General Motors Death Watch Pt. 15: Branded!

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
general motors death watch pt 15 branded

OK, so you want to save all eight remaining GM brands. Good for you! It sure would make a lot of people happy. So let's do it, starting with each GM division's USP. Each brand has to produce vehicles that do one thing better than anyone else in the world. No clones. No model overlap. Each vehicle must reflect, embody and personify its unique brand identity. If you look at a car, truck, SUV, minivan or crossover and know it's a GM product, we've failed.

Saab is a bit problematic. Smorgasboards up if you know what it means to be Swedish. In fact, Saab got into the car business through the aerospace industry. Well, even if they didn't, there's a connection there, somewhere. From now on, all Saab's are designed like jet fighters. We're talking electronics (heads-up display, night vision, headsets, military-style gauges, sat nav.), aerodynamics (world's lowest cd, active surfaces), aircraft construction (aluminum, carbon fiber, memory plastics) and ergonomics (cockpit seating, four point belts, maximum visibility). If you build it, it will fly.

Given Saturn's original image– the happy, shiny plastic panel people– let's make them the home of the hybrids. As an all-green division, Saturn would deflect critics of GM's gas-guzzlers. (Call it 'our test bed for new technologies' and keep forgetting to pass them 'round.) Saturn can build anything they want other than SUV's and trucks– as long as it's 100% recyclable, gets 40+mpg, wears lots of identifying badges and looks wacky.

Pontiac is easy. The "We Build Excitement" Division will build, wait for it, sports cars. Fun, fast and sexy sports cars. (Remember: no brand overlap. No hopped-up Chevy's or Caddy's.) The Solstice is a terrific start (if only in theory), but we need a whole line of Pontiac sports cars, from cheap and cheerful runabouts to pricey and dangerous death devices. Let's stay with two-door rear-wheel-drivers for a while, until the public "gets it". After that, if Porsche can build a four-door Panamerica, why not Pontiac?

The official Buick website doesn't bother to offer a brand identity. No worries; we all know that Buicks are God's waiting room on wheels. So let's go the whole hog and REALLY appeal to the elderly. Buicks will have wide-opening doors, huge, easy-to-read gauges; enormous buttons, collision avoidance systems, automatic-parking, prescription bottle holders, oxygen masks for the rear seat passengers, etc. The styling isn't all that important (the eyesight fades after a while), so let's appeal to their sense of nostalgia and simply rebuild famous Buick designs with new technology.

Hummer is fine. Just make sure that every one of their vehicles looks like a box that someone hit with an ugly stick and can kick-ass off road. By the same token, GMC is also in pretty good shape brand-wise. Only one BIG change: no one else in the GM family is allowed to build a truck or SUV. If consumers want a working man's macho flatbed or a Lexified luxury Ute, they go to GMC. And that's it.

Chevrolet is also a reasonable proposition, provided we stick to VFM. Mind you, Value For Money is a market niche susceptible to attacks from both below (Hyundai) and above (budget Bimmers). Thankfully, Chevy still knows how to build vehicles people can afford. Again, we strip-out the SUV's and trucks, but give Chevy all the crossovers. The 'Vette goes to Pontiac. Purists will howl louder than a Z51, but desperate times call for coherent brands.

That leaves Cadillac. It's a no-brainer really: the world's best luxury cars, bar none. (Again, again: no SUV's or trucks.) From now on, Cadillacs will be designed for their brand from the ground-up, paying strict attention to every detail, from platform choice to build quality to engine note to key fob. They'll be sold from dealerships that look and feel like a trendy Manhattan hotel. And Caddies will be horrendously expensive. If thirty-somethings desperately want a Cadillac, but can't possibly afford one, we're there.

And there you have it: eight re-invigorated warriors with enough high concept, tightly-focused branding to compete in today's niche-driven marketplace. If. however, you want to chop the deadwood, Saab would require the longest lead time, Saturn has the most expensive development costs and Buick has the worst demographics. But there's no middle ground: it's cut, adapt or die. When will it happen? In your dreams.

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  • MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
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