylinder] direct injection engine. In theory, that’s significantly better than a Toyota RAV4.

I had a question about the CUV’s doors. “Why bother if these won’t last past the concept stage? You never do suicide doors.” The GM rep patiently pointed out that GM has occasionally delivered rearward-opening doors on certain vehicles, like the Saturn 3-door coupe and some extended-cab trucks. Which is true but . . . I can’t recall any vehicle since the ’60’s Lincolns that had full-size suicide doors intended to be operated independently of the fronts.

Although I am not a big fan of the bulbous Buick Enclave, I generally like the brand’s design. The new LaCrosse’s v-curve body line reminds me of our ’57 Buick; an evocative touch. Buick had two extremely attractive clay models: another, smaller CUV and a new smaller sedan. The latter will most likely sit on GM’s Global Midsize Platform (they no longer call platforms by the Greek letters).

The Chevy Salon was set apart in a small, domed building. The Bow-Tie brand says they’ll offer a new Corvette Grand Sport (more than a regular Corvette, less than a Z06), a convertible Camaro (which looks far better than the hardtop, at least when the roof is stowed), Spark, Orlando, Cruze and new Malibu.

We saw a clay model likely to become the 2012 Malibu. It was an improvement in some ways, but the front-end profile looks more Camry than ever. You can’t win over airflow, I guess. Some described the new ’Bu as beautiful; it didn’t do that much for me. As the current Malibu was introduced in 2008, perhaps drivetrain changes are driving the redesign.

Ed Welburn spoke briefly about “The Lab”: GM’s interactive method for revealing design ideas to customers. I wonder if it’s practical and whether web-based customer data will lead to better cars. There’s often a lot of vocal web or enthusiast support for vehicle proposals, that may or may not survive and thrive in the marketplace. I’d be concerned that “The Lab” will get a lot of intense feedback from a skewed segment of the market: un- or under-employed people with nothing better to do.

Ed then revealed three new Cadillac designs: a midsize sedan, a new, small coupe and the fullsize XTS, the replacement for the DTS and STS.

The XTS was a disappointment. At the Heritage Center, I’d encountered a ’68 Fleetwood Brougham limousine in shiny black. That was an imposing car. When it rolled by, you knew somebody filthy rich or very important was in it. The XTS didn’t hit me that way, partly due to the graphite paint job.

Sure, it’s attractive. Yes, it’s an extension of Art & Science. Anyone who likes the current Cadillac look will not be disappointed. But there’s not enough “oomph.” Perhaps it doesn’t matter; I’m never likely to be wealthy enough to buy the modern-day equivalent of a Fleetwood Brougham limousine. In fact, few will ever be. Or should be.

When I returned to the Twin Cities, I found a DTS in taxi service in a garish paint job. How far the mighty have fallen! The XTS can hardly do worse. Memo to GM: Please ensure I can see out the back windows.

Chevy Volt

We headed over to Pre Production Operations (PPO), where GM’s assembling Volts in small batches to test the build processes, components, etc. One of the managers and one of the union reps (Local 160) greeted us at the door. They exuded an air of real cooperation, and I was glad of it.

I like unions. I think they add necessary balance to the workplace. But union organization and the management reaction to it often leads to contention, strife, poor relationships and, for lack of a better phrase, gross inefficiency. If they have that at the Volt PPO facility, they keep it capped. Maybe the shock of bankruptcy has brought about a new era of cooperation. Maybe this plant has always been different. Or maybe the old relationships between GM and the union were never as bad as we thought. In any event, I liked the atmosphere in this building.

There were quite a few Volts in various stages of assembly, all in primer gray metal and black plastic. The dark gray interior stack was attractive. The engine compartment looked fairly normal. Where the car and battery came together, it was obvious the car is different. Otherwise, the Chevy Volt looked like a fairly normal compact car.

Many attendees wanted to know the Volt’s fuel economy after the battery goes flat, how much gas it holds, total range, etc. GM was very evasive. There didn’t seem to be any fuel tanks in view, so I couldn’t make my own estimate.

During the walk-around, we met both Andrew Farah and Frank Weber. I could have sworn I heard Farah mention “400 miles range.” But Weber recently answered the question, “Can I go from Detroit to Chicago on one tank of gas?” with “I don’t know the precise distance but it it’s 300 miles, you should be OK.”  So the Volt’s range is still anybody’s guess.

If the Volt has, as the Detroit News recently reported, an eight gallon tank, if the car goes 350 miles, the “charge sustaining mode” fuel economy is going to be a disappointing 39 mpg.

I started asking Weber questions about the differential and the tradeoff between that and two motors, but the group was moving on and our guide encouraged me to keep up. I moved along, thinking GM wasn’t real keen on tough questions about the Volt.

The Culture Worriers

We headed for the proving ground. Time to drive! Well . . . Not quite. Our handlers herded us into the building, where we cooled our heels until Chris Preuss and GM CEO Fritz Henderson spoke. I took very few notes, but I know that Fritz said that “since bankruptcy, we must think every day about our customers.” And “It’s all about the cars.” They’ve cracked the code!

Henderson repeated an early pronouncement on the Volt: “The biggest problem with the Volt is what to do with old gas in the gas tank.” I suppose if you’re CEO of a giant company, the idea of $40K for a compact car may not be a problem for you. But, trust me: price is the Volt’s biggest problem.

Henderson also promised that “We’re changing the culture of the company”—as if saying it enough times will makes it come true.

Up to this point, the GM Product Technology Event was largely a matter of endurance, with a little bit of wining and dining. The presentations were occasionally interesting and a little enlightening. Equally often, they were boring, uninteresting, vacuous and/or annoying. We saw some pretty cars in the Salons, but that only carries the program so far. Some won’t make it to market, some will change radically before they do. The Salons are an exercise in “maybe” and “maybe” won’t win me over.
In the afternoon, things changed, radically, for the better.
[Part Two is here.]
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61 Comments on “Editorial: How GM Tried to Win Me Over, Part One...”


  • avatar
    mikey

    So niether the author or is friend are gonn’a run out and buy a GM. Fair enough, but if I’m reading it right, they both came away with a different attitude than what they came in with.

    GM lost nearly two generations of customers. Winning them back is going to take time and patience. I believe this program is a step in the right direction.

  • avatar

    I give Cadillac a C+ on style. Yes, it is distinctive, and recognizable, but it looks to me as if it’s trying, but not hard enough. Like some 8th graders came up with it. It’s as if, even with Caddy, styling is a stepchild in the GM hierarchy. I’d love to see what Harley Earl would do with it if he were around today.

    As for the manual seats, it saves weight. I’m all for that.

    A volt (as seen in yesterday’s news blog) might be an interesting car if they took out the batteries and installed a small ICE and a manual. Of course, they’d have to change the name, but they would be all set to compete against the fit and the yaris.

  • avatar
    JT

    Holy brownstuff!!

    Yet another skilled and talented writer shows up on TTAC. Very nicely done, Mr. Hatheway–a good story, and so far very well told.

    I’m looking forward to Part II et seq.

    RF: if there’s ever a “Best of TTAC” compilation, this should join selections from Lang, Neidemeyer and some others.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Darwin, thank you for your excellent report. I felt like I was there myself. Your perspective, insight and conclusions were all spot-on.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    Excellent article. As for the Lutz “perception gap” I know exactly where that is. It’s under the seat adjustment lever.

    Manual seat adjustment lever? In a supposedly luxury car? What?!

  • avatar
    gossard267

    Well written, but a question:

    Doesn’t the 3-series, the purported bogey of the CTS, have standard manual seats and rear legroom that is even more inadequate?

    • 0 avatar
      iainthornton

      That’s the point I was gagging to make
      my mother has a 320d M Sport
      £29,000 all in, and STILL with manual seats, NO leather and laughable rear AND front legroom
      and I’m hardly enormous – 6’2 1/2″

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    @gossard267

    I did not realize that, you are correct. The BMW 323i comes with manual seats. All other 3 models come with electrically adjusted seats standard. But you should consider that the 323i costs 5 grand less than the CTS, in Canada anyways.

  • avatar
    ajla-

    When I got home, I looked at the Lexus web site; power seats appear to be standard on an ES-350. It also looks like they come standard on a Camry XLE. Is manual seat adjustment a problem for Caddy’s supposed BMW beater?

    With this paragraph, I must respectfully question if the author of this piece has much experience with BMWs. In the United States, the 128i, 135i, and 328i (we don’t have a 323i here) all come with standard manual seat adjustment. BMW also charges extra for leather seating materials (standard leatherette) up until the 535i.

    I would also say that the 3-series, 5-series, and FE2/FE3-suspended CTS are so dynamically superior to the ES350 that they scarcely deserve to be called competitors.

    In order to dynamically compete with the FE2/FE3 CTS or the BMW, a Lexus customer must go with the IS250/IS350, which is a small enough car that the EPA classified it as a sub-compact.

    • 0 avatar
      iainthornton

      right
      am I right in thinking that the ES is Camry based? We don’t get the ES/Camry in Britain
      used to have Camry, discontinued due to poor sales
      the Camry, as a piece of automotive design, is substandard. Strangely harsh ride, poor dynamics
      the features which make it appeal to a majority are the neutrality and the perceived quality. I won’t make a comment negative or positive as to the quality since I haven’t experience it.

  • avatar
    Boff

    Doesn’t the 3-series, the purported bogey of the CTS, have standard manual seats and rear legroom that is even more inadequate?

    Correct on both counts. The manual Bimmer chairs even feature a handy “memory” function: 5 clicks up for my wife, 5 clicks back for me. Sadly, BMW lost the plot with the E90 when they moved the fore-aft lever away from the side of the seat and put it under the front.

  • avatar
    jwltch

    Absolutely fascinating! I could read stuff like this all day. Can’t wait for more!

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    …and further, if you get the BMW 328i, which is about 500 bucks less than the entry CTS, you get the electrically adjusted seats standard and near identical 0-60 numbers…I think the CTS has a 0.3 second edge…doubt a person would notice in real-world driving.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    David Holzman :
    I give Cadillac a C+ on style
    I would give it an A-, but we all have different taste. Didn’t you say the Saab with Miss Mass yesterday was in good taste?
    See, we really differ.

  • avatar
    segfault

    Yes, the base 3-series comes standard with manual seats. I think the uplevel 335i may have power seats and xenons standard, though. And the back seats of any of those cars aren’t going to be comfortable for anyone who’s 6’3″.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    In the United States, the 128i, 135i, and 328i all come with standard manual seat adjustment.

    Do they? Hmm. In Canada all come with electronically adjusted seats with the exception of low-priced 323i. A CTS comparible BMW 328i is 500 bucks cheaper up here, with more standard luxury and near identical performance numbers. Which would explain why I see about 7 BMW 328s up here a day, see MAYBE 1 CTS a week.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    This was very enjoyable and full of telling details interwoven with just the right amount of personal history with cars (although you may want to correct “August 10, 2010” – I thought I’d lost a whole year there for a second).

    Did Lutz really blame GM’s perception problem on the state of journalism? GM’s failure (with Lutz himself among the leadership) led to a drastic decline in its advertising, which all by itself constituted a good-sized chunk of magazine and newspaper income. His own company therefore shares some responsibility for the large number of buyouts and layoffs among journalists this past year.

    The slipperiness of GM’s claims about the Volt reminds me of the “in the ballpark” language GM used in 1970 when introducing its new Vega, with respect to its fuel economy versus the small imports it was supposed to compete against. That car, even if it hadn’t had the design flaws that are so well-known, would have turned out too heavy by several hundred pounds – a fairly high percentage of total weight among that group of small cars. Two whole generations of buyers (counting only since the Vega) have learned that GM just about never gets it right the first time, and they’ll be properly skeptical of any new GM model for at least another 10-20 years, I’d bet.

  • avatar
    commando1

    jwltch :
    “Absolutely fascinating! I could read stuff like this all day. Can’t wait for more!”

    Absolutely. I thought the same thing.

    RE: About winning you over….
    I would have come out more jaded than ever.
    Plus I would have been pissed that I had to suffer airplane travel to do it.

  • avatar
    slateslate

    Two suggestions that GM should do but probably never will:

    1. Move its HQ and design center to Southern California. Detroit’s corporate culture is too insular, all the roads are straight and I’d imagine if given a choice the top tier automotive talent would rather work in Southern California. (though in all fairness, being in So. Cal. didn’t help Ford’s PAG, lol)

    2. As stated above match/beat the Hyundai warranty to address the ‘perception gap.’

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    …I decided to check out the Canada CTS specs and in canuck-town the CTS comes standard with electrically adjustable seats just like the Canadian 328i. Sounds like you yanks are getting shafted :) 328i is still 500 bucks cheaper though…the brand power alone should be enough to sway many buyers to the Bimmer…
    No Audi A4 in USA or Canada comes with manual seats. But the only A4 around the same price as the CTS is the frontrack w/CVT transmission. As much as I love Audi….yuk.

  • avatar
    vvk

    a) I would never buy a Toyota. I have a problem with how they drive and with what their owners think of themselves and of other people.

    b) I prefer manual seats. Lexus sucks.

    c) Interesting article otherwise, thanks.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Being passionate about GM and influential, I would think all TTAC staff and regular contributors should merit a red carpet visit invitation.

    Not to mention having been so right for so long.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    A4 Frontrak with 6mt is less than with CVT. A4 quattro unoptioned with 6mt is the A4 to buy. Unless you want S4 or Rs4. My humble opinion.

  • avatar
    Cicero

    I should be working, but I started reading Mr. Hatheway’s piece and couldn’t stop. Excellent work. Thank you.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    (call it “puddle of consciousness”).

    LOL! I’m stealing this line.

    Social Media may be “hip,” but I doubt it’s as influential as GM and other large corporations believe. The effective lifespan of a Tweet or Facebook entry—should we admit that it contains editorial value—is measured in minutes. The lifetime of information on social media matches the lifetime of fads, not the lifetime of most of the things we need in our lives. And certainly not cars.

    I disagree. Or rather, I agree if we confine ourselves to the corporate spiel that gets tweeted or entered on fb. But people’s individual responses may have far reaching and long lasting influence.

    For example, fb allows me to keep in touch with a sister who lives in another state. She’s car shopping (and mad as hell about having to put a new tranny in her 6 year olf View – about a year ago) She figures another year or two and she’ll be buying, and she’s starting to check things out now.

    Now, I’m the car guy in my family. I might not know much about cars compared to most of the B&B, but compared to people who don’t know diddly and don’t really care, I’m a font of “expertise”.

    So, my sister says reliability is the most important thing to her, and I reply that she wants to look at Hondas and Toyotas. I probably will influence her decision but it’s possible I’ll influence 11 of her friends, who’ll see my comment. People I don’t know, have never heard of, will never meet, might be influenced by the comment of the “expert”. I’d say it’s pretty powerful stuff.

  • avatar
    ton12

    “Global Warming is a croc…”
    Really? Are you really trying to win people over? I don’t want to make a statement about global warming myself in this post,but I presume GM invited drivers of compact and hybrid cars of non-GM brands because maybe THEY are concerned with global warming. Is this guy really the marketing expert he claims to be?

  • avatar
    noreserve

    Nice write-up! Good to know that GM is at least trying to right the ship. And I agree that a Cadillac should have passenger power seat adjustment. That CTS should also have better than 4-star crash safety, failing interior trim pieces and a console that doesn’t intrude on your right knee. Sorry, couldn’t resist dinging the so-called world-beater.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    The ‘perception gap’ is nothing more than the fact that most of us who can actually afford Japanese cars also get to enjoy Detroit’s finest [sic] at the rental car counter when we travel for business or pleasure.

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    Everyone knows the best car made is a free one.

    Perhaps the trip would have been better spent at the bar down the street from the GM plant at shift change. I would guess better ideas, innovation, and cost cutting measures, would be effectively solved over a beer roundtable.

  • avatar

    @Juniper
    touche. Thanks for the laugh.

    Of course, my sense of style is better than yours. Just kidding! Actually, I’m betting you’re a different generation from me, which might account for the different tastes. I was born during the Eisenhower Administration, and to me, cars of the ’50s and ’60s have a level of personality that is simply lacking on most modern cars. If you were born much later, you may see them quite differently.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Perception gap my pale white ass. If GM lacks sufficient confidence in it’s products to offer an honest 10-year factory warranty why should I, who has been burned before, risk my money and peace of mind?

  • avatar
    Tosh

    Very nicely written, Darwin! Come back any time!

    New GM:
    1. Thinks ‘global warming’ is a crock;
    2. Thinks ‘perception gap’ exists only in the media;
    3. Thinks a $40k family economy car is OK;
    4. Thinks manual seats in a Caddy is OK;
    5. Thinks Aveo (I assume) competes with Fit and Yaris;
    6. Has only now thought to “think about the customer”?

    The only ‘change’ I see from this company is fewer brands and new ownership. But the same old rich white men still spin the same old tales. I give them two years tops.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    Hmmmm… not a peep about how GM plans top back their cars? Or how they plan the whip their dealership experience to more fun than a root canal visit at the dentist?

    So they make slicker looking cars? Who cares if dealing with them is like dealing with the DMV?

  • avatar

    Dynamic88 :
    August 14th, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Now, I’m the car guy in my family. I might not know much about cars compared to most of the B&B, but compared to people who don’t know diddly and don’t really care, I’m a font of “expertise”.

    So, my sister says reliability is the most important thing to her, and I reply that she wants to look at Hondas and Toyotas. I probably will influence her decision but it’s possible I’ll influence 11 of her friends, who’ll see my comment. People I don’t know, have never heard of, will never meet, might be influenced by the comment of the “expert”. I’d say it’s pretty powerful stuff.

    I’d point your sister in the direction of TrueDelta for up-to-date, objective reliability information on vehicles.

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte

    Lutz’ media “perception gap” – Really?

    The 2002 Chevy Cavalier that my son drives – in our family just since January – has an oil filter placed in a position where the best way to extract it is by removing the front right wheel. The front brake rotors are susceptible to early warping and have been replaced. The oil drain plug sits so close to the transmission pan that you can’t use a ratchet wrench to loosen it. When the driver’s door power window stopped working and the motor was removed, a flood of water drained out. The taillight sockets burn out regularly because of a poor water seal around the bezel. The parts guy at the dealer said, “We sell a lot of these,” when he sold me a replacement.

    I didn’t need the media to color my perception of the design and quality of this car. It colored outside the lines all by itself.

    Darwin – excellent article, can’t wait for Part 2.
    RF – thanks for allowing >800 words on this one!

  • avatar
    Boff

    GM is trying the Scion model of building the brand (rebuilding in this case) by creating mavens (in the mold of Dynamic88). Scion hosted hipster parties in clubs, though, with the cars off in a corner.

    It’s Tipping Point Marketing 101.

  • avatar
    DrivnEZ

    Dear Darwin,

    Unfortunately your intriguing article and captivating style provide evidence that GM’s existence disproves the theory of evolution.

    Thank you for your contribution,
    DEZ

  • avatar
    JoeEgo

    New GM:
    1. Thinks ‘global warming’ is a crock;

    Well, Bob Lutz thinks it is. I can only hope the company has no opinion one way or the other and just focuses on making efficient vehicles even the most “paleo” of conservatives want to buy. Just because people will buy more efficient cars on their own doesn’t require GM to lobby for regulations that end up killing significant portions of the car market. Heck, “climate change” legislation could have a major negative affect on GM’s bottom line. At the end of the day it’s their job to make money selling cars people want to buy.

    2. Thinks ‘perception gap’ exists only in the media;

    No, the ‘perception gap’ is driven, exacerbated, perpetuated, etc by the media (at least the ‘old’ media). Never you mind the people supposedly pushing pushing this ‘gap’ are individuals driven by their own personal experiences and biases. It’s not like they could know how their own GM vehicles compare…

    3. Thinks a $40k family economy car is OK;

    I don’t think I’ve heard anybody at GM speak of this as a “family” car. $40k…? Definitely a bigger problem than old gas.

    4. Thinks manual seats in a Caddy is OK;

    As discussed in other comments, this in line with the competition. The really unfortunate thing is that Cadillac makes anything “in line” with the competition. Just because the CTS is not the top of the line does not mean it cannot be an aspirational, superlative vehicle.

    5. Thinks Aveo (I assume) competes with Fit and Yaris;

    Ah, but it does compete with them. Poorly, to be sure, but I don’t see how you can argue it is not a direct competitor.

    6. Has only now thought to “think about the customer”?

    Meaningless platitudes. Using this as a rhetorical cudgel is like scowling at a person who first comments on the great weather at 2pm because it’s obviously been great since 9am (you unobservant dolt).

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Thanks, great article, looking forward to the next installment.

    The new GM; i.e., the new cluelessness.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Two main impressions:
    – This dog and pony show must have cost GM a fortune in direct and indirect expenses.
    – GM folks did a lot of talking when they should have done a lot of listening. I guess the real purpose was to turn the guests into missionaries for Government Motors’ products.

    If I were running GM, I’d have my people talking to ex-customers (“why did you quit buying GM cars?”). Also, to savvy people at the retail level, such as Buickman, to ask “what do shoppers like or dislike about our cars?” I bet few if any Buick-friendly customers would say they want squashed rooflines, high beltlines and gun slit windows.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    If I were running GM, I’d have my people talking to ex-customers (”why did you quit buying GM cars?”)

    Doesn’t GM send out/call customers for satisfaction surveys? I know that every time I call my Audi dealership, book an appointment, stop by to grab some free valve caps (someone keeps stealing mine) or simply call the service department to ask a question on fuel recommendations, I get a call or letter from them asking how they did. And, it should be no surprise; I always get excellent service from them. But that kind of thing is usually up to the dealer to do, and from what I understand, customer service from GM dealers is….less than great?

    When I bought my used Audi, I got a thank-you letter, dealer satisfaction form, free subscription to Audi magazine, a “history of Audi” book and Belgian candy in a nice wood Audi box. All from Audi corp, not the dealer. Does luts plan on sending a nice memo on “Myths of the Perception Gap” to their buyers? (sorry, could not resist)

  • avatar
    ChristyGarwood

    Darwin, excellent review! I am on the edge of my seat until part II.

    All, GM purposely invited its harshest critics to this event. I attended an employee event which was limited to the design studios – no pre-production assembly tour or ride and drive in Milford for us. While DH doesn’t mention it, the designers asked the employees for questions and did listen to us. We were asked to blog internally afterwards and to be critical if that is how we felt. It is a step in the right direction and only time will tell if GM leadership changes anything based on the feedback.

    RE: Old GM enviro cleanup – money is set aside for this.

    RE: Volt pricing – $40K is only an assumption at this point, Volt isn’t priced yet. But new tech is always high priced when it first comes out. in 1976 a scientific calculator with reverse-Polish logic cost $100 and now you can buy one for what $5? My 53 inch Sony TV in 1998 cost $2000 and now that behemoth is a few hundred bucks because it isn’t a flat screen. Have patience with Volt pricing, let the product designers and manufacturing engineers do some work and see what happens. Like most new tech, there will be those that will cough up the dough just so they will be first.

    @slateslate – GM does have designers in SoCal, but HQ is in Warren Tech Center.

    @yankinwaoz – GM started a trial in CA this month where you can buy a vehicle using E-bay and then go pick it up at the dealership – so people can avoid the awful experience.

    @frizzlefry – GM dealers do follow-up surveys, written and phone, after every visit, even if it is for routine LOF, tire rotation, etc. There is an 800 number in every owner’s manual that owners can call when they have trouble at dealership.

    GMC Terrain is known to have a polarizing design but I must be an exception because I was indifferent. I did like the interior and thought the usable space was spot on in terms of versatility for a family of four, even if the kids are still in car/ booster seats.

  • avatar
    Mike999

    “Lutz’ calling global warming a “crock of hoya” would be somewhat more credible if his lengthy answer hadn’t involved several “facts” which I know to be wrong. Why he bothers defending himself on this topic, or even discusses it, is an open question.”

    Still no connection to the oil industry? I’d say it takes a briefcase of convincing these days to not see Climate Change in your Back Yard. When can we start suing GM and the Coal and Oil industry for this?
    http://drought.unl.edu/DM/MONITOR.HTML

    But, my biggest fear is these crackpot’s think, this Volt will sell itself, at any price. That this Volt will have a Halo effect of being “GM’s Pruis”. And all Prius buyers will magically be snapped up by this car.

    60% of the countries that pump oil are already in oil production decline: Peak Oil. The Volt will not be successful unless it’s AFFORDABLE.

    If Lutz wants this car to be successful, he’d better shut his mouth and put his A$$ in the car and drive it. Is it comfortable, does it handle and brake well, etc.

    But finally, GM scores in Consumer Reports tests have improved. There is a smaller delta quality difference between themselves and Toyota.

    Let me tell you a little Honda Pilot story: Dealer insisted my Pilot ENGINE MOUNTS had worn out after 60,000 miles. There was no feel or visible damage. What could be killing GM, and is now KILLING HONDA is an infested network of CROOKS IN DEALERSHIPS.

  • avatar
    npbheights

    No power passenger seat in a CTS?!! I have never been in a Cadillac without a power seat. It was always amusing as a young boy to play with the chrome tiped toggle control for the button tucked power leather seat in our 1985 Eldorado while waiting for the tow truck because the HT4100 died. That car was such a problem, I knew what an HT4100 was and that it was no good before I was ten years old.

  • avatar
    npbheights

    The good news was that GM replaced that engine in the Eldorado for free in 1991. The bad news is they replaced it with another HT4100 :-<

  • avatar
    jkumpire

    With all due respect,

    Lutz is right about global warming, or what is now known as global climate change. It is a crock, as GM cars are. Those kind of statements by him almost make me want to buy a GM car, just to support a company that has a guy like him in it. At leas the is a guy who is not so PC it makes you sick.

    However, that is like sleeping on a nice mattress after 2 months on a bed of nails; the holes have not healed yet. Maybe one day there will more positive things about GM than that.

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    mikey: “GM lost nearly two generations of customers. Winning them back is going to take time and patience.”

    mikey, I agree with you. But the vibe I got from GM’s leadership, right up through 2:00pm on Monday, was that they think there’s a quick fix.

    ajla-: “With this paragraph, I must respectfully question if the author of this piece has much experience with BMWs.”

    The author doesn’t have much experience with BMWs. But he would like to. :)

    Between Farago trying to hold the piece to a reasonable length and my occasional senior moments, something wasn’t emphasized the way it should have been.

    What I meant to convey was that this surprised me in a Cadillac. It’s not just a sports car, it’s the grandchild of my grandfather’s ’68. I expect a lot from it. And I was surprised. Having checked the Toyota XLE, I think my surprise was not out of line.

    gottacook: “(although you may want to correct “August 10, 2010” – I thought I’d lost a whole year there for a second)”

    Actually, the typo was in the original e-mail. I forget when I noticed it but it seemed like awfully early to get an invitation like that out.

    If they did organize these things a year in advance, maybe they could save some money on plane fare. Doesn’t a 14-day, non-refundable advance purchase still save quite a bit? It’s not like I’d suddenly decide not to go. I mean, are you kidding me? Free drinks and drive new cars? Now I know why people go into automotive journalism.

    commando1: “Plus I would have been pissed that I had to suffer airplane travel to do it.”

    I love to go places. Especially on other people’s money. If only I could arrange for that to happen more often.

    There is a point at which suffering does kick in, though. Last month, I went to China. Almost 13 hours in the air in a densely packed 747. On my own dime. About ten thousand of them, actually.

    JoeEgo: “No, the ‘perception gap’ is driven, exacerbated, perpetuated, etc by the media (at least the ‘old’ media).”

    Did I meet you on Monday?

    JoeEgo: “Ah, but it (Aveo) does compete with them (Fit, Yaris). Poorly, to be sure,”

    I guess not.

    ChristyGarwood: “All, GM purposely invited its harshest critics to this event.”‘

    I really didn’t get that sense. I’m about the harshest they invited. Well, then there’s Dave but GM didn’t actually invite him. Nobody else seemed to be partial to “anything but GM.”

    Since the bankruptcy,though, criticism of GM takes on new dimensions and goes way beyond the cars. I didn’t notice any “No Government Motors for me!” types but that’s one of their new harshest critics.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    I’m with Lutz on the whole “climate change/global warming” deal. Here I am in Montana with all the windows closed in my house and the heat system running. It is August 15, and it is fall already here, very reminiscent of the 1960′s and 1970′s.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    I’ve been to two events where Lutz was a guest speaker, one prior to his time at GM – I forget who he was employed by.

    In each case he treated us all (industry people) with contempt. Sounds like his presentation style hasn’t mello’d at all.

    A single moment stood out to me the second time; no-one mingled with Lutz during the coffee break. He stood out like a white haired shag-on-a-rock with his thoroughly unsuccessful minders.

    For GM to have any chance, it needs to start by asking forgiveness. Lutz is pathologically incapable of admitting error and so are other past but present GM “leaders”.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    mikey: “GM lost nearly two generations of customers. Winning them back is going to take time and patience.”

    mikey, I agree with you. But the vibe I got from GM’s leadership, right up through 2:00pm on Monday, was that they think there’s a quick fix.…

    Actually, there are two things that are a quick fix that follows well with most of what is posted here:

    1. Offer an 8 year bumper to bumper warranty now. All those who may believe that the GM car of today is better than the one that burned them (which is likely true) can buy one knowing that at least there will be no risk for 8 years. Many of the people posting here will not even be interested in that, but these people will never buy GM, or D3 anyway, so they are a lost cause. But if the quality is there, and the CR reliability sluts begin to see the red dots, there is a chance that people will begin to trust GM again. It’s a long road, but possible if there is enough time. Remember at one time the thought of buying a Japanese car was reprehensible.

    2. Just focus on making the product right. Stop with the beancounted interiors and cheap switchgear. Most recent GM products from the last decade have really well designed layouts and materials, under the hood that is. While I think that’s great, most people remember the window switch that feels like overcooked pasta and the bargain basement plastics of the dash. Perception is reality, like it or not. So, GM, spend a couple of hundred extra and make people go “Wow, what a nice interior!!! This is GM? ” Again, the question looms… is there enough time?

    Lastly, Lutz should also keep his mouth shut when it comes to things he does not know anything about either. Concentrate on making your cars the best you can and leave the science to the scientists…

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    A question to the author: Why would one compare entry level Caddy CTS to top of the line Camry XLE?

    I’m not defending GM, just asking if Camry CE comes with power passenger seat as standard?

    Not looking at price point, (since people who shop for FWD Toyota would not give even a look to RWD Cadillac and visa versa) it’s not fare to compare entry level model to top of the line model, even when comparably equipped. Because customers shopping for CTS most likely would compare it to other RWD cars such as BMW 3-Series, Infinity G37, etc. And Camry directly competes with Altima, Mazda6, Malibu, Accord and Fusion.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    We’re having the hottest summer in Austin ever.

    The difference in average temperature between each of the remaining top 5 is 0.1 degree.

    The difference between #2 (last year) and this year (#1) is now over 1.2 degrees.

    Crock my *ss.

  • avatar

    M1EK

    I’m no global warming egghead, but I reckon you need a slightly larger statistical sample than one season. Get back to me after a couple of hundred thousand years or so. OMG! It will be too late! OK, make it a thousand then. Thanks.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    A thousand years is too late.

    Today’s probably too late. We have unprecedented melting of the Arctic ice cap. If this continues, the change in albedo makes a bigger difference, still.

    We’ve got somewhere between 2 and 3 centuries of temperature history. It’s getting hotter. There are anomalies, here and there, but the trend is up and matches the expected effect of CO2 increase pretty well.

    The underlying science is fairly simple, increased CO2 leads to higher temperatures. This has been known for 100 years.

    Roy Spencer, who actually knows his stuff and should command some respect, is one of the rare scientists working in-field on climate who thinks that we are not headed for disaster. He says everything we have seen so far is more closely associated with Pacific Decadal Oscillation and that climate turns out to be not as sensitve to CO2 as most everybody else thinks.

    The only problem is, Spencer can’t prove that. He’s working uphill against the known first-order effect and without a clear explanation of why the Earth’s climate is relatively insensitive to CO2′s first-order effect, we’d be taking quite a risk on faith in Spencer’s intuition.

    And Spencer is about it as far as knowledgeable people who aren’t alarmed goes. You see a lot of internet hooey about climate that ends in, “not a problem” and/or “it’s a conspiracy of the left” but, except for Spencer, all such reports I’ve looked at boil down to some bozo who doesn’t understand climate but thinks he does (I’m looking at you, Willie Soon) but said bozo gets widely repeated on web sites of a certain political distraction because one of the principal authors does happen to have a PhD after his name.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    Robert, I was responding to the guy who said global warming was disproven because some parts of the country had a cool summer this year.

    The global average temperatures prove the case of the AGW camp, not the Lutzes of the world.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Here’s my two cents on global warming:

    1. It’s real.
    2. It’s man made.
    3. As a practical matter, there’s not a damned thing we can do with it. Actually stopping global warming (not slowing the rate of temperture increases slightly, actually stopping them) would require the cooperation of India, China, and Russia (not happening), as well extreme measures (banning private gasoline powered vehicles, airplane travel, many manufacturing plants, and coal power plants, and maybe requiring forced abortions to reduce the population) which will never fly politically.

    Probably the solution is to attempt to artifically create global cooling. Failing that, we should concentrate our efforts with dealing with the effects of global warming as opposed to making a futile effort to stop it. Global warming will not be the end of life on the planet-far from it. Heck, some places will be helped by global warming. A farmer in a cold part of the planet would be helped by the longer growing season, for example.

  • avatar
    M1EK


    A farmer in a cold part of the planet would be helped by the longer growing season, for example.

    Unlikely. The temperature shifts don’t always correlate with places where the soil is suitable for farming, or where precipitation patterns will give enough rainfall for good crops, etc. Plus, of course, a lot of the farmland might already be used for other purposes.

    For instance, where I live (Austin) appears to be turning into a desert this summer (no rain, unprecedented heat). Should I go out and get me some desert plants? Well, they might like the heat and lack of moisture, but how will they like these heavy clay soils that accumulated over the last millenia of cooler, rainier, conditions?

    Sudden (climatologically speaking) changes haven’t worked out well in the past, and the one we’re causing now is more sudden than those were.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Wow, too bad they didn’t invite me.

    I’m very anti-GM; and mostly due to bad design, incompetent manufacturing and assembly, but most of all piss-poor warranty service.

    I am SOOOO HAPPPY not to be driving any GM vehicles. Very unfortunate that my happiest day was not when I bought my Corvette, it was when I sold the damned thing.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    I see no reason to start using technology that already exists to improve how we generate and consume energy.

    We can boost the grid with solar and wind reducing some of the need for coal/nukes/hydro.

    We can already have very durable EVs with the NiMH that Chevron sued/forced Toyota/Panasonic to quit making. These batteries powered normal RAV4 CUVs – a very useful size of vehicle with a very useful 100 miles range with all the typical creature comforts. While these vehicles won’t be the right vehicle for everyone – get them out there for those of us who want them and can use them as the tech stands today. The tech will mature and evolve into something more useful for more people.

    While this might not stop global warming – if it exists – it can’t hurt as long as people are getting motivated by these vehicles to offset the amount of electricity they consume on a daily basis with solar or wind or both as best suits their location.

    Offsetting what electricity a person consumes with solar and/or wind is an obvious and more direct method than paying some company to plant trees somewhere – which is very difficult to trace and verify.

    Instead of bailing out Detroit with tax dollars we should have been boosting the car companies able to build EVs right now, springing the NiMH patents via eminent domain just like when a gov’t takes a neighborhood for a shopping mall or NFL arena, and been paying people to put solar or wind power on their properties.

    Get the UAW out of the factories and let people work on green-tech instead.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    Interesting.


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