The Truth About Cars » GM http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:31:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » GM http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Capsule Review: 2014 Chevrolet Traverse LT AWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2014-chevrolet-traverse-lt-awd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2014-chevrolet-traverse-lt-awd/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=902794 My, haven’t you matured. You’re a few years removed from realizing that a society’s population must grow if it is to thrive over the long haul. Yet instead of traditional government tactics like recruiting doctors from the other side of the Atlantic and engineers from the other side of the Pacific, you made the hilarious […]

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2014 Chevrolet Traverse LT AWDMy, haven’t you matured.

You’re a few years removed from realizing that a society’s population must grow if it is to thrive over the long haul. Yet instead of traditional government tactics like recruiting doctors from the other side of the Atlantic and engineers from the other side of the Pacific, you made the hilarious decision to utilize an in-house solution.

You’ve expanded the population all right. By way of the womb.

Child number one brought with him a surprising amount of stuff. Child number two takes up a lot of space, as well. But it’s the third and fourth kids that suddenly made the first bungalow and the first CR-V seem so very small.

Odds are, you’re not about to buy a minivan.

In July, Americans registered 46,519 new minivans. The Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, and Dodge Durango combined for 53,467 sales. (Another 12,649 sales were generated by premium three-row crossovers from Acura, BMW, Infiniti, and Audi.)

And then there are the very popular Lambda platform crossovers from General Motors. Of the three, the Chevrolet Traverse stands out as the most likely minivan comparison tool because of its lower base price: $31,870 for an LS front-wheel-drive Traverse, $34,745 to add all-wheel-drive, $40,565 for an AWD Traverse 2LT with rear seat entertainment.

2014 Chevrolet Traverse LT AWD profileOn paper, none of the three three-row crossovers which sell more often than the Traverse in the United States encourage as favourable a comparison with the ultimate family vehicle, the minivan. The Traverse offers greater available cargo space behind the third row, second row, and first row than the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot.

Not much wonder. The Traverse is 6.6 inches longer than the Explorer, 12.6 inches longer than the Highlander, and 12.3 inches longer than the Pilot. It’s longer than the Dodge Grand Caravan, as well, and comes within three-tenths of an inch of stretching as far as the Chevrolet Tahoe from bumper to bumper.

Traverses can also tow in quite a truck-like fashion, with a maximum rating of 5200 pounds, slightly more than the Explorer and Highlander; 700 pounds more than the Pilot.

The Traverse is more.

But as we know, less is actually sometimes more, and bigger is not always better.

2014 Chevrolet Traverse LT rearThe third row in the Traverse that GM Canada sent our way in August is more challenging to access than the third row in the Nissan Pathfinder, in part because of the Traverse’s flimsy second row levers. It’s roomy enough back there for typical third row occupants, but the seats themselves are torturous little items, hard and flat afterthoughts in what should be a contemporary minivan alternative.

Second row passengers are granted more space and comfort. Our test Traverse didn’t have the expansive glass roof, however, so one glance up reveals a fuzzy headliner. (One look around also reveals great deal of unfortunate grey-beige.)

For the driver and front passenger, there’s no arguing with the comfort level in highway cruise mode. This is a huge cabin with very adjustable seats. But almost all of the controls felt as though they were mounted too low, particularly in comparison to the very intelligent design of the latest Toyota Highlander’s cabin, where the screen is mounted high, a shelf holds items you want to easily grab hold of, and a massive centre bin swallows the lunch order for a family of eight.

GM’s MyLink is still slow, a trait which was admittedly exacerbated by the fact that during the Traverse’s stay, I also spent time with a Tesla Model S’s fast-acting touchscreen.

It’s not that there are any great complaints regarding the Traverse’s on-road behaviour. The ride quality could be slightly firmer, just enough to remove a hint of float. There’s something to be said for the way a modern near-5000-pound high-rider can handle. If 3000-pound sedans had made these kinds of advances over the last 15 years we’d be in awe. Even the brakes offer real bite, and the 281-horsepower 3.6L/6-speed automatic combo never struggles to adequately motivate the Traverse. More low-down torque would be appreciated, as thoroughly wringing out the V6 to locate that adequate motivation feels somewhat out of character for this not-a-minivan.

2014 Chevrolet Traverse LT AWD interiorIn fact, the most significant dynamic issue isn’t found under the hood or near the wheels, it’s in the cabin. The steering wheel is pencil-thin, as if GM is saying, “You were never going to have fun piloting this behemoth, so we’ve made sure the steering wheel reminds you of the least sporting Oldsmobile you’ve ever driven.”

So the Traverse is vast, it doesn’t need to be expensive, and it remains surprisingly composed in motion. It nevertheless feels like a product designed as a Saturn Outlook for an introduction in late 2006. That was a while ago.

There’s a cheapness to the often-touched interior parts that’s out of keeping with the huge cabin quality increases we’ve seen over the last seven years. That roughness around the edges – from the gravelly second row seat operation to the crude operation of the driver’s armrest and a sliding panel in the centre console – would disappoint in a vehicle of any price.

Even with the 2013 redesign, the Traverse looks like a bloated second-generation Hyundai Santa Fe, which wasn’t ugly, but isn’t exactly current.

Although the fuel economy our Traverse achieved during a mostly low-speed week on the highway easily beat its EPA ratings, the all-wheel-drive Traverse is rated at 16 mpg in the city. The Pathfinder is rated at 19; the Highlander and stretched Santa Fe at 18. Consuming between 12% and 19% more fuel in city driving isn’t a way of winning friends, nor will it positively influence buyers.

The Traverse is undeniably showing signs of age. That it remains relatively competitive is perhaps a symbol of some level of inherent goodness. It may also relate to the idea that, for many family car buyers, bigger is simply better. Though you may frequently have doubts about how accurately that maxim applies to the size of your own family.

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Bill Mitchell’s Swan Song: The Phantom http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=897690 Since it was the last design of consequence that General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw, Wayne Kady’s 1980 Cadillac Seville is thought by some to be the ultimate expression of Mitchell’s design philosophy. No doubt Mitchell was a fan of what he called the “London look”, and the ’80 Seville had that in spades: a classic […]

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Since it was the last design of consequence that General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw, Wayne Kady’s 1980 Cadillac Seville is thought by some to be the ultimate expression of Mitchell’s design philosophy. No doubt Mitchell was a fan of what he called the “London look”, and the ’80 Seville had that in spades: a classic vertical grille, a bustle shaped rear end, a raked C pillar and a long hood. When accused of borrowing the bustle-back from a contemporary Lincoln, Mitchell reportedly got indignant and said that he stole it from Rolls-Royce, not the cross-town competition in Dearborn. However, while Mitchell went to bat for the controversial Seville design over the objections of Cadillac management, the Seville was not the ultimate expression of his personal taste.

That ultimate expression can instead be seen in a car that never made it to production and in fact was treated a bit like a step-child by GM brass. While the Seville’s razor sharp edges are justifiably associated with Mitchell, something that distinguished GM cars in the 1960s from what Michael Lamm calls Harley Earl’s “Rubenesque” ethos of the mid to late 1950s, the fact is that Mitchell loved the sweeping and elegant look of cars from the late 1930s. The first two cars that he oversaw at GM were the 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special and the 1941 Cadillac. Neither of those cars has a single creased edge.

1980 Cadillac Seville

1980 Cadillac Seville

His favorite cars were the custom Silver Arrow Buick Rivieras that he had personalized for his own use, and while there are some of Mitchell’s sharp edges on the Rivieras, particularly the first generation car, in profile the Rivs, most noticeably the boat-tailed versions, evoke the sweeping lines of cars from decades earlier.

Mitchell’s ultimate statement as a car designer would be the 1977 Phantom, a large, fastback two-seat coupe built atop a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis. Though the Phantom has some sharp edges, its proportions, flowing lines and exposed wheel wells  go back to the era of those Cadillacs that Mitchell designed in the late 1930s. Though some have speculated that the Phantom ended up in Mitchell’s possession as some sort of severance payment upon his retirement, while GM designers were indeed known to use one-off concept and show cars as their personal drivers, the Phantom never had a drivetrain. It still exists, but perhaps in line with its history the Phantom is almost hidden away in the corner of a museum.

This 1967 rendering by Wayne Kady of a hypothetical V16 powered Cadillac prefigures both the 1980 Seville and Bill Mitchell's Phantom of 1977.

This 1967 rendering by Wayne Kady of a hypothetical V16 powered Cadillac prefigures both the 1980 Seville and Bill Mitchell’s Phantom of 1977.

By 1977, Mitchell was a bit of an anachronism, a man with a Mad Men mentality in an era while Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinam were raising women’s consciousness, someone who could order a half dozen hookers for lunch and send out an underling to the bank to get the Benjamins to pay them. GM’s design and engineering teams had just created what would be their last masterpieces for decades, the downsized 1977 fullsize sedans, the first American cars designed from scratch to deal with more expensive gasoline, the result of the 1973 oil crisis. The new Chevy Impala, for example, was 700 lbs lighter, smaller in every exterior dimension, yet had more interior room and more cargo capacity than the land yachts it replaced. Those cars would be GM’s high point for years, as they were almost immediately followed by the disastrous X-cars, the Chevy Citation and it’s badge engineered siblings.

Bill Mitchell was not a man for downsizing. Not a small man himself, for his last personal design Mitchell opted for something that was not smaller, lighter nor more space efficient. It was his idea of a modern classic and his hope for the direction that GM design would take after his retirement. However, by 1977, Mitchell had been with the company for four decades and many of his contemporaries (and advocates) were long gone.

A styling show was planned for the GM board at the proving grounds and Mitchell had the Phantom shipped out to Milford on the sly, hoping to surprise the board of directors as well as some of the GM executives like Howard Kehrl, executive vice president in charge of the product planning and technical staffs. Kehrl wasn’t as well known and certainly not as flamboyant as Mitchell, but the engineer had risen up through the ranks and by the late 1970s, with many of Mitchell’s allies retired, Kehrl held more power in the corporation. Having been on the receiving end of Mitchell’s legendary foul mouth, Kehrl was in no mood for one of Mitchell’s power plays. He spotted the Phantom being prepared for display and ordered it off the grounds immediately. Lo, how the mighty are fallen. Mitchell reportedly fumed, but the lion was roaring in winter. Later that year Mitchell retired from GM and opened up his own design studio in suburban Detroit. He died in 1988.

Pontiac_Phantom_01

By 1977, times had changed. In a 1979 interview he told Corvette historian Michael B. Antonick, “You know,  years ago when you went into an auto styling department, you found sweeps…racks of them. Now they design [cars] with a T-square and a triangle.”

Even the designers who had risen through GM’s design studios under Mitchell to positions of power themselves realized that times had passed the designer by. Jerry Hirschberg, who later would head Nissan design, is quoted by Michael Lamm as saying, “”As the years passed, Mitchell’s rather narrow biases and hardening vision limited GM styling. He was fighting old battles and withdrawing increasingly from a world that was being redefined by consumerism, Naderism and an emerging consciousness of the environment.”

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George Moon, a senior interior designer at GM reflected on Mitchell at the end of his career: “Bill Mitchell ruled over GM Design Staff during its most creative, most exciting years in corporate history. No matter his mood, his manner, his style—he gave the place a verve and an excitement it never had before or since. He brought out the best creative energies from all of us, and he oversaw the design of the greatest diversity of cars ever produced.

“Bill couldn’t have survived in today’s arena: too many rules, too many handcuffs, committees and bosses. Nor could today’s corporation tolerate Mitchell’s flamboyance, impertinences, ego and lifestyle. He was his own man, flawed and gifted, crude and creative. You had to love him or hate him, but no one in America could ignore him.”

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Mitchell seemed to have understood that times had passed him by. Even his internal code name for the Phantom, “Madame X” evoked a bygone era. Concerning the Phantom he later said, “Realizing that with the energy crisis and other considerations, the glamour car would not be around for long. I wanted to leave a memory at General Motors of the kind of cars I love”.

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Start the video and click on the settings icon to select 2D or 3D formats

Though his power had ebbed, Mitchell was still a legend at General Motors. Perhaps out of consideration for Mitchell’s indelible role in GM history, unlike many concepts the Phantom wasn’t destroyed, and while it’s not in a place of honor in GM’s Heritage Center, the company’s private car museum, the automaker has either donated or loaned it to Flint’s Sloan Museum where you can see it in their Buick Gallery.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Another Bad Sign For Oshawa As GM Moves Chevrolet Equinox To Mexico http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/another-bad-sign-oshawa-gm-moves-chevrolet-equinox-mexico/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/another-bad-sign-oshawa-gm-moves-chevrolet-equinox-mexico/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 14:38:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=903322 News that GM will be sending some production of the Chevrolet Equinox to their Ramos Arizpe, Mexico plant passed without much fanfare – GM’s PR machine was much more interested in touting the move of the Cadillac SRX to Spring Hill, Tennessee. While the Equinox’s move to Mexico will backfill capacity at that plant, it […]

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News that GM will be sending some production of the Chevrolet Equinox to their Ramos Arizpe, Mexico plant passed without much fanfare – GM’s PR machine was much more interested in touting the move of the Cadillac SRX to Spring Hill, Tennessee. While the Equinox’s move to Mexico will backfill capacity at that plant, it spells another blow for the future of GM’s Oshawa, Ontario plant.

The Equinox (and its GMC Terrain twin) is primarily built at GM’s CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. Currently overflow production is handled by Oshawa and Spring Hill. For the next generation, Ingersoll and Ramos Arizpe were in direct competition for the new crossovers, with Ingersoll eventually winning out.

The Theta crossovers (as the Equinox and Terrain are known internally) have been a big success for GM, necessitating the overflow production at two sites. But with the move to Mexico, it’s merely another bad sign for Oshawa, which has had a succession of product moving away from the plant, and absolutely nothing in the way of investment announcements or product commitments.

At this rate, Oshawa’s closing in 2016 (when GM’s bailout-related obligations to the Canadian government expire) is almost a certainty.

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GM Moving Cadillac SRX Production To Tennessee http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/gm-moving-cadillac-srx-production-tennessee/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/gm-moving-cadillac-srx-production-tennessee/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 18:11:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=901666 GM will shift production of the Cadillac SRX crossover from a facility in Mexico to the former Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The move will bring $185 million in investment and 390 jobs to the plant. In addition to the SRX, another unnamed “midsize” vehicle and a new series of small-displacement Ecotec engines will be […]

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GM will shift production of the Cadillac SRX crossover from a facility in Mexico to the former Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The move will bring $185 million in investment and 390 jobs to the plant.

In addition to the SRX, another unnamed “midsize” vehicle and a new series of small-displacement Ecotec engines will be built at Spring Hill. Reports claim that the GMC Acadia will move to the plant in 2016, which would suggest future commonalities between the two vehicles, which are currently built on separate platforms.

Spring Hill was once the production site for GM’s Saturn vehicles, and was an overflow site from the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and the Chevrolet Traverse.

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Piston Slap: Less Slap, More (oil) Control http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/piston-slap-less-slap-oil-control/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/piston-slap-less-slap-oil-control/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 12:57:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=898410 Pete writes: Hey Sajeev, I got one for you. Several engines nowadays are set up to operate on half their cylinders under light-load conditions. Would the design considerations for piston rings vary from those normally used for such cylinders that are only used part-time? The question arises in the context of a 2009 V6 Accord […]

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(photo courtesy: autozone.com)

(photo courtesy: autozone.com)

Pete writes:

Hey Sajeev, I got one for you.

Several engines nowadays are set up to operate on half their cylinders under light-load conditions. Would the design considerations for piston rings vary from those normally used for such cylinders that are only used part-time? The question arises in the context of a 2009 V6 Accord that is currently in the Honda dealer’s shop to have the piston rings replaced at the manufacturer’s expense to cure a continual oil consumption and spark plug fouling problem.

Sajeev answers:

We learned from a previous Piston Slap that General Motors answered your query:  the displacement-on-demand (DoD) 5.3L truck motor (and its sister, LS4-FTW?) needs new and redesigned piston rings to cut oil consumption in the four deactivated cylinders. The motors still (supposedly) performs as intended with strong compression from the compression rings, oil burning is only a shameful side effect. Not to make a molehill out of a mountain, but that’s it.

Or perhaps turn off DoD with a computer re-flash, since there’s no free lunch in this business: if you want fuel economy, buy a lighter, trimmer and smaller engined vehicle. But I digress…

Honda, operating under the same Laws of Physics (Thermodynamics?) has the same DoD problem. In theory, the design of the “oil control” piston rings is crucial: more info is in this insanely detailed article. Definitely great bedtime reading for the Pistonhead.

Honda’s Class Action lawsuit doesn’t seem to hurt Odyssey or Accord resale values, so dump it if you wish. Or regularly check your oil level and spark plug condition, doing so lets affected V6 Honda products live a long and happy-ish life. Heck, this much oil consumption (1-3 quarts per high mileage oil change) was once the norm (during old school 3000 mi intervals) and that’s without DoD’s inherent fuel savings.

But that fact remains: save fuel or save oil? Pick one, son.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Crapwagon Outtake: It Doesn’t Get Much Cheaper Than This http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/crapwagon-outtake-doesnt-get-much-cheaper/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/crapwagon-outtake-doesnt-get-much-cheaper/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 19:52:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=899362 I have an unnatural aversion to two-door cars. Jack’s Accord V6 Coupe would, in my eyes, be perfect if it were only a sedan. Give me an Audi S4 or a BMW M3 over their coupe siblings, no matter how attractive the lines. Ok, maybe I’d take an S5. I’d much prefer a 4-door GTI […]

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I have an unnatural aversion to two-door cars. Jack’s Accord V6 Coupe would, in my eyes, be perfect if it were only a sedan. Give me an Audi S4 or a BMW M3 over their coupe siblings, no matter how attractive the lines. Ok, maybe I’d take an S5. I’d much prefer a 4-door GTI to the three door variant, and I’m glad that our Fiesta ST has a set of rear entry ports. Most people didn’t feel that way when it came to the Chevrolet Cobalt SS.

Even six years on, no front-drive car has been able to touch the Cobalt SS for outright, front-drive performance. Today’s Focus ST, making 250 horsepower is considered brawny for its class. The Cobalt SS was besting those numbers in 2008, making 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

A GM-sanctioned Stage 1 power kit can boost output to 290 horsepower and 340 lb-ft for a mere $500. Every review, from magazine journalists to friends who have owned them, is full of praise for their outright speed and front-drive dynamics. It steers, stops and goes brilliantly.

But the rest of the car is still a pre-bankruptcy GM, and the interior is as unpleasant as the car is fast. The example shown above has 131,000 miles on it, and costs $5370 (USD). From a pure horsepower per dollar standpoint, that is absolutely unbeatable. I wish it had fewer miles on it, but with a one year production run of about 500 units, finding any sedan is going to be tough. Even so, I don’t think I’d pull the trigger. Maybe if I were 17 and looking for the absolute fastest car I could afford with the meager earnings from my summer job. But those days, like the days of high-performance compact Chevys, are long gone.

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Did Obama Administration Help Delphi Evade U.S. Taxes? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/obama-administration-help-delphi-evade-u-s-taxes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/obama-administration-help-delphi-evade-u-s-taxes/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 23:01:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=883441 From Bloomberg’s Zachary Mider comes a new allegation regarding the restructuring of (formerly) American parts maker Delphi: the Treasury Department under Obama helped the company re-incorporate in England as part of a tax avoidance strategy. If that’s true, it’s an embarrassing revelation for a President who recently condemned American companies that incorporate abroad as “corporate […]

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Delphi-Logo

From Bloomberg’s Zachary Mider comes a new allegation regarding the restructuring of (formerly) American parts maker Delphi: the Treasury Department under Obama helped the company re-incorporate in England as part of a tax avoidance strategy. If that’s true, it’s an embarrassing revelation for a President who recently condemned American companies that incorporate abroad as “corporate deserters.” Like many things in the financial world, however, appearances are often deceiving.

As Mider explains, Delphi was spun off from GM in 1999 in an attempt to diversify the part’s division’s clientele and make it more globally competitive. The move didn’t pan out; by 2005 Delphi was in bankruptcy court, where it scraped along until the 2009 financial crisis. The Great Recession made Delphi’s situation acute; if GM collapsed, the parts company had no hope of surviving. Conversely, GM needed the company to keep supplying it with crucial parts. After the bailout package for GM was approved in the waning days of the Bush Administration, Treasury officials understood that Delphi would need to be recapitalized as well. Steven Rattner, the Wall Streeter appointed by President Obama to oversee the bailout of GM, helped broker a deal to “fix” Delphi by getting the company out of bankruptcy court.

Initially, the hedge fund Platinum Equity LLC of Los Angeles agreed to divvy up Delphi’s assets with GM, with the newly Treasury-backed carmaker providing the majority of the financing (Treasury money) for the deal. However, the agreement with Platinum fell through when another one of Delphi’s creditors, the hedge fund Elliot Management, objected to the terms of the deal. Elliot and the firm Silver Point Capital partnered to put together their own bid for Delphi, which GM agreed to. GM invested $1.7 billion into Delphi’s equity, and bought out its steering parts business and a few factories for a further $1.1 billion. All of this money came from an escrow account filled with $16 billion in bailout money set up after GM emerged from bankruptcy, and all the spending required Treasury Department approval before it could go forward. There was one small catch in the fine print of the deal: GM and the hedge funds would reincorporate Delphi in some foreign country, ostensibly to obtain a better tax position. Mider explains that this practice, known as “inversion,” is becoming increasingly common amongst U.S.-based companies seeking a more favorable tax climate. Delphi was incorporated in England for that purpose, and the money was disbursed from the Treasury escrow account after the reincorporation was complete. The original agreement with Platinum didn’t contain language about foreign reincorporation, although it later emerged that the fund’s lawyers had set up two paper companies in Luxembourg for that purpose.

The deal between Elliot, Silver Point, and GM to rescue Delphi turned out to be a great investment for all parties involved. After Delphi went public again in 2011, the stock price surged. GM sold its stake back to Delphi for a $1.6 billion profit, and Elliot Management booked $1.3 billion on an initial investment of $300 million. At this point, GM was under no obligation to pay the Treasury anything. The terms of the bankruptcy meant that all of the Treasury’s debt had been swapped for equity in the “new” carmaker. The U.S. Government wouldn’t see a dime of GM’s profits from the Delphi deal, besides any increase in the market value of its equity stake. And it had been cut out of a large chunk of the tax revenue from Delphi, which was now headquartered in England under more favorable rules.

The question becomes who knew what, when, and how much leverage the Treasury had to exert on the terms of the deal with Elliot and Silver Point. The time window for the agreement is key. GM’s bankruptcy proceedings concluded on July 10, 2009. Steven Rattner and the rest of the bailout task force stepped aside, believing their jobs were finished. But the collapse of the Platinum deal happened soon afterwards, because some of Delphi’s creditors weren’t satisfied with the terms. The deal between Elliot, Silver Point, and GM was inked on July 26. When interviewed by Bloomberg, Rattner claimed to have no knowledge of any plan to incorporate Delphi in a foreign locale at the time of the original negotiations. Even if he had, it’s not likely that he would have been able to stop it. Because the Treasury never technically held a direct stake in Delphi (unlike its assumption of equity in GM’s case), it was only an indirect party to the final settlement of Delphi’s bankruptcy proceedings. Rattner had denied a $150 million cash infusion from GM to Delphi previously, when it became clear that transfer wouldn’t end Delphi’s bankruptcy proceedings. The Treasury could have rejected disbursement of funds for GM’s investment in the parts maker after the reincorporation of Delphi in England. But that would have iced the deal and put Delphi’s future in jeopardy, which in turn would have been counterproductive to the purpose of the bailout in the first place. Even so, it’s not a proud moment in the management of the bailout by any stretch of the imagination.

The other factor to consider is that Rattner and the bailout task force may have believed that Delphi’s reincorporation wouldn’t affect its tax position after all. Mider reports that in September of 2009, the IRS notified Delphi that it was still considered a U.S. company and would be subject to U.S. corporate income tax rates. As a justification, the IRS cited a 2004 law meant to prevent exactly what Delphi had done: the creation of paper “surrogate foreign corporations” for the purposes of evading taxes. The IRS dispute with Delphi in this case is ongoing. If the company loses its appeal, it would owe about 20 percent more a year in taxes than it pays now (as well as any assessments for back taxes). If that’s the case, then the “inversion” of Delphi will be a moot point.

The broader takeaway from the whole saga is that any intervention by government in the spaces normally served by private equity is bound to have some unpleasant side effects. Simultaneously trying to manage, regulate, and tax a business is bound to produce more than a few conflicts of interest. At the very least, the Delphi deal embarrasses an Administration which has recently sought to turn up the heat on companies moving their headquarters abroad. It’s unlikely to change many minds about the wisdom of the bailout; those lines were drawn firmly some time ago. But the curious case of Delphi’s “inversion” will undoubtedly be cited in future debates about corporate tax reform in America, from both a left and a right-wing perspective.

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Cadillac ELR Sales Double After Price Drop http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/cadillac-elr-sales-double-price-drop/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/cadillac-elr-sales-double-price-drop/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 14:04:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=881106 How do you help move the Cadillac ELR? Simple: drop the price down to one that the market will bear. GM’s generous incentives – which have lead to ELR’s being listed as low as $52,000 – appear to have helped spur sales of Cadillac’s plug-in hybrid. In June, GM sold just 97 units of the […]

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How do you help move the Cadillac ELR? Simple: drop the price down to one that the market will bear.

GM’s generous incentiveswhich have lead to ELR’s being listed as low as $52,000 – appear to have helped spur sales of Cadillac’s plug-in hybrid.

In June, GM sold just 97 units of the ELR.  In July, sales nearly doubled, with 188 units sold. With 1,600 units in inventory right now, Automotive News estimates that as of July 1, there is a 396 day supply, down from 883 days.

With a Tesla-rivaling $76,000 MSRP, the ELR’s prospects seemed bleak from the outset. The ELR may be positioned as Cadillac’s green flagship, but the brand simply isn’t strong enough to sell a car that competes with the Tesla Model S, while offering less prestige and a similar sticker price. At the $50,000 mark? Now they might be getting somewhere.

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The Future Of GM’s Oshawa Plant Looks Increasingly Bleak http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/future-gms-oshawa-plant-looks-increasingly-bleak/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/future-gms-oshawa-plant-looks-increasingly-bleak/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 14:07:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=878114 A report in Automotive News outlines how General Motors has committed to building a new Buick model at their plant in Russelsheim, Germany. According to AN, the logical choice is the next-generation Buick Regal, also known as the Opel Insignia, since this is a good fit for Buick, and it allows GM to use up some of the […]

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A report in Automotive News outlines how General Motors has committed to building a new Buick model at their plant in Russelsheim, Germany. According to AN, the logical choice is the next-generation Buick Regal, also known as the Opel Insignia, since this is a good fit for Buick, and it allows GM to use up some of the excess capacity that is currently plaguing their European operations. But for GM’s venerable Oshawa plant, this is not good news.

As TTAC and AN have both pointed out, product is leaving Oshawa much faster than it’s coming in. The Camaro will move to Lansing, Michigan by 2016, while the next-generation Chevrolet Impala and the Cadillac XTS has its production split between Michigan and Oshawa. The old-generation Impala, currently built on the old “Consolidated” line, is due to end production soon. The GM Theta crossovers, which are built partially in Oshawa due to a lack of capacity at GM’s Ingersoll, Ontario plant, will move there exclusively for their next generation. That leaves the Regal as GM’s lone Oshawa product, and even that appears to be going away too.

All signs appear to point to the closure of the Oshawa plant high. Between high labor costs, unfavorable exchange rates and a lack of new products, it would take a miracle to save Oshawa. As of now, the main thing tying GM to the plant is the “vitality commitment” that they signed as part of their bailout agreement with the Canadian government, obligating them to keep a certain amount of vehicle production in Canada. And when that ends in 2016, it’s hard to imagine that GM will keep producing cars in one of the world’s most costly jurisdictions.

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General Motors Bumps Up Next Pickups, Will Feature Aluminum Panels, Downsized Engines http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/general-motors-bumps-up-next-pickups-will-feature-aluminum-panels-downsized-engines/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/general-motors-bumps-up-next-pickups-will-feature-aluminum-panels-downsized-engines/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:53:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=875113 General Motors is advancing the launch of their next-generation pickups by 9 months, with the next-generation trucks due by 2018. Reuters is reporting that the fairly new generation of full-size trucks will undergo a thorough redesign by 2018, with new full-size SUVs arriving in 2019. While a new 8-speed automatic will arrive in GM’s full […]

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General Motors is advancing the launch of their next-generation pickups by 9 months, with the next-generation trucks due by 2018.

Reuters is reporting that the fairly new generation of full-size trucks will undergo a thorough redesign by 2018, with new full-size SUVs arriving in 2019.

While a new 8-speed automatic will arrive in GM’s full size trucks and SUVs for 2015, the next generation is expected to be even more radical. TTAC has previously reported that the next generation trucks will use substantial amounts of aluminum in the body panels, and a new manufacturing process is expected to reduce both cost and complexity.

The new trucks will also reportedly use a 10-speed automatic transmission (jointly developed with Ford) as well as smaller engines that feature fuel injection, turbocharging and stop-start systems. The end result is a major paradigm shift for the truck market. Consumers may still care about payload and tow ratings, but auto makers are pulling out all the stops to make sure that their trucks meet stringent CAFE rules, which kick in around 2017.

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Buick Envision Photos Leaked http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/buick-envision-photos-leaked/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/buick-envision-photos-leaked/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 21:27:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=874801 The first photos of the Buick Envision have leaked, with prices said to be ranging from $26,000-$32,000 USD. Car News China is reporting that the Envison will be unveiled at the Chengdu Auto Show, with sales starting in Q4 of this year. The Envision is also said to be based on the Delta compact car […]

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The first photos of the Buick Envision have leaked, with prices said to be ranging from $26,000-$32,000 USD.

Car News China is reporting that the Envison will be unveiled at the Chengdu Auto Show, with sales starting in Q4 of this year. The Envision is also said to be based on the Delta compact car platform, rather than the Theta CUV platform that underpins the Chevrolet Terrain and GMC Equinox.

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Book Review: No Time to Cry by Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/book-review-no-time-to-cry-by-wilmer-cooksey-jr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/book-review-no-time-to-cry-by-wilmer-cooksey-jr/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:30:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=871690 “On one occasion I was called out into the yard because there had been a shooting. A guard, a line worker and a car thief had been shot. The thief had been wounded gravely by the guard and was bleeding but he had made it into the cab of the car hauler and had driven […]

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“On one occasion I was called out into the yard because there had been a shooting. A guard, a line worker and a car thief had been shot. The thief had been wounded gravely by the guard and was bleeding but he had made it into the cab of the car hauler and had driven for some distance before he crashed and was caught.”

The line worker probably wasn’t an unfortunate bystander, relates former Corvette plant manager Wil Cooksey in his gritty, totally human and completely engrossing autobiography No Time to Cry. At General Motors’ St. Louis assembly plant in the mid-70s, claims Cooksey, hourly workers were often accomplices to professional car thieves. These criminals planned armed raids on storage lots with the help of plant insiders, leading to occasionally deadly results. In Cooksey’s account, St. Louis resembles a battleground more than a car plant, emblematic of the worst of the bad old days of the American auto industry. This book isn’t just a rehash of the “GM dysfunction” genre pioneered by John Z. Delorean, though. As the story of a fascinating American life, No Time to Cry is a compelling read.

As a production engineer working his way up the GM ranks, Cooksey had plenty of time to observe the inner workings of one of America’s most powerful corporations. Before that, he was a poor black kid from Texas with an absent father and a mother that struggled to provide for her seven children. With some guidance, he managed to get into Tennessee State University in Nashville and earn a degree in electrical engineering. While at TSU he met his future wife Liz, who became his soul mate despite the obstacles between them. He moved on to a job as a process engineer with General Mills in Toledo, but soon, war intervened. He was drafted and after completing Officer Candidates’ School was sent to Vietnam. The experience would haunt him for the rest of his life, but it did contain one positive development. A chance encounter with a new Sting Ray in Hawaii turned him into a passionate Corvette lover, and helped change the direction of his career. After the war, he was hired to teach at the General Motors Institute in Flint. He transferred to the St. Louis assembly plant a few years later, in pursuit of his dream of managing Corvette production.

What emerges from Cooksey’s account of his sojourn through various GM plants is a picture of a company marked by sharp contrasts. St. Louis embodied virtually every stereotype of American auto plants in the 70s: racial animosity, workplace violence, sabotage, absenteeism, alcoholism and substance abuse. Cooksey claims he hid a revolver in his car and carried a six inch blade out of concern for his own safety. He describes being sucked into the toxic culture of the plant, where both management and hourly workers got loaded in the bar across the street as their coping mechanism. This, combined with the unwanted advances of many of the plant’s single women, nearly destroyed Cooksey’s marriage. However, he was able to patch things up with his wife and move to the Doraville, Georgia assembly plant, temporarily distancing himself from Corvette production.

Labor relations at Doraville weren’t great, but they were a marked improvement from St. Louis. Cooksey was able to surround himself with a cadre of trusted advisors, and made some progress on improving both quality and productivity. He had his easiest time as manager at Fairfax Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, which he describes as a “joy” to manage. He chalked this up to differences in plant culture, brought about by a combination of both management and labor tactics. Cooksey is harshly critical of the UAW at times, as one might expect of a production supervisor. In St. Louis he describes the union as a “fierce, three-headed, Hydra-monster” that eventually brought about the plant’s demise. He does strive to make a distinction between the union and individual workers, the majority of whom he defends as good employees. Some, such as an unnamed “informant” at the Bowling Green plant, were essential to helping Cooksey stamp out persistent safety violations and improve quality and productivity. Labor only absorbs one part of Cooksey’s criticism.

Cooksey’s struggles with upper management, especially after he landed his dream job supervising Corvette production at Bowling Green in 1993, compose a large part of the text. He describes a dedicated core of “Corvette people” including himself, product engineers such as Tadge Juechter, management executive Joe Spielman, and Corvette marketing director Harlan Charles. They clashed with other managers and departments on a variety of issues, especially in terms of quality control. It was Cooksey who made the decision to halt production of the then-new C5 Corvette in 1997 to address persistent quality issues, a moment that he describes as one of the lowest points of his career. Despite these setbacks, his time in Bowling Green was more than just gloom and doom. The plant became one of GM’s best for initial quality under his tenure, winning numerous internal and external awards. He retired in early 2008, shortly before GM went under and he was left with a stack of worthless stocks. Those looking for a long discourse on the bailout will be disappointed, but Cooksey’s insights into the daily running of an auto plant are more enjoyable anyway.

At $3.99 for the Kindle edition, this book is a steal. Or, you can get a signed hard copy from the Corvette Museum like I did. Either way, you’re getting one of the best auto industry memoirs of recent years, and a must-have for any Corvette diehard. It’s littered with the kind of trivia and insights that can only come from someone as intimately involved with production as Cooksey was. The biographical side is what makes this book, though: the human passion and pain of a man trying to build a life and a legacy side-by-side, one Corvette at a time.

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2015 GM Trucks Get 8-Speed Transmission http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/2015-gm-trucks-get-8-speed-transmission/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/2015-gm-trucks-get-8-speed-transmission/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 15:31:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=869370 Now that the new GM 8L90 has made its way down to the C7 Corvette, it was only a matter of time before GM put the new transmission in their pickup trucks. Starting in 2015, all of GM’s full-size, body-on-frame pickup trucks and SUVs will get the new 8-speed gearbox. Fuel economy improvements haven’t been […]

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Now that the new GM 8L90 has made its way down to the C7 Corvette, it was only a matter of time before GM put the new transmission in their pickup trucks.

Starting in 2015, all of GM’s full-size, body-on-frame pickup trucks and SUVs will get the new 8-speed gearbox. Fuel economy improvements haven’t been announced, though GM claims that the new transmission will allow for numerically lower final drive ratios, which should have a positive impact on highway fuel economy.

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Is GM’s Recall Mania More Corporate Blundering or a Strategic Move? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/is-gms-recall-mania-more-corporate-blundering-or-a-strategic-move/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/is-gms-recall-mania-more-corporate-blundering-or-a-strategic-move/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 21:13:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=857553 Megan McArdle, over at Bloomberg View, wonders out loud if the flood of recalls issued by General Motors, covering every car they’ve sold for the past three years and a wide swatch of the vehicles the company has made and sold over the past decade and a half is a deliberate strategy on the part […]

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Megan McArdle, over at Bloomberg View, wonders out loud if the flood of recalls issued by General Motors, covering every car they’ve sold for the past three years and a wide swatch of the vehicles the company has made and sold over the past decade and a half is a deliberate strategy on the part of the company to protect its  image with consumers from further harm. The strategy may be working. The sales reports for June show that the current sales of new GM vehicles seems to be unaffected by all of the publicity and controversy surrounding defective ignition switches that can shut off the car, rendering the airbag systems inoperable in case of a subsequent collision.

Some may see, in the recalls, just more of the same poor quality that many consumers associate, correctly or otherwise, with the domestic automakers, particularly GM. McArdle is not so sure that is how the massive recalls will ultimately play with the broad market:

I wonder if something else isn’t going on, something smarter. I wonder if GM hasn’t decided to go hog wild on the recalls because at this point they have nothing to lose.

There’s a point in a bad scandal where things have gotten about as bad as they could possibly get. New revelations don’t make things worse, because they hardly could be any worse. Instead, they get lost in the deafening noise of prior bad news.

At that point, it’s a good idea to announce anything that you’ve been worrying about might one day come out. People won’t really notice now, and by the time they’ve recovered sufficiently to take an interest, your worrisome story is old news.

What sayest the Best & Brightest on the matter? Blunder or brilliant?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Cadillac Won’t Give Up On The Dream Of European Success http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/cadillac-wont-give-up-on-the-dream-of-european-success/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/cadillac-wont-give-up-on-the-dream-of-european-success/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=853321 Despite a flimsy dealer network, a lack of diesel engines and a poisonous brand, GM still hasn’t given up on the idea of making Cadillac a global luxury brand that can sell cars in Europe. Speaking to AutoExpress, GM President Dan Amman expressed his desire to sell Cadillacs in Europe, despite its past failures. Amman […]

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Despite a flimsy dealer network, a lack of diesel engines and a poisonous brand, GM still hasn’t given up on the idea of making Cadillac a global luxury brand that can sell cars in Europe.

Speaking to AutoExpress, GM President Dan Amman expressed his desire to sell Cadillacs in Europe, despite its past failures. Amman also tacitly admitted that Cadillac would never be able to become a high volume brand or take on the German luxury brands – despite the fact that Cadillac has nakedly chased them in their home market of America

“But in the long term there is a role for Cadillac in Europe. Is it going to be a high-volume contender in the medium to long term future? Probably not. But is there a role for something other than the three German luxury brands? I think there is…We’ve got to figure out what it is, what our portfolio is, a different value proposition. But trying to out-German the Germans will not be the path to success. We have to have a different proposition.”

With a skeletal dealer network, unsuitable product for European tastes and road conditions (no diesel options is a complete non-starter) and an undesirable brand, it’s worth asking, why even bother?  Cadillac sold just 430 cars in Europe in 2012, with sales peaking at 3,000 cars in 2007. The brand has 40 dealers on the entire continent, and with diesels accounting for a reported 80 percent of premium car sales, this looks like nothing more than a vanity project, with GM wanting to sell Cadillacs in Europe just to bring the fight to the Germans on home turf – similar to VW’s folly in going after premium cars with the Phaeton, because Daimler dared to launch the compact Mercedes A-Class. And we know how that turned out.

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New or Used? : Why Are Old Corvettes So Cheap? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-why-are-old-corvettes-so-cheap/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/new-or-used-why-are-old-corvettes-so-cheap/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 04:32:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=846233 O.K. Steve Why are old Corvettes so cheap ? . Just Monday I saw yet another 1984 ‘Vette for sale in a used car lot for $2,500, are some years simply so bad they’re worthless? I have never owned one and only driven a few . Mostly my buddy’s ’68 350 W/ 4 speed back in the […]

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O.K. Steve
Why are old Corvettes so cheap ? .
Just Monday I saw yet another 1984 ‘Vette for sale in a used car lot for $2,500, are some years simply so bad they’re worthless?
I have never owned one and only driven a few . Mostly my buddy’s ’68 350 W/ 4 speed back in the very early 1970′s when it was a neat car.
He built it from various junked and wrecked ‘Vettes at a specialized Corvette junkyard . We rode it very hard and it was a good , fun car that took quite a beating right until he drank himself to death .
I see the 1990′s (I think) four valve versions undamaged in Pick-A-Part Junkyards all over California. They are low mileage (under 150,000), zero damage, nice paint etc. ~ how is this possible ? .
I’d think they want to sell them whole and not part them out. But no one wants them?
Steve Says:
If only it were so.
I would be more than happy to drive a late model Corvette through the winding roads of North Georgia. Unfortunately, I have found them to be among the worst types of vehicles for my travels.
They are flashy, easy to drive too fast, and cops seem to enjoy hanging around them on highway jaunts.
That 84′ Corvette you were looking at may very well be the worst Corvette of the last 30 years. The quality was downright abysmal for what was, way back then, the first year of the C4 launch. The 1984 model was built in the thick of the Roger Smith era. There were very few good GM vehicles made during that time, with the most expensive models often getting shot and neutered quality wise well before they left the factory floor.
I’m willing to bet that Corvette at the used car lot was worth more dead than alive. By the time you see these vehicles at the auctions and the car lots,  they have suffered years of neglect.
It’s sad because, at least to me, that generation of the Corvette may truly be one of the most beautiful vehicles of that time period. They were gorgeous. But I never would want to keep one, or recommend it to someone who wants a sports car worth keeping.
The flip side of the coin is that the newer C6 Corvettes tend to be pretty reliable. I mentioned this in a recent Yahoo! Autos article, and if I were in the market for a used sports car, a C6 Corvette would definitely be a  top pick.
Old sports cars that had quality issues are now, just old crappy cars. A lot of 10 year old family cars will go faster than that 1984 Corvette without the quality control issues issues that come with a Reagan era ride.  Speed is often times a given in this day and age, and with America’s aging population, sporty two door cars are just not as in demand as they were back when the C4 was first released.
There is one big plus to the used Corvette marketplace that is shared with other niche vehicles such as the Mazda MX-5 and the Jeep Wrangler. 
They are usually not daily drivers. Most of these vehicles spend their time inside a garage and are used during weekends or whenever the owner gets that longing to enjoy their ride.  Corvettes tend to be lower mileage garage queens, and the powertrains are rarely stressed.
In the used car market, there is almost always a lot of them out there. Not because they aren’t worthy of ownership. It’s just that the demographics and long-term reliability of Corvettes have changed dramatically since the days of that 1984 Corvette. Today’s Corvettes are the sports car version of a cockroach. They can outlast their owners, along with most modern day bugs of the German variety.
Oh, and as for the C4 you saw, do yourself a big favor and don’t look back. I have yet to see one from the 80′s that didn’t drive like a bucket of bolts.

 

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CAFE Strikes Again As GM Kills Off 1500 Series Vans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/cafe-strikes-again-as-gm-kills-off-1500-series-vans/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/cafe-strikes-again-as-gm-kills-off-1500-series-vans/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:52:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845065 GM is killing off their 1500-series Savanna and Express vans, due to slow sales and regulatory concerns. Pickuptrucks.com is reporting the move comes at a time when the 1500 GM vans were the last full-size vans to sneak in under the 8,500 lb gross vehicle weight rating (GWVR), a key cutoff point for regulatory matters, […]

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GM is killing off their 1500-series Savanna and Express vans, due to slow sales and regulatory concerns.

Pickuptrucks.com is reporting the move comes at a time when the 1500 GM vans were the last full-size vans to sneak in under the 8,500 lb gross vehicle weight rating (GWVR), a key cutoff point for regulatory matters, specifically CAFE. Anything above that threshold is not counted, and the elimination of the 1500 vans will almost certainly help GM improve its CAFE rating.

With just 23 percent of Express buyers and 7 percent of Savanna buyers opting for the 1500, GM apparently expects the 2500 vans and the new City Express to pick up the slack.

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Piston Slap: Eye On Ignition Safety Recalls? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-eye-on-ignition-safety-recalls/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-eye-on-ignition-safety-recalls/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 12:20:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840690 Bruce writes: Sajeev, A couple of years ago my son bought a 2004 Saturn Ion sedan from a friend of ours. It has about 90,000 miles on the clock and ran fine…until I insisted that he bring it in and get the ignition recall done. A few weeks after the recall work was completed, he […]

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Don't take it to the Red Line! (photo courtesy: http://article.wn.com)

Bruce writes:

Sajeev,

A couple of years ago my son bought a 2004 Saturn Ion sedan from a friend of ours. It has about 90,000 miles on the clock and ran fine…until I insisted that he bring it in and get the ignition recall done. A few weeks after the recall work was completed, he was driving on 2 lane road at about 40 miles per hour and the car competely shut down…no power steering, weak power brakes. He was glad he wasn’t going faster & he wrestled the car into a parking lot, let it sit for a while, restarted it and drove home. He called the local GM dealership and they downplayed the incident and told him to bring it in at his convenience.

Now I’m really scared for him. Any advice?

Sajeev answers:

Oh dear. I guess this corner of TTAC couldn’t remain silent on the ignition recall debacle forever. That said, your letter makes me wonder if there’s another problem on this 10-ish year old machine: the Saturn had to “sit for a while” before starting back up?

Are you absolutely, positively sure the ignition switch is to blame?

Bruce replies:

Not sure yet. I’m wondering if they even replaced the switch in the first place. Poor 24 y.o. kid doesn’t have $ to buy another car so he’s stuck with this one. He called Saturn 800 number at my insistence and Saturn called his local Chevy dealer and the service mgr called him and scheduled an appt. The first ignition repair took 2 months and he enjoyed an Altima, which was fine with him, lol. According to Saturn, he’s eligible for another rental. The saga continues….Thanks Sajeev!

Sajeev concludes:

The worst thing you can do now is stress out: nothing good comes from stress when you’re detached from the repair process. That said, I am not a father: I couldn’t possibly understand your anguish. But I can say the problem isn’t hidden in some file cabinet, locked in a dark room in the RenCen. Everyone is watching and there’s a system in place to fix the problem.

Every company goes into super-customer-service-savvy crisis mode in times like these. And here’s the plan to mitigate the crisis:

And this is cold comfort to you, sadly. A high level infographic isn’t reassuring when you must go through the steps again.  Luckily GM is willing to put your son in another rental, just make sure your son does step #1 and #2 until he’s in that rental.

Then have the dealer report back with a diagnosis.  If you don’t like the diagnosis/resolution…well, perhaps we should just hope that the problem is found and fixed. Running through the plethora of scenarios only increases the stress level, it doesn’t help one iota.

How would you handle this, Best and Brightest?

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GM Recalls Every Fifth Generation Camaro http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-recalls-every-fifth-generation-camaro/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-recalls-every-fifth-generation-camaro/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 14:37:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=843545 General Motors has recalled 511,,528 Camaros – that is, every single current generation Camaro ever made – for a defect involving the ignition key fob being inadvertently bumped and switched to “off”. According to GM, General Motors will recall all current generation Chevrolet Camaros because a driver’s knee can bump the key FOB and cause […]

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camaro

General Motors has recalled 511,,528 Camaros – that is, every single current generation Camaro ever made – for a defect involving the ignition key fob being inadvertently bumped and switched to “off”.

According to GM,

General Motors will recall all current generation Chevrolet Camaros because a driver’s knee can bump the key FOB and cause the key to inadvertently move out of the “run” position, with a corresponding reduction or loss of power. 

The issue, which may primarily affect drivers sitting close to the steering column, was discovered by GM during internal testing following the ignition switch recall earlier this year.

GM is apparently aware of three crashes and four minor injuries that can be attributed to this problem. The Camaro recall is part of a wider recall that can be viewed here.

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GM Bans Reporters From Electronic Communications During Shareholders Meeting http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-bans-reporters-from-electronic-communications-during-shareholders-meeting/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-bans-reporters-from-electronic-communications-during-shareholders-meeting/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 01:18:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=841889 Bloomberg is reporting that General Motors barred reporters from emailing, photographing or videoing monitors set up in a special media room during their annual shareholder meeting. Reporters were apparently instructed to turn off their mobile devices while viewing the proceedings from a designated media room. The no-phones rule is said to be a departure from […]

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Bloomberg is reporting that General Motors barred reporters from emailing, photographing or videoing monitors set up in a special media room during their annual shareholder meeting.

Reporters were apparently instructed to turn off their mobile devices while viewing the proceedings from a designated media room. The no-phones rule is said to be a departure from past policies, and comes amid pledges to increase transparency within the auto maker following the inquiry into recalls that led to fatal crashes.

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QOTD: Regulation Is Ruining Car Design http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-regulation-is-ruining-car-design/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-regulation-is-ruining-car-design/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 14:42:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=838721 Today’s installment of Quote of the Day comes from Mark Adams, design chief for Opel/Vauxhall and creator of the Monza concept, which is expected to set the design direction for the two brands in the near future – assuming that regulations don’t get in the way. Speaking to Automotive News Europe, Adams opined that  “In the […]

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Today’s installment of Quote of the Day comes from Mark Adams, design chief for Opel/Vauxhall and creator of the Monza concept, which is expected to set the design direction for the two brands in the near future – assuming that regulations don’t get in the way.

Speaking to Automotive News Europe, Adams opined that  “In the last five to 10 years designing cars has gotten a hell of a lot tougher”, with much of the blame going towards regulation. The twin forces of fuel economy and pedestrian safety standards have converged to create very specific parameters for automotive design – hence the proliferation of high hoods, blunt front ends and the “reverse tear drop” shape on so many three-box vehicles. This specific form provides an easy way around all of those requirements, at the cost of an increasingly homogenous cohort of new cars.

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Analysis: Why Isn’t NHTSA Sharing The Blame With GM? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/analysis-why-isnt-nhtsa-sharing-the-blame-with-gm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/analysis-why-isnt-nhtsa-sharing-the-blame-with-gm/#comments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 15:54:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=838473 As many of you know by now, the Valukas report on GM’s handling of the ignition switch depicts a fat, complex organization that is deeply broken. A company with so many incompetent cogs, it is incapable of coordinating a surprise birthday party let alone a conspiracy. And that’s the most alarming part of the report – […]

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As many of you know by now, the Valukas report on GM’s handling of the ignition switch depicts a fat, complex organization that is deeply broken. A company with so many incompetent cogs, it is incapable of coordinating a surprise birthday party let alone a conspiracy. And that’s the most alarming part of the report – that none of the employees appear to have acted in malice or colluded to save money or protect the brand. Instead the report paints a picture of apathetic, lazy employees and an even more careless litany of incoherent processes in the mission to detect and address vehicle safety defects.

This is far more dangerous than any calculated, unscrupulous group of executives colluding to hide a safety issue. Incompetency, whether it is in engineering, investigations or the administration of both means defects just simply go unnoticed and as such unresolved.  In terms of corporate responsibility it’s the equivalent of a juvenile “whatev” *shoulder shrug*.

While Ray DeGiorgio, the engineer behind the infamous undocumented part change, is mostly to blame for delaying the connection between the ignition switch and airbag non-deployments,  the corporate mentality that something as vital as your ignition turning off can relegated to a “convenience issue” is scary. But this applies doubly to NHTSA as well. Remember America’s vehicle safety overseer received GM’s TSB regarding the ignition switch in 2005 and gave it the government nod.

While GM is responsible for the safety of its vehicles should NHTSA share in the blame?

The Valukas report references a crash investigation conducted by Indiana University’s Transportation Research Center of a 2006 fatal single-vehicle accident involving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt in Wisconsin (pictured). The Valukas report says that GM had not seen that university’s 26-page report until 2014 even though it was found on GM’s servers.Crashed Cobalt WIS

The accident investigation was conducted at the request of NHTSA and references the 2005 TSB, confirms via EDR (electronic data recorder) that the ignition switch was in the accessory position during the crash and hypothesized that the ignition switch was one of two theories as to why the airbags failed to deploy. The other theory being that the first impact with a smaller telephone box may have signaled to the smart airbags that a deployment was not appropriate.

The team conducting the on-site investigation of the accident did not look closely at the link between the ignition switch and loss of power to the airbag because “such an undertaking was beyond the scope of this investigation.”  If the goal of the report was to determine the cause of the airbag non-deployment how could the relationship between the ignition switch and the loss of power to the airbag not have been within scope?

The university team provided the report to NHTSA in 2007. One page two of the report, the Technical Document Page, they state that the loss of power from a faulty ignition switch was one of two theories as to why the airbags did not deploy.  Did NHTSA take this and share it formally with GM? If not, why not? Are these reports reviewed by senior officials or are they simply rubber stamped and archived? Are potential defects identified referred from Special Crash Investigations (SCI), the division that requested this report, to the Office of Defects and Investigations (ODI), the group responsible for “undertaking” safety defect reviews? Could it be that NHTSA is as bureaucratically mismanaged as GM?

Keep in mind that unlike GM, NHTSA only has one single mission – oversight of vehicle safety. They are not surrounded by temptations like pleasing shareholders, cost targets or individual performance gains. Then again, given recent reports on employees at the Veterans Affairs Administration, maybe safety employees have some obscure rewarding metric on closing cases.

Last month the Department of Transportation Inspector General announced a review of NHTSA’s handling of the ignition switch recall among other things. In their review the IG should consider looking into the general information sharing practices between SCI and ODI when it comes to vehicle defects.

While the Valukus Report was intended to focus on GM’s handling of the defective part, it raises questions about the effectiveness of federal regulators who had similar (if not more) information than GM regarding the ignition failures and the non-deployment of airbags.

While Mr. Valukus and Ms. Barra will testify before Congress soon, NHTSA won’t likely be called to the Hill upon the completion of the Inspector General’s review. Depending on the IG review, we could learn more about if or how much blame NHTSA could share with GM in the timely discovery and remedy of vehicle safety defects.

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Open Thread: Valukas Report Released By NHTSA http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/open-thread-valukas-report-released-by-nhtsa/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/open-thread-valukas-report-released-by-nhtsa/#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 16:21:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=838233 Today, GM held a press conference regarding the Valukas Report on GM’s Ignition Switch Recalls, featuring CEO Mary Barra, as well as top execs like Mark Reuss and Dan Amman. The only problem was that the report had yet to be released, denying journalists the chance to question GM brass on its findings. Just minutes […]

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Valukascover

Today, GM held a press conference regarding the Valukas Report on GM’s Ignition Switch Recalls, featuring CEO Mary Barra, as well as top execs like Mark Reuss and Dan Amman. The only problem was that the report had yet to be released, denying journalists the chance to question GM brass on its findings.

Just minutes ago, the report surfaced online, and we are in the process of reading and analyzing the report. For now, you can download a copy here. Feel free to discuss your own findings in the comments thread. At the press conference, GM also announced the dismissal of 15 unnamed executives, as well as a soon-to-be-detailed compensation program for victims.

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QOTD: Bring Back the Unibody Pickup? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-bring-back-the-unibody-pickup/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-bring-back-the-unibody-pickup/#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:35:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=837665 For decades, the formula for a successful pickup design in America has been pretty much the same. Design a simple ladder-frame chassis, drop in the biggest engine you can find, give it a front-engine rear-drive layout with an optional transfer case, and start raking in the money. From time to time, however, manufacturers have tried […]

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For decades, the formula for a successful pickup design in America has been pretty much the same. Design a simple ladder-frame chassis, drop in the biggest engine you can find, give it a front-engine rear-drive layout with an optional transfer case, and start raking in the money. From time to time, however, manufacturers have tried to swim against the current.

The last true unibody pickup (one without any type of traditional ladder frame) sold in the United States was the Subaru Baja, which ended production in 2006. A derivative of the Legacy/Outback platform, the Baja was Subaru’s attempt to cash in on the mid-2000s vogue for “sport utility trucks:” part-SUV hybrids like the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and the Chevrolet Avalanche. While those more successful models were selling well over 50,000 a year at their peak, the Subie barely managed to shift 30,000 examples in a four year run. With its funky body cladding, exposed rollbars, and limited utility compared to those other truck-based SUTs with traditional ladder-frame chassis, the Baja never managed to become anything but a niche product. Even so, it followed in a long lineage of experiments with unibody construction for pickups.

The golden age of the unibody pickup was the 60s, when every major manufacturer offered at least one. Ford had the Falcon-derived Ranchero, as well as a pickup based on the Econoline van. (The 1961-63 full-size F100 is often cited as an example of a unibody pickup design, but as Mike Levine explains here, this is technically incorrect. The ‘61-63 still had a ladder frame underneath its single-piece body.) Chevrolet had a similar offering in the Corvair Greenbrier pickup, although the more popular El Camino utilized a ladder frame. Dodge got in the unibody game with the pickup version of its A100 van. The pickup version of the Type 2 Volkswagen Transporter was increasingly popular in the burgeoning small truck segment before it became a target of the infamous Chicken Tax. That tariff also kept out the Japanese, who might otherwise have attempted to sell car-based pickups such as the Toyota Corona PU. The most popular of all these unibody pickups was the Falcon Ranchero. It offered meaningful size and economy advantages over the full-size trucks of the time, and was available with a greater number of creature comforts.

Many of these unibody pickups disappeared in the 70s, as compact, conventionally engineered Japanese pickups became more widely available. Many of these were captive imports sold by the Big 3, who utilized tricks like importing cab-chassis units separately to avoid the Chicken Tax. Unibody pickups didn’t reappear again until the 1980s. The Subaru BRAT was the first of these, followed by the Rabbit-based Volkswagen Pick-Up. The Volkswagen PU was an attempt to squeeze more volume out of the disappointingly slow-selling Rabbit; the Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp were similar attempts to expand the use of Chrysler’s L Platform. Neither of those was particularly successful, with both the Volkswagen and Rampage/Scamp cancelled after only three years. The BRAT was reasonably popular, lasting in the US market until 1987. The Jeep Comanche was based on the unibody XJ Cherokee, but used a ladder frame to strengthen the superstructure. Around 190,000 units were produced before new Jeep owner Chrysler called it quits in 1992; the company didn’t want the Comanche cannibalizing Dodge’s truck offerings. After that, there were no more unibody trucks in the United States until the introduction of the Baja. Cheap gas and a slew of competitive ladder-frame pickups meant that the incentive to develop a unibody pickup was limited.

Like Subaru, Honda tried to cash in on the SUT trend with the Ridgeline. Although based off the unibody Odyssey minivan, the Ridgeline utilizes a hybrid chassis setup that incorporates a box frame. Sales have been disappointing, with the model scheduled to go out of production this month, although a sequel has been promised by Honda. The Ridgeline is often cited by midsize truck pessimists as emblematic of the reasons the segment has gone into decline. The truck offers no serious fuel economy advantage over a full-sizer. It also has a smaller bed, a lower tow rating, and less power, all in a footprint not much smaller than that of a full-size. Attempting to straddle segments was the Ridgeline’s doom. Buyers who wanted power, room, towing and hauling capability, and who didn’t care about mileage bought Avalanches, Sport Tracs, and full-sizers. Economy-minded individuals went for the cheaper, more utilitarian options like the Frontier and Tacoma. None of these alternatives were particularly great on gas, but neither was the Ridgeline; and they all offered price and/or capability advantages that the Ridgeline didn’t have. That doesn’t mean, however, that the unibody truck should necessarily go the way of the dodo.

The greatest argument against a renaissance in the small-to-midsize truck segment is profitability. Small trucks often have thin margins, and it’s hard to justify separate development programs for unique platforms. That’s ultimately what killed the Ranger in the United States, as well as the Dakota. GM is spreading out the development cost of the new Colorado/Canyon by making it a world market vehicle, but it remains to be seen if this strategy will work. Only the Tacoma has proven to be a consistent winner in the US market, and it also has the advantage of being globally sold; the same is true of the new Frontier. A US-only compact truck platform is a mistake. Repealing the Chicken Tax might open up the market to more imports, but ideally a compact truck would be developed from a platform already in use in the US. This would lower the cost of federalization, while at the same time increasing the margin derived from already existing platforms. That’s where unibody design comes in.

America is awash in unibody CUVs, whose platforms could be utilized to make compact and midsize trucks. The Chevrolet Montana/Tornado has been mentioned by small-truck aficionados as a possible import, but the cost of certifying it for American sale would probably be prohibitive. Instead, it would make more sense for GM to develop a small truck from either the Theta or Epsilon architectures, both of which have already been adapted for the American market. A small truck based on the Equinox, for example, might be profitably produced for the American market. If a small truck can offer significant price or fuel economy advantages over full-sizers, it can justify its existence against highly competitive full-size offerings. Even so, doubts remain about the segment’s overall viability. FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne recently alluded to this when discussing possible plans for a future compact pickup in the United States. Could a unibody truck be the savior of the compact truck segment?

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Editorial: Cadillac Is Abandoning Large Crossovers At The Wrong Time http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/editorial-cadillac-is-abandoning-large-crossovers-at-the-wrong-time/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/editorial-cadillac-is-abandoning-large-crossovers-at-the-wrong-time/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 16:56:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=829578 A report by Ward’s Auto claims that Cadillac is scrapping plans to build a large, three-row crossover, similar to the Buick Enclave or GMC Acadia. Fear of competing with the two Lambda stablemates is being cited as a possible motive, along with a saturation in the large crossover market. They should do it anyways. Even […]

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A report by Ward’s Auto claims that Cadillac is scrapping plans to build a large, three-row crossover, similar to the Buick Enclave or GMC Acadia. Fear of competing with the two Lambda stablemates is being cited as a possible motive, along with a saturation in the large crossover market. They should do it anyways.

Even though they are held up as a symbol of everything that is against the state religion of automotive enthusiasm, crossovers are a global growth segment, especially small ones. And this is also one reason why Cadillac is apparently not going ahead with a large crossover. They want something smaller than the SRX, to help them compete with small luxury crossovers both at home, and in important markets like China and Europe.

This is an easy rationale to understand. Development dollars are finite, small crossovers are growing, and there’s lots of upside potential for something below the SRX. But that doesn’t mean Cadillac should abandon a larger crossover either. Think about the Acura MDX, the Audi Q7 and the Mercedes-Benz GL. These are all big, three-row crossovers that are globally successful (yes, even the MDX, which does sell in markets like Russia), and in the case of the MDX in Q7, they are a way to successfully leverage an existing architecture into something that can be sold at obscene mark-ups.

Cadillac would be foolish not to do this, if for no other reason than to leverage the profit potential at a tarted-up Lambda crossover. In the U.S, there is likely a price ceiling that they could charge for it, but you can bet that legions of affluent buyers would be clamoring for the chance to buy a more car-like big CUV from Cadillac. Given that the SRX is the sole Cadillac vehicle that doesn’t have over 100 day’s worth of inventory, it seems logical that another crossover would be a big seller. Why not kill off the Impala-based XTS entirely and replace it with a three-row CUV that can be sold to older customers and livery car services, as well as people who want something like an Escalade, but without the typical attributes of a BOF SUV (like reduced fuel economy and a more truck-like feel)? With the large car market tanking each passing year, getting out of a dying segment and into one that will be, at worst, stable in the next decade, makes a lot of sense.

And what about world markets? Take that price ceiling, multiply it 2-3x and that’s what you can charge for what is essentially a fancy Chevrolet Traverse. In China, a Buick Enclave sells for $81,000 USD – you can imagine what Cadillac would be able to charge for this kind of vehicle in the Chinese market, to say nothing of Russia, Brazil, Latin America and even India.

Assuming the marginal cost of turning a Lambda CUV into a Cadillac is low, the exercise seems like a slam dunk for GM. But we can’t always make these assumptions. Each individual business case is always a discrete entity, and trying to approach it with a “one-size-fits-all” mentality is a common fallacy in the world of automotive opinion writing. Even so, the case for a big Cadillac CUV seems to make sense – and GM’s track record of mis-managing Cadillac only furthers the thinking that cancelling this project is a mistake.

 

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