General Motors Death Watch 102: Cut the BLS

general motors death watch 102 cut the bls

I recently received a review of the Cadillac BLS by a South African scribe. While the writer responded to my revisions by retreating to the pub, I couldn’t stop thinking about the obscure object of his ire. The execrable BLS– a Saab 9-3 reskin with neither style nor grace– was born in the middle of GM’s so-called product renaissance. BLS sales projections started at 20k units per year, then fell to 10, then seven. And now I learn that instead of killing this poor-selling, po-faced, brand-defiling half-breed, GM has appointed one Wolfgang Schubert to “save” the BLS.

In case you thought GM might send in a car guy to make the BLS more competitive, please note that Schubert hails from GM's Brussels office, where he “coordinated European Union affairs.” According to The General, increasing the BLS’ fleet and leasing sales is the red tape wrestler’s main task. James Vurpillat, Cadillac's director for international marketing and brand development, confidently predicted that Caddy will sell 3k BLS’ to the fleet market– roughly twice the number of mock-Caddies Trollhatten will produce this year.

Many of the GM faithful will read this sad tale of misbegotten motorcars and misplaced marketing and condemn me as an eternal pessimist, blinded by a relentless search for the dark clouds inside The General’s silver lining. Why focus on one crap car [not] sold to Europeans and South Africans when there’s so much good news flying through the media ether? For example, GM has finally sold 51% of its GMAC financing unit, adding $14 billion to the corporate coffers over the next three years. The cash ought to give GM CEO Rick Wagoner’s turnaround some much-needed breathing room.

OK, Generous Motors’ current cash burn is producing neither heat nor light, the last piece of furniture has just been thrown in the fire and the temperature (i.e. market share) is still dropping. But hey, November sales are up six percent! We’re talking double digit increases in the sales of GM’s high profits trucks and SUV’s! OK, that’s compared to a cataclysmic ’05 and Toyota pulled further ahead with a 22.8% sales increase. But hey, the new Lambda-based crossovers are coming! OK, GM’s chances of conquesting a transplant customer with their me-too, late-to-the-party CUV’s are smaller than the decreased margins vis-à-vis GM’s full-sized SUV’s.

But hey, costs are coming down! Workers are leaving! Oh right, so is Kirk. Yes, there is that. When GM’s largest private investor says screw it, I’m out of here– banking a mere $100m to [partially] cover his lawyer’s fees– you’d be forgiven for thinking GM is a lost cause. Lest we forget, Kirk Kerkorian had his main man Jerry York on GM’s Board of Bystanders, snuffling through the books. Oh, and about those books… GM is still the focus of seven SEC investigations.

And what about that Delphi thing? You know; the bankrupt former GM subsidiary and current parts supplier that’s determined to suckle on GM’s tit even if it kills them, GM and the UAW. Despite enough legal extensions to add a couple of chapters to Kafka’s The Trial, it’s still not sorted. Experts reckon that if Delphi goes off-line for a month, the corporate mothership will founder. At the same time, a sharp up-tick in domestic gas prices would strangle demand for GM’s mission critical cash cows. But hey, GM’s products are getting better! Better interiors, better mileage, better design!

And where are these mainstream products that will kick the transplants’ collective ass and save GM? Coming. Now it’s dual-mode hybrids. Or was that plug-in hybrids? Hydrogen fuel cells? Flex fuel? Diesels? (No, not diesels.) Anyway, when the good stuff arrives, will it be better than the competition, or somewhere closer to just about as good? The truth is GM needs a series of grand slam home runs, and the hits ain’t happening.

You don’t need to drive a BLS to know that GM isn’t keeping up. In fact, Rick Wagoner’s administration has consistently bet on the wrong horses– from ill-advised foreign alliances, to poo-pooing hybrid technology, to putting all its eggs in an SUV-shaped basket, to gently refreshing rather than boldly re-imagining its products. While Wagoner is right to attack GM’s unsustainable cost base, all his company’s structural problems flow from product-related failures.

Maybe I am a pessimist. But the GM faithful need to read the following exchange and ask themselves a simple question: if GM’s turnaround is doing so well, why can’t the man at the helm spread a little love?

Automotive News: When would you realistically like to see North America return to profitability?

Wagoner: As soon as possible.

Automotive News: Do you have any kind of target that you'd like to share?

Wagoner: Not that I'd like to share.

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  • CSJohnston CSJohnston on Dec 08, 2006

    Can someone please educate us on hybrid sales on the Highlander and RX-H? Are they making up a significant percentage of sales? Are they growing in popularity? Are they moving faster than regular powered Toyota CUV's? If the answers are to the postive, then one could say that the Enclave (and indeed all competing SUV's) is indeed at a competitive disadvantage. If not, then GM should not squander its limted R&D budget on another niche. Is Toyota going to Hybrid the RAV?

  • Johnson Johnson on Dec 08, 2006

    Rav 4 (at least the current gen) will not get a hybrid. Besides, it already has class leading fuel efficiency. http://pressroom.toyota.com/Releases/View?id=TYT2006120187861 From Toyota's November sales: The Camry Hybrid sold 3100 units, the Prius sold 8008 units, Highlander Hybrid had sales of 1667 units, and RX Hybrid sales were 1327. I provided Camry and Prius numbers just as perspective. The Highlander and RX hybrids are the most expensive Toyota hybrids (not including the limited production GS450h). While their sales are not a huge percentage of overall model sales, they do make up a sizable percentage. Overall year-to-date hybrid sales for the industry continue to go up, and as next generation systems come out and economies of scale drive prices down, hybrids will only get more popular.

  • 285exp I am quite sure that it is a complete coincidence that they have announced a $7k price increase the same week that the current administration has passed legislation extending the $7k tax credit that was set to expire. Yep, not at all related.
  • Syke Is it possible to switch the pure EV drive on and off? Given the wonderful throttle response of an EV, I could see the desirability of this for a serious off-roader. Run straight ICE to get to your off-roading site, switch over the EV drive during the off-road section, then back to ICE for the road trip back home.
  • ToolGuy Historical Perspective Moment:• First-gen Bronco debuted in MY1966• OJ Simpson Bronco chase was in 1994• 1966 to 1994 = 28 years• 1994 to now = 28 yearsFeel old yet?
  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.
  • FreedMike I just don’t see the market here - I think about 1.2% of Jeep drivers are going to be sold on the fuel cost savings here. And the fuel cost savings are pretty minimal, per the EPA: https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/PowerSearch.do?action=noform&path=1&year1=2022&year2=2022&make=Jeep&baseModel=Wrangler&srchtyp=ymm&pageno=1&rowLimit=50Annual fuel costs for this vehicle are $2200 and $2750 for the equivalent base turbo-four model. I don’t get it.
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