By on March 27, 2010

In America, certain European cars ostensibly set their drivers apart as willfully unique characters. Cars like the Volvo C30, or just about any Saab indicate that the driver’s desire to be seen as quirky iconoclasts outweighs any of the more rational metrics that might guide the car-buying process. And while in the US, compact size and European pedigree are the keys to stepping out of the automotive mainstream, making an automotive statement in Europe requires the opposite approach. Pickup trucks, muscle cars and American SUVs are the signifiers of choice for the Europeans who find themselves marching out of step with their efficient hatchback-driving fellow citizens. As a result, European advertisements for motorized guilty pleasures, like the one above, play on the perception that big V8s are downright antisocial. By refined European standards, no one should drive a brutish Camaro… but what’s more fun than blowing a supercharged raspberry at social niceties? And though the marketing for American muscle cars in Europe practically writes itself, global brands like Chevrolet don’t necessarily want the Ameri-barbarian associations… which might explain why Chevrolet has canceled plans to build a right hand drive Camaro.

Speaking to Motor Trend, GM’s Bob Lutz explains that swimming against the European mainstream can’t take priority for Chevrolet anymore.

No matter which car company you work for, there’s never enough engineering money, talent and capital to do everything you want to do. So when we looked at the hybrids that we have to do, and the plug-ins that we have to do, we just had to priority rank it and I couldn’t argue with the priorities.

In addition to engineering priorities and image issues, Lutz explains that the RHD markets also don’t have that many power-obsessed individualists. And sales estimates weren’t just low in the UK, but in Australia as well, where (RHD aside) the market taste resembles America’s more than anywhere else.

The UK was low, and…frankly I think Australia could have stepped up to the plate with some more. But when we finally looked at it there weren’t enough units to justify after all what is a fairly large investment. I am always personally sad when we create an exciting car and there’s demand for it in an interesting country like Australia, and we can’t afford it. It seems particularly ironic since all of the chassis development and the engineering was done there.

Meanwhile, will the parts of Europe that drive on the correct side of the road get Camaros as GM pushes its Chevrolet brand into greater importance there? Chevrolet.de offers no clues to the affirmative, listing Camaro as a “vehicle study.” And frankly, with Corvette and Cadillac also fighting (likely in vain) for Euro-acceptance, it makes far more sense for GM to limit V8s to their (theoretically) more profitable Caddys and ‘vettes. Besides, real European Amerophile cads buy their muscle cars from grey-market importers… because it’s just that little bit more delightfully antisocial.

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21 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Global Brands, Global Values Edition...”


  • avatar
    YotaCarFan

    It would be interesting to know how much it actually costs to create an RHD version of an LHD car. Other than a different dashboard, repositioning of the brake booster in the engine compartment, and a different steering shaft, is there so much to change that the costs of new molds, dies, etc., would outweigh the profits?

    It’s interesting that Mr. Lutz mentions Australia and the UK as potential RHD markets, but not Japan. It seems like a cop-out — as if he doesn’t think his product would be competitive there and doesn’t intend to step up to the challenge.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      One of the biggies is redoing the wiring harnesses, since the parts interrelationships are jumbled by the mirroring. You have to move the steering rack (or design a new one), which means new mounting points on the subframe. Whatever was mounted on the firewall where the brake booster moves to has to be swapped over. If you have a manual option, you have to figure out if there’s enough room to mount the clutch pedal and fluid reservoir behind the engine. If you have a foot pedal parking brake, that cable has to be rerouted. A noncentered handbrake *should* be mirrored as well.

      There are a lot of things that can and should be done in the design stage to facilitate a later RHD (or LHD) version of a car. Given GM’s financial and intellectual poverty, I’m guessing they didn’t do that stuff for the Camaro despite its RHD roots.

    • 0 avatar
      Uncle Mellow

      European makers don’t make proper RHD cars , they just move the pedals and steering wheel and instruments over.The last GM car I owned had a cable from the brake pedal (on the right) to the master cylinder/servo on the left.If you want a real RHD car you have to buy one made in Japan.

  • avatar

    The car above was engineered in Australia and built in Canada. Why is that for even one second considered an American car.

    I must say I enjoy watching GM head towards a 15% US marketshare. They really earned this!!

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      My grandsons first steps,or fresh cut grass,or maybe a straight 200yd drive. Thats were I find “joy”.

      But for some it closed factories and thousands of jobs lost, where they find thier joy.

      It must be tough to go through life with so much hate.

    • 0 avatar
      alexndr333

      Mikey +1

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      In Akear’s defense, a loss of marketshare for GM means a gain in marketshare for someone else (most likely Ford) so those jobs lost at GM factories could be jobs created at Ford factories.

      I can to a degree see where Akear is coming from. Not with GM mind you, as I kind of like GM, and I am impressed that lately they have been making some fairly desirable cares. I wouldn’t have shed a single tear however if Toyota’s latest blunder had led them into bankruptcy (a pipe dream from just one mistake, I know, alas) and led to the shuttering of all US based Toyota plants.

      Working for a foreign company, which sends most of its profits abroad, while the domestic competition is facing death throws, is tantamount to treason. I could have likely made a good bit more money last year if I had worked for the Toyota dealership in town instead of the Ford dealership, but having some sense of patriotism, there is just something wrong about working for the company that is leading the charge to destroy the US auto industry.

    • 0 avatar
      CarShark

      When people casually toss the word “treason” to describe those that don’t think like them, it makes it hard for me to take them seriously not just as enthusiasts, but as free-thinking beings.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      Nullo, they may keep the profits here, whatever that means, but they sure don’t seem to be keeping the jobs here… Was helping my neighbor put some running boards on his F-150, and underneath that truck I’ve never seen so many Heche en Mexico signs in my life. Oh yeah, next time you are in Kentucky, I want you to go visit a certain bar with me and explain to the good ol’ boys there how folks working for Toyota are treasonous. The first round’s always on me.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      You’re right, treason was too strong a word, I was fired up about some other things last night when I wrote that and got a bit carried away.

      At the end of the day I guess you can’t really blame the workers in the plants who need a job, but I do have issues with the politicians who gave out millions in tax breaks and incentives to foreign companies to build plants here so that they can better compete with our domestic industry.

      I don’t agree with China on a lot, but their joint venture policy makes sure that foreign companies can’t take over their domestic market. We, on the other hand, not only invited Toyota over to build as many cars and take as much marketshare as they want, we gave them hundreds of millions to do it.

    • 0 avatar
      Uncle Mellow

      The Camaro is an American icon. Nobody in England would imagine the new model is anything other than American. Remember that most people in England think Toyotas are Japanese, even though it is impossible to buy a new Japanese Toyota Car in Europe ( I think the SUV’s are Japanese maybe)

  • avatar

    There still is a (small) market for US (V8) cars in Europe. Have a look at the current offerings in German, for example at: http://www.geigercars.de/ .
    But I can’t buy s Mustang or a Camaro at my local Ford or GM dealer, nor do I can expect to get it serviced there. They simply don’t sell it in Europe, although they could rely on an established dealership.
    How come? Might have something to do with being not competitive enough, or simply lazy?
    Although I live in the vicinity of Geiger Cars, why should I buy one of these cars at these prices, and which one, BTW? Just to drive an US V8? Not really.
    There are other, more rewarding ways to waste money.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    My city has a large number of German snowbirds, and at least once a month we have someone buy a car (almost always a Mustang, but we have had a couple of Flexes as well) to ship to Europe. The customer loses all incentives (rebates, special financing, etc) in doing this, and they have to pay to ship it over, but from what I am told it is still cheaper than buying the same car overseas.

    It’s about time that everyone just goes LHD though. I’d love to see a world-wide consensus on automotive safety standards, one spec to which all cars can be built, whether for the US, Europe, or Asia, and be sold in all of those markets without having to redo costly designing and safety tests. Worldwide emissions standards should also be phased in (and for anyone crying about the death of the American V8, California is doing a good job of that for us already). Maybe as an olive branch the US and UK could agree to fully adopt the metric system so that speedos won’t have to have separate mph and kph setups.

  • avatar
    niky

    Difficult, when some of the biggest car companies in the world call Japan’s RHD market “home”.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Toyota is the only one that matters. Honda is the next closest, but they are still far smaller than GM, Ford, or Toyota. Subaru, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and Isuzu are still, in the grand scheme of things, niche manufacturers.

      The last time I checked, the ratio of LHD to RHD drivers in the world was more than 3:1. US automakers are biting the bullet and making small but high quality vehicles to appeal to other markets, it isn’t unreasonable to expect other markets to adjust to the global economy as well.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Suzuki is small, but they’re big in the all-important Indian market. Honda may be small on volume, but they’re influential.

      That said… RHD makers find no difficulty in making LHD versions of their cars… and if spending that little extra on engineering to make a LHD car RHD-ready means that LHD manufacturers don’t pose a threat to RHD manufacturers on their home turf, what’s the incentive for them to change?

      Japan, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, most of Southeast Asia (including Malaysia)… these markets are important enough for manufacturers that they produce RHD cars. It’s only mainland US manufacturers who have any problems penetrating these markets, but it’s more than the LHD-RHD divide that’s making it hard for them.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      I agree that it is more than the LHD/RHD divide that makes things difficult, but how can anyone argue that standardizing something as basic as the side of the car that the steering wheel goes on is a bad thing?

      The UK and Japan and maybe (a big maybe) Australia are the only places that matter that still use RHD. Being able to cut costs by not having to develop a platform and test cars with the steering wheel on two different sides seems like enough reason to have a few holdout countries learn to drive on the correct side of the road.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      I’m not saying it wouldn’t make it easier, but it’d be difficult to do at this point, considering how many of the big automakers are based in RHD markets.

      It’s difficult because these manufacturers might want to maintain the status quo, as it gives them captive markets that LHD makers find hard to penetrate. It helps Japan that a number of emerging Asian markets are following Japan down the RHD path. Who amongst the Asian tiger cubs is LHD? The Philippines, Vietnam? That fact alone puts those countries at a disadvantage in competitiveness for foreign investors looking to penetrate this rich and growing market segment. (And believe me… compared to the other “cubs” (though Malaysia is more like an adolescent tiger in comparison to the others), the Philippines / Vietnam market share is truly pathetic).

      That said, it would be nice to see the world united under one layout, be it RHD or LHD… but without phasing out millions upon millions of vehicles in the “wrong” configuration… it would, again, be difficult.

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    Probaly goes with economies of scales as well. I don’t know how many Commodores (G8′s) were sold in the US but against the whole production run of possible 80,000 RHD cars 10,000 LHD probaly made sense to re-engineer, where as a total sales deal of 1000 rhd Camaro’s against 80,000 Lhd Camaro’s didn’t make sense.

  • avatar
    geggamoya

    I would definately consider a Mustang for example, if it wasnt’ so damn expensive. A new grey-import is around 80.000€ for crying out loud.. The price is high mainly because of taxes, but also because the glass and lights have to be changed for e-approved parts.

    As it is now, the 300C is the only “muscle car” available, and the only model still being imported is the 3-liter diesel, starting at 49.000€.


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