General Motors Death Watch 6: Petard Hoisting

Jon Arnett
by Jon Arnett
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general motors death watch 6 petard hoisting

Mr. Witzenburg's recent TTAC editorial criticized Mr. Farago for his anti-GM bias and asked us to give the domestic automaker a fair shake. While I respect Mr. Witzenburg's loyalty and patriotism, he seems to have overlooked the fact that his former employer makes some truly awful automobiles. As the cornerstone of his defence, the automotive journalist asked readers to name one– just one– poorly-made car from the General Motors line-up. Alright then, what about the Chevrolet Cavalier?

My best friend, sister and mother all had the displeasure of owning a Cavalier ('94, '00, '04). During their stewardship, pieces fell off, the electronics failed (headlights, windows, and stereo) and there were several major mechanical failures (transmission starter, alternator and master brake cylinder). Witzenburg may dismiss these complaints as relating to an "old" design, but their saga is not peculiar to the Cavalier. Perhaps owners of other GM products would like to email their tales of woe to Mr. Witzenburg. Anyway, a car company is only as good/bad as their weakest model.

I also reject Witzenburg's argument that build quality is everything; he claims you can't criticize a GM product simply because you don't like it. Sorry? Why not? Despite Mr. Witzenberg's affections for JD Power, 'objective' quality surveys are not the ultimate measure of an automaker's products. It's whether or not people like their vehicles enough to buy them. Is Witzenburg saying that people are "wrong" because they don't like a GM car's looks, handling, performance or cost of ownership? GM may still sell a Hell of a lot of cars, but their declining market share says it's GM– not its customers– that's been getting it badly wrong, for a long, long time. To suggest otherwise is blaming the victim.

There's another way to gauge the public's general regard for GM's products: depreciation. If GM was making great cars, they'd all hold their value like a Honda Accord. They don't. For example, within one year, the aforementioned Cavaliers shed nearly 45% of their original value. In fact, the pro-GM writer should click-on-over to and have a look at the used car values right across the GM range. There's no better place to get a feel for how little the public thinks about GM's engineering and design.

But let's get back to new product. Continuing our quest for lousy cars, how about Saturn? They may last a long time, but is that a good thing? Most of these cars use plastic far cheaper than Mattel dinky-cars. They have underpowered engines, terrible interiors, weak suspensions, junk brakes and dismally uninspired interiors. And they're ugly. The media reports that GM will rectify all of these problems with a new batch of high-quality product. Now where have I heard THAT before?

While many cars in GM's line-up aren't lousy in and of themselves, they're clearly not "up" to the competition. The top-spec Saab 9-5 is a nice car, but so is a fully-loaded Nissan Altima, for $10k less. Or, for the same price as the Saab, how about a BMW 525? The Bimmer's retained value would even pay for a few extra toys. Buick's latest and greatest, the Lacrosse, or a Nissan Maxima? Guess which is cheaper, better styled in and out, has more power, better gearing, and still gets better fuel economy. Bottom line, in every situation, there's at least two or three compelling reasons to buy from GM's competition.

Witzenburg and his supporters like to point to the one supposed bright spot in GM's constellation: Cadillac. Although the CTS is a great car that builds on the Escalade's success/excess, Cadillac is hardly out of the woods. The XLR and STS are both perilously close to being flops: over-priced and under-deluxed. Again, check the sales charts; Caddy have yet to prove that they have what it takes to take-on Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, etc. and win. And again, cliff-face depreciation tells the tale of a division with more pretensions than product.

It's time for GM and its supporters to wake up. The only people giving them high numbers on surveys are those that don't know anything about cars, or what a decent car actually feels like to drive. When they do try a GM competitor's product, they usually don't come back. You can shout that GM makes great cars until you're blue in the face, but the there's no getting around the fact that people aren't buying them– any of them– like they used to. There's a lot of good reasons for that, and it isn't media propaganda. Until and unless GM builds great cars, like it or not, it's going to get exactly what it deserves.

Jon Arnett
Jon Arnett

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  • Jeff NYC does have the right to access these charges and unless you are traveling on business or a necessity you don't have to drive or live in NYC. I have been in NYC a few times and I have absolutely no desire to go back. I can say the same thing about Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston where I lived for 29 years. A city can get too big where it is no longer livable for many. I was raised in West Houston near the Katy Freeway which is part of I-10. The Katy Freeway when I moved from Houston in 1987 was a 6 lane road--3 lanes on each side of the interstate with each side having side access roads which we called feeder roads for a total of 8 lanes. Today the Katy freeway has 26 lanes which include feeder roads. I went back to Houston in 2010 to see my father who was dying and lost any desire to go back. To expand the Katy Freeway it took thousands of businesses to be torn down. I read an article about future expansion of the Katy freeway that said the only way to expand it was to either put a deck above it or to go underground. One of the things the city was looking at was to have tolls during the peak hours of traffic. Houston is very flat and it is easier to expand the size of roads than in many eastern cities but how easy is it to expand a current road that already has 26 lanes and is one of the widest roads in the World. It seems that adding more lanes to the Katy freeway just expanded the amount of traffic and increased the need for more lanes. Just adding more lanes and expanding roads is not a long term solution especially when more homes and businesses are built in an area. There was rapid growth In Northern Kentucky when I lived in Hebron near the Northern Kentucky Cincinnati Airport. , Amazon built a terminal and facility onto the airport that was larger than the rest of the airport. Amazon built more warehouses, more homes were being built, and more businesses. Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties in Northern Kentucky are constantly expanding roads and repairing them. Also there is the Brent Spence Bridge which crosses the Ohio River into Cincinnati that is part of I-71 and I-75 and major North and South corridor. The bridge is 60 years old and is obsolete and is in severe disrepair. I-71 and I-75 are major corridors for truck transportation.
  • Art_Vandelay It's not like everyone is topping their ICE vehicles off and coasting into the gas station having used every last drop of fuel either though. Most people start looking to fill up at around a 1/4 of a tank. If you constantly run the thing out of gas your fuel pump would probably be unhappy. If you running your EV to zero daily you probably bought the wrong vehicle
  • ToolGuy Imagine how exciting the automotive landscape will be once other manufacturers catch up with Subaru's horizontally-opposed engine technology.
  • FreedMike Oh, and this..."While London likes to praise its own congestion charging for reducing traffic and increasing annual revenues, tourism has declined..."The reason London's tourism numbers are down is that the city has resumed its' "tourist tax." And why did the tourist tax get reimposed? Brexit.
  • Dukeisduke Eh, still a Nissan. Nope.