By on May 22, 2007

chevrolet490.jpgDuring the American car industry’s formative years, entrepreneurs started car companies left and right, jostling for quick profits and market share. Flint Rock native William Durant had a meta vision: agglomerate the best of the new automakers to create an empire called General Motors. This he did, through endless charm and clever financing. But Durant gambled too much too often, and lost control of his brainchild. The Chevrolet brand was born out of wedlock, to fund Billy Durant’s comeback.

Durant convinced Swiss-born race car driver Louis Chevrolet to lend his name and engineering talents to the start-up. Chevy launched its first car in 1912. The success of the “Classic Six” five-passenger sedan– complete with a windshield, electric lights and a folding top– fulfilled Durant’s ambitions; paving the way for a brief return to GM’s helm.

More to the point, Chevy’s branding identity was born: value for money.

In 1915, Chevy underlined the point with the 490, named for its $490 price. The model was a direct challenge to Ford’s Model T. By 1927, Chevrolet’s production numbers crested 1m, sailing by Ford. (For 51 of the next 55 years, the Bowtie outsold the Blue Oval.)

In 1929, Durant successor Alfred Sloan green lighted a new six cylinder model. Chevrolet’s “six for the price of a four” jibed perfectly with the brand’s basic selling proposition, and paid off in spades.

Ford’s 1932 V8 tried to up the ante. Even though the flat-head V8 became a hot-rod legend, Chevy’s smoother, more powerful and efficient six remained the people’s choice.

In ’50, Chevy introduced the Powerglide transmission, welcoming American mass market motorists to the world of the automatic gearbox. In ’54, Chevy customers could enjoy power brakes, windows and seats.

In ’55, Chevy brought V8 power to the people. Although pistonheads tend to focus on the model’s 162hp small-block engine– which unseated the Ford flathead as the hot-rodders weapon of choice– the car’s size, price (around $1700) and performance hit the sweet spot. The ’55 – ’57 Chevys were also [relatively] well constructed and more stylish than comparable Fords and Plymouths.

If only Chevy hadn’t followed its competitor’s footsteps during the ‘58 – ‘60 maximum barge era. But they did, with a vengeance, losing both their reputation for right-priced mechanical innovation and their focus on bottom-rung-of-the-ownership-ladder positioning.

Chevy super-sized their cars, and kept on growing. The ‘58 Impala was specifically designed to give Chevrolets a “big car look.” Though immediately successful, the trend towards full-size Chevys was a big mistake. Literally. It began the process of blurring the brand’s carefully nurtured entry-level identity with that of Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac.

By the early ‘70’s, Chevy’s passenger cars had become leviathans that shared a lot more with their brother brands than just their size and the dubious “GM Mark of Excellence” badge. GM’s relentless badge-engineering– sharing mechanical bits between divisions– removed many key distinctions between brands. With the debut of the pumped-up and plushed-out the ’71 Caprice, the gap between Chevy and Caddy products narrowed to a minuscule 25 percent.

Of course, Chevrolet hadn’t abandoned small cars; it just seemed that way. From an engineering, style and price point-of-view, the ’60 Corvair was about as good as it got. It was an ambitious and influential model in keeping with the brand’s promise of inexpensive innovation. But the final design was flawed, hamstrung by beancounteritis, and then buried by Ralph Nader.

Chevrolet tried again with the ’62 Chevy II. The parts bin special soon morphed into their new mid-market template; it porked-up and changed its name to Nova, leaving the compact market wide open for the imports. The ’71 Vega and ’76 Chevette were another doomed salvo in the brand’s ongoing, miserable and futile attempts to counter the small import tsunami.

Meanwhile, the downsized and evergreen Impala/Caprice (’77 – ’90), Citation and Malibu marked a welcome return to the “classic” Chevrolet mid-sized, bargain-priced formula. Both models were neglected to death.

Chevy stuck with the Cavalier for 24 years. While the Japanese competition refreshed its competing products every four or five years, Chevrolet kept building essentially the same car. Alas, evolutionary– or revolutionary– engineering was no longer the GM way.

The Corvette and Chevy’s trucks were the exception the proved the rule. Unfortunately, the former has nothing to do with Chevy branding and the latter’s success distracted Chevrolet from its declining passenger car fortunes– to the point where a Korean-built compact is now the entry point to a decidedly lackluster, fleet-oriented passenger car lineup.

The Aveo points to Chevy’s future: cheap compacts from Korea, China and India. And not just for us. GM’s small “world cars” now carry the moribund dreams of the bowtie badge’s creators. It’s an ambitious effort that will ensure GM’s global survival. Or not.

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37 Comments on “General Motors’ Branding Fiasco Part Two – Chevrolet’s ADD...”

  • avatar

    Once again, an interesting article on how GM’s brand structure collapsed into its current morass. I don’t believe that the Citation was the best-selling car in 1985. The X-cars had earned a terrible reputation by that point (primarily because of awful reliability, revelations about the braking problems were not well known by that point), and sales had declined dramatically by 1983. In the long run, Ford’s constant introduction of new models for new segments may have been the posthumous revenge of old Henry I. GM’s divisional structure helped it displace Ford in the early 1930s. Ford was never able to match GM in the medium-priced market, where Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick reigned supreme. But Ford brought out the 1957 Fairlane (which was larger and more luxurious than a low-price car had ever been), four-seat Thunderbird, intermediate Fairlane, Mustang and LTD, which forced Chevy to respond. Since Mercury was so weak, Ford didn’t worry as much about hurting its medium-price marque. Chevy had to upgrade its offerings to keep up, which resulted in the division tramping on Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick territory.

  • avatar

    Chevy can be a brand by itself and it will do just fine. Why punish it by having it carry all the GM mess on its back?

  • avatar

    You missed a couple of additional, succinct point:

    1. During the 50’s and 60’s, Chevrolet was over 50% of GM’s sales, and profit. It WAS the golden goose of GM.

    2. Brand identity and marketing limits were tuned to a find edge at that point. Example: If you wanted a 2-door hardtop, your could buy a Chevy BelAir, Chevy Impala, or, Pontiac Catalina (the cheap model). I don’t remember exact prices, but the differences between the three models were almost exactly the same. Here’s the catch: If you bought the Catalina (paying more than for an Impala) you got an interior trimmed out the same as the BelAir.

    If you wanted Impala level luxury in a Pontiac, you had to go to the next level above the Catalina (can’t remember the model name at this writing). The Bonneville, of course, was above above anything unless you started talking Oldsmobile.

    I gotta agree with Teekay’s comment: Chevy can do just fine by itself. Team it up with Cadillac, and you can cover the whole mass-market gamut.

    The big weakness in the whole setup was the GM was always very good at listening to it’s dealers and trying to keep them happy – it’s why dad stuck with Chevy all those years. Unfortunately, keeping a dealer happy means giving them lots of whatever’s selling at that second – and if the hot car has nothing to do with the line you sell, so what, make us one anyway.

    By the way, the existance of the Caprice comes from a very humorous situation. Back in the mid 60’s, someone from the top floor decided that division heads were to be issued cars from the marque they worked for, not new Cadillac’s every year. Buick and Olds division heads weren’t too bothered, even the Pontiac guys could live with a Grand Prix or Bonnie.

    But force the head of Chevrolet division to drive the same cars as the guy on the shop floor bolting them together? No bloody way! Thus the Caprice, a Chevrolet with Oldsmobile trappings. And things were definitely going very wrong.

  • avatar

    Growing up in the 70s I fondly remember the Delorean era cadillac style full size Chevys from 72 to 76. I think it was a big hit because people got a car that looked like a cadillac for a chevy price. I know the point of the article is that chevy lost its way by not being the value leader brand.

    But I still like those old full sized 72-76 chevys

  • avatar


    I thought the Citation was a “J” car. I had a friend who had the Pontiac J car, and he just referred to it as the J car. It was a POS. So was the 1980 Citation my parents had. That car didn’t make it to 100k.

  • avatar

    David Holzman: I thought the Citation was a “J” car. I had a friend who had the Pontiac J car, and he just referred to it as the J car. The Citation, Phoenix, Skylark, and Omega were all X-bodies. The J-bodies were the Cavalier and derivatives.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    “Sell the sizzle and not the steak,” originated by legendary 1930s salesman Elmer Wheeler, refers to the importance of marketing excitement instead of the product itself. “Mazda has four-wheel drive” is steak. “Zoom-zoom” is sizzle.

    I remember the family in our Sunday-best attending a Buick dealer’s invitation-only new model preview. The showroom windows were covered with opaque paper. A battery of searchlights scanned the night sky. We were admitted through a side door guarded by a policeman.

    The erasure of General Motors unique divisional characteristics made them as anonymous as Fords. My father had endlessly debated the merits of the Olds Rocket V-8 and HydraMatic transmission vs. the Buick Straight-8 and Twin-Turbine Dynaflow transmission, but no more.

    The legendary GM “Body by Fisher” advertising campaigns brought many artists to public attention. Fashionable women graced artwork promoting an image of comfort and style. Leading models and haute couture were prominent features. The Fisher Body door sill badge was the first to go, saving the bean counters pennies a car.

    By the 1980s the magic and its 50-percent market share were long gone. General Motors was a dead man walking.

  • avatar

    It’s called brand extension, no different from Crest having 12(6?47?whatever) different varieties. Where’s that business school education? MacNamara was so successful with cars he went on to the government, and, oh, never mind…
    I would guess that Chevy has more models today than they did in their heyday, circa 1966, even though unlike the Impala, Chevelle, etc., absolutely none of them could be considered industry leaders. At some point, GM needed to tell its’ dealers “NO”, but were incapable especially when the guy with the charts was showing all those extra near term profits for just a bit of tweaking and branding. Cheap profits are exactly that and after 35 years of looking for those quick and easy profits, the whirlwind showed up. Think of all that extra ice cream, chips, and donuts you consumed over the years, and now you gotta drop 40 pounds or you drop dead. 30 years ago your metabolism took care of that stuff for you…now it gets really hard…especially since you are a diabetic and have hardened arteries.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Yea skyrocker but remember ford pushed the luxo econo cruiser with the ltd. Remember ford had little to loose with their weak mercury brand, so if they could sell a larger ford with upscale credentials they would. Chevy just had to answer with an upscale caprice. Now there was little size and luxury difference between entry level cars and mid priced cars and then you have to give the dealers small cars to sell to replace the chevys and fords that were no longer small.

  • avatar

    David Holzman: The J-Cars were the Chevy Cavalier, Pontiac J2000 (later renamed Pontiac Sunbird, then Sunfire), Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Firenza and – the most infamous one of all – the Cadillac Cimarron.

  • avatar

    Thanks Geeber and Frank.

  • avatar

    Paul, your cursory note regarding the success of the truck division left me wanting more. Growing up in pickup country it’s often hard to believe that GM is in trouble.

    An article that examines why Chevrolet was able to stay class-leading in its truck division while becoming an also-ran in the passenger car segment would be damn fine reading. This could easily apply to FoMoCo as well, with some nuances.

  • avatar

    I think the styling quickly went downhill after the mid-60s. By the mid-70s there was virually nothing memorable. I do like both the ’80s and the ’90s Caprices for very different reasons. The 90s version is the quintessential cop car, the 80s is a very decent looking sedan; not spectacular, but has artistic integrity. But these are exceptions to the rule.

    Would be interested to know what happened that styling went downhill after the mid-60s, and also how a car that was loaded with personality (the 90s Caprice) made it thru the dumb-it-down focus groups and onto the street.

  • avatar

    In fact, I’d say that the 90s Caprice is one of the few GM cars after the 60s that I would expect to achieve classic status .

  • avatar

    My favorite Chevy advert (car magazine centerfold) was for the Caprice-based Impala SS: The side view of the long black sedan, in a dark area (shuttle bay?) with the text: “Lord Vader, your car is ready”.

  • avatar

    An article that examines why Chevrolet was able to stay class-leading in its truck division while becoming an also-ran in the passenger car segment would be damn fine reading. This could easily apply to FoMoCo as well, with some nuances.

    It might be damn fine reading, but it would be pretty short – because the answer is simple.

    Until recently the Japanese haven’t built trucks. Your truck choices were Chevy, Ford, or Dodge.

  • avatar

    Interesting and informative article, Thank You.

    The guy that was running Chevrolet usually made his way to run GM, that’s how big Chevrolet was within the GM structure.

    You can write about each division seperately, by the early 70’s GM was hitting a WALL, by the late 70’s it was confirmed. They were “slapping” product together that was the first indication. The fit and finish of any GM product was hideous, its one of the first things Japanese cars did well.

    General Motors trucks (GMC and Chevrolet) had an undisputed leadership position for many years, from pick ups to medium duty trucks. The fit and and finish was a mess, they were rust buckets, but who cared they were trucks, and better than the competition.

    A Chevrolet or GMC medium duty truck with a 366 or 427 V8 was the benchmark of the industry. When medium duty trucks started migrating to diesel engines,in typical GM fashion of the day, lets me sure we make a mess of this opportunity. We have an egg on our face with the infamous 350 diesel in Oldsmobile, lets repeat the process with the 8.2 in medium duty trucks.

    There went the GM (Chevrolet&GMC) medium duty

  • avatar

    It is difficult to summarize all the steps and stages that led GM and Chevrolet to the morass they are in but I enjoyed the attempt.  

  • avatar

    Thanks AGR for your summation of the medium duty truck division of GM.

    Lokkii, I don’t think it’s that simple. Besides giving the Japanese automakers way too much credit re: passenger cars, which isn’t germane to the discussion anyhow, a deeper analysis is needed here. Of the three brands you mention, Dodge was perpetually an also-ran while Ford and Chev/GMC have had an interesting battle for top spot going on decades and sure to continue into the future.

    All I’m suggesting is that an article on the topic I mentioned in my previous post would be interesting by putting the two divisions side by side and analyzing critical decisions by each along the way, in a historical timeline like this one, to come to some conclusions as to how we got to where we are today.

  • avatar

    Any discussion of trucks should make the distinction between light duty (consumer – commercial,) medium duty, heavy duty. Through the years GM was involved in all of these segments.

    They relinquished the HD market by selling it to Volvo years ago, and now are exploring possibilities to relinquish the little that they have in the medium duty market.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Yes, GM had many profitable divisions now gone. There was GM locamotives,.GM coach div which built just about every city bus in the Country from the 1950’s and many over the road busses. And yes GMC was a tractor trailer heavy duty provider down to dump trucks, medium duty, almost all gone. They built limos in their cadillac plant on a special assembly line. (they were sold through the regular dealers as image pieces)gone.
    They built motorhomes on Olds toronado chassis, gone. They owned euclid earth movers.In other words if it rolled down the road or tracks GM was a major player. How small can a company get without having any niche to call their own? Pickup trucks and Suv’s the old domestic’s niche seems to be in trouble with $4.00 gas on the way. The new GM 900 trucks seem to get good reviews with one exception, they still actually get 12-15MPG around town. If this doesn’t sink the whole lot of this stuff I don’t know what will. Further, even the construction gang is going to demand diesel and other technologies to do better than what is being delivered by light trucks. GM Ford and Chrysler are woefully behind in this field. They don’t even make four and six cylinder diesels for light truck use ala mercedes, isuzu, hino et al. They are in big trouble and their last cozy hiding place will soon vanish.

  • avatar

    Personally, I think GM needs to drop some of their brands simply because they are meaningless. Or worse, they are associated with negative feelings.

    I’m 42 years old. I suspect that I have pretty average feelings about GM. Here is what I associate with GM brands.

    Pontiac, Buick, and GMC mean nothing. They do not evoke visions of performance, quality, or anything special. It doesn’t matter what they USED to represent. What matters is what they currently represent. GM killed these brands with their neglect. They are dead. Get rid of them.

    Pontiac? Junk peddled to clueless trailer trash. Sorry to offend Pontiac owners out there. But seriously, mention “Pontiac”, and the TV show “Cops” comes to my mind. Drunk guys in dirty wife-beaters with their prize Pontiac in the driveway of their mobile home.

    Buick? Doesn’t even register.

    GMC? Their pickups are identical twins of Chevy pickups. Why bother? What’s the point?

    Cadillac? Old geezers, Mafia, Gangsta’s, and clueless blue collar middle class retired couples who regret buying in to the hype vow to get a Lexus next time.

    Holden? Doesn’t register outside of Oz. But as someone with feet in both Oz and the US, GM needs to bring the Holden touch to the US.

    Chevy? A keeper. Despite some of their bad models, GM can make something with Chevy. They actually had some decent cars and trucks for the money, and still have a good enough reputation to save it.

    GM? The name only invokes images of stagnant, old Detroit. Spin off Chevy. Kill everything else. Take the remaining money and retirement obligations and get into the medical-care industry (a-la Kaiser Steel) since that it what you are going to be paying for anyhow.

  • avatar

    Sad when you think about it. I look through the Collectors Guide and you can see the distinction between the brands.

    Sadder still is when you look at the models and how much character they had (Toronado, Riviera, Monte Carlo, LeSabre). Distinctive cars that featured novel engineering, styling, or muscle. Often all three. Most of them are gone, and the thin automotive gruel left is often devoid of all three.

    I remember Peter Egan saying ‘My mom drove a Buick LeSabre, back when a Buick LeSabre was a car to be reckoned with.’ You could substitute ‘Buick LeSabre’ with at least a dozen GM nameplates and people would know what you meant. (There’s a 69 Eldorado with a 400 horse 472 in my neighbourhood. It still looks good and hauls ass.)

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I don’t know if I can really get on the same boat with everyone else on this.

    I don’t see price as the problem at all. It’s perception and brand equity that’s been jeopardized more than anything else.

    Chevy can build a $60,000 car just as Toyota can build an Avalon (or Supra) that’s more expensive than an ES. The belief that folks won’t buy a Corvette because it is made by Chevy, as opposed to Cadillac, is a ridiculous one as far as I’m concerned.

    What really hurt gM was that

    1) The didn’t invest enough in the product.

    2) They didn’t invest enough in the names.

    3) They didn’t address the degree of cannibalization that was taking place within the company.

    For point 1, GM’s product cycles lasted way too long. Just a quick example, it took nearly 10 years to fully replace such critical models as the Cavalier and Caprice. As far as other models are concerned, GM has gone through a process that ensures rot, distastes, and planned obsolesence for too many models.

    2) The problem isn’t that there are so many divisions (really), it’s that no one knows what the hell these companies are selling these days. Ask a fellow whether he knows what a Grand Am or LeSabre are. Chances are he or she will be able to tell you that it’s a type of American car. Now excuse me, what the hell is a Lacrosse, a G6 or an Acadia? I’ll be damned if I know. The same is true for the acronym ridden Cadillac and Hummer divisions.

    I remember listening to one of the GM employee’s explain to me that GM wanted to be known again for it’s divisions rather than it’s models.

    I’m sorry… but WTF were they thinking???

    You take a perennial top seller like the Grand Am, and shuick it in the mud, and your gonna get a whole lot of consumer’s glazing over a ‘Huh?’ G?

    What GM did to Buick was beyond terrible. Take 3 nameplates (Regal, LeSabre, Century) and make them so bland and interchangeable that no one knows what you’re selling anymore. Then, of course, when the sales decline you can say that the names are just ‘too old’. Try very hard to ignore the Corvette and Imapala while doing so.

    I believe that the General still can make it work. GM models are widely considered to be on a higher tier than most foreign and ALL domestic nameplates at the auctions. It’s no mistake. GM can still build excellent powertrains and their willingness to offer a 100,000 mile warranty is indicative of their high overall quality.

    Unfortuantely, there are so many damned entrenched interests within GM that those changes won’t be possible without bankruptcy and a serious change in the overall operations.

    Unlike Ford and Chrysler, I still see flashes of brilliance within GM. If they can streamline their operations and eradicate all the parasites that are feeding off of them, I have no doubt that GM could equal or better Toyota and Honda in the marketplace.

    For now though, we’ll have to wait until the tide becomes a hurricane.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Nick R makes a solid point and you can see it, anytime you go to a collector car auction; that being, how different the different makes within the GM family were.

    To my mind, GM started its downhill slide when it decided not to have different engines, for different divisions, in 1977 as I recall. In the years past, and at auctions today, people covet the Buick “nailhead” V8 (so called, because the valves were straight-up), or the overhead-valve, in-line 8 cylinder engines of older Buicks, going back to the late Thirties. Cadillac had a plethora of interesting engines, as did Oldsmobile.

    And going back to the Fifties and Sixties, Pontiac really did build excitement for a while. While it’s debatable which car was the first “muscle car,” (1955 Chrysler 300C? 1957 American Motors Rebel with its own 327 cid V8?) the GTO really kicked the genre into high gear. But by 1974, it died a ignominious death as nothing more than a tarted up Chevrolet Nova.

    A reason Chevrolet still has cache is its engines harken back to that halcyon time.

    The reason, like shared platforms today, was to save money. But if you loose customers, because you no longer offer really unique or interesting products, what’s the point exactly?

    There are bright points in the GM mix today – the Solstice is one, as is the Corvette – but as the 42 year old poster noted, most of it just passes people by. Ask most any 20 something what a Cobalt is and you’ll understand why GM is in trouble.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I’m not sure if engines are really the point of distinction.

    Toyota uses the same V6 engine for Toyota and Lexus. In fact, they’ve used the same 3.0’s, 3.3’s and 3.5’s for a very wide variety of models.

    The same was true for VW when they were racking up sales in the late 1990’s. the 1.8T, TDI, and VR6 could be had in a variety of platforms and throughout multiple price levels within the company. The engines added value, it did not detract.

    I believe that the ‘overall package’ is where the distinction has to be made. It doesn’t have to be different. It just has to be exceptional in many ways. The fact that sometimes certain powertrains are proprietary (1st gen Oldsmobile Aurora, 1st gen Saturn S-Class) does not mean that they are market leading material.

    It all comes down to investing in the brand continually and making outright wonderful cars. If Cadillac built a product that had been comparble to the RX series sUV’s or the 1st gen SC Coupes, the public would have bought them in droves. You can call an SC an Eldorado or a Flying Do-Do and people would have still bought it because it was simply the best luxury coupe of the early and mid 1990’s.

    It all comes down to product. You don’t need anything distinctive (hello Camry?), you just need to make it better than anyone else.

  • avatar

    There were some previous posts about where GM started to lose the way in terms of styling (and while it isn’t mentioned, it probably can be assumed that engineering is in there also.) Rewind back to the late 50’s and early 60’s. The designs were still using the huge eggcrate chrome grilles and tail fins so large, today they would need side marker lights. Much like the ongoing large SUV “market correction” going on today, you can bet the farm that people just got tired of trying to handle and steer a barge with a back end that would drag on the ground once the suspension aged. Streamlining started to take over. I think a good example of what was starting to happen by the early-60’s can be seen in the Lincoln that he is riding in during the shooting in Dallas. It was modified to be a limo(like) design, but the amount of frills and “fluff” on the exterior is missing. After that, the Mustang was released with a much different design than anything else out there. Soon after, the horsepower and styling race was back on and the aggressive muscle car look was becoming popular.
    It might be a scapegoat, but I personally think the Oil Embargo (numbers one and two in the 70’s) just flattened GM. We’ve all read the stories (and for the people driving then, they have the first hand experience) of these huge and bloated body on frame cars that might have looked muscular, but in reality was powered by a smog-controlled, detuned, wheezing 8-cyl or underengineered smaller engine. It is like GM just threw in the towel with the 70’s redesigns by losing focus of the style and instead giving us “left in the dryer too long” style designs of huge cars shrunken to a miserable lump. (Shades of today with Chrysler trying to make the 300’s design work with smaller cars.) They did make an advanced 4-speed automatic (and then it seemed like they closed the shop and let the Japanese and Europeans come out with more gears), but dropped the ball by the failed V-8-6-4 disaster, X and J car explosive and leaking engines, the Fiero disaster, the Vega rustbomb, and I still taste bile when I think about what they did with making the Cavalier a Cadillac…yup…there’s the taste again.
    The industry has moved on. GM has not. They can do all of the spin in the world, but it just isn’t working. Case in point:
    Where is their internally built hybrid?
    Why are they treating this 2009 Camaro as the car that will save GM when in reality, did the redesigned Mustang save Ford, the New Beetle save GM, and the PT Cruiser save Chrysler? There’s a lot of “NO” answers to those questions.
    Why are they sinking so much time and energy into these compact show cars when they should be building the things? That has me stumped the most – they are getting “feedback” from people which means by the time they MIGHT make it to final production several years down the road, the competition has yet again moved on.
    GM’s Volt concept. Once again, just build the thing. Spin doesn’t work any longer.
    Anyone who watched MotorWeek last week saw a now-discontinued GM minivan at a DC-area science fair that used water and hydrogen to propel model cars. GM of course used the event to show hydrogen development. However, did we actually see the car move? No. Did we see what was under the huge covers under the engine? No. Why? Shall we guess the thing cannot move? This reeks of several years ago when GM showed their “hybrids” at auto shows, but upon closer inspection, it was just a plastic cover over nothing.
    How many of their cars still use 4-speed automatics? WAY TOO MANY!
    Stop hyping E85 – GM is going to get burned once again in seveal years when the media is flooded with angry owners writing and speaking about the disaster called fuel economy with E85.
    They need to stop making pushrod engines. My generation (X) and younger have been raised on imports with high revving and very smooth DOHC engines that get great mileage for their size and are very smooth. Torque isn’t everything, especially if the engine is Honda and Lexus smooth. That just reeks of 30 years ago – time to put the pushrods out to pasture.
    I think GM still has a chance to win us over, but the time is running out and once that line is crossed, time to shut it down. There are signs that the lights are on in RenCen and their performance roadsters and Cadillacs show that if they can make a decent car. They just don’t sweat the details like the Japanese and Europeans.
    I think GM can come back if they do what some professional sports teams do in order to win or to bring back fans to the stadium. Basically they overspend. While teams like the Yankees, Marlins, and Diamondbacks won championships, their bottom line was wrecked. However, not counting the Marlins, having a championship makes the team a winner in fans’ eyes and gets people into the stadium. GM needs to shackle the accountants, give the keys to the engineers and designers and let them do what they do best – design cars we want. We can have huge articles about how their cars are so close, except… Well, let the engineers remove the “except” part. They have to have some very talented designers and engineers that just cannot get their visions onto the road. Let them.
    In the end, they will still hit bottom and have to do the dreaded re-org. My idea will probably speed that up. However, if they make a few winners, much like teams, it shows everyone they are driven to win at all costs and we haven’t seen that yet.

  • avatar

    I’m in line with yankinwaoz’ comment. I’m 43; my first cars were Hondas, Toyotas, and Dodge Colts (Mitsubishi). When I was 18-21 and starting to buy cars, GM made junk like the Citation, Omega, Phoenix, and Cavaliers…looked great in the ads, but everyone who I knew that owned one regretted it. I’ve never owned a GM product because of those early impressions…despite GM’s huge advertising budget…until 2006, when I considered the new Impala or G6. Still, I was reluctant to take a chance on GM’s latest “quality” promises.

    BUT, I did buy a GM import…the 2004 Chevy Epica (Suzuki Verona) sold in Canada, part of GM’s Daewoo lineup (Aveo/Optra/Epica). Epica was updated and is sold outside NA only. Chinese-built Buick Lacrosse and the Holden/Chinese Buick Park Avenue, IMHO, seem like better products than any NA designed/built GM models.

    My point is, I think there’s hope for GM, especially for my generation and younger who have only owned imports. GM and Ford seem to have better products outside NA…hopefully THOSE products will continue showing up here. I’d buy a new Epica, Chinese Buick Lacrosse, or Holden/Chinese Buick Park Avenue in a minute. But not any of GM’s current NA products. Hopefully the next generation Buick Lacrosse will have some of the Chinese/Holden influence.

  • avatar

    Good editorial, but very geocentric. Chevy’s future, like Buick’s, lies outside the US.

    Chevrolet is the global brand GM increasingly leverages to remain relevant in the value market, especially in places like East Eurpe, Latin America and parts of Asia.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Outside the US, Chevrolet does not mean small cars. As a matter of fact, here in Europe they are selling a model with an in-line six.

    It seems the motto is “value for money”, once again, because all Chevys both large and small are much cheaper than comparable Opels or Vauxhalls.

  • avatar

    Martin Schwoerer: Outside the US, Chevrolet does not mean small cars. As a matter of fact, here in Europe they are selling a model with an in-line six. It seems the motto is “value for money”, once again, because all Chevys both large and small are much cheaper than comparable Opels or Vauxhalls. That's because the "Chevrolets" sold in Europe (and most of the rest of the world outside of North America) since 2005 are rebadged Daewoos. The only "real" Chevrolet sold in Europe is the Corvette. It's so far removed from the European image of Chevrolet that it's sold as a separate marque, through an entirely separate distribution channel.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Frank: exactly. And the point I was trying to make is: on a global level, Chevrolet does has a coherent branding strategy. These Chevys-that-formerly-were-known-as-Daewoos are not bad cars, and they have a pretty clear brand profile — at least in comparison to other GM brands.

  • avatar

    I am also one of the generation that GM lost. The first car I bought with my own earnings was a Datsun 510. I stayed with Datsun for years, until they decided to eradicate the Datsun name.Switched to GM,some were pretty good,but some were really bad.I take care of my vehicles and like them to last a long time.GM let me down in that respect, so they lost me.Probably forever!

  • avatar

    Another of the generation GM lost…both my parents worked for GM and had employee discounts. My mother understood my non-GM vehicle purchases, and always asked me to remember she could give me her discount, I looked at GM regardless of it’s not really selling what I wanted to buy…the deal never closed, and this was understood.

    Of course, one time the ‘deal’ wasn’t on the table because the dealership had only two people selling cars on a Saturday, next to Sunday the busiest car selling day here, and the person who ‘helped’ me was drunk off his *ss. Another time the ‘deal’ wasn’t on the table because the dealership insisted I decide to buy the vehicle before a “test drive” (the first and only time I’ve ever heard of such a thing, except on these pages), and when they relented in the face of my ridicule the ‘test drive’ was only on subdivision streets…which was still sufficient to dissuade me.

    I guess what I mean by the preceding paragraph is that GM seems to have simply fallen apart. The question of what dealerships are supposed to sell gets more attention here, but there’s also the matter of dealerships not really wanting to sell vehicles. Otherwise why the bull***t regarding test drives? Why the drunk with cheap whiskey (the ‘e’ is intentional) on his breath, in a dealership staffed by *2* people on a *Saturday*, when every other dealership has everybody present?

    And if the SF Bay Area is uniquely…blessed?…with such poor dealerships, then why no effort to fix the problem? There’s 7 million of us and our money’s green, just like everyone else in the US.

  • avatar

    >David Holzman: In fact, I’d say that the 90s Caprice is one of the few GM cars after the 60s that I would expect to achieve classic status .

    I second that. Though the Caprice based 94-96 Impala SS may steal the spotlight. In fact I believe it is already possible to obtain “classic car” insurance status for the 94-96 Impala SS. The car is already considered a classic in many circles. Often cited as being the last powerful, full-size, RWD American sedan. I would also add that the Buick Roadmaster wagon and Chevrolet Caprice wagons will be classics of their era. In terms of styling and size they are distinctly different to other cars of their time, and the later models are powered by the same Corvette derived 5.7 Liter V8 found in the Impala SS. They’re very easy to maintain and can see significant power gains with just a few simple bolt on modifications. There is already a strong following of enthusiasts for the 90s b-body platform. It would be nice to see GM achieve a similar status with their plans for the new 2011 RWD Impala SS. A few more iconic cars to help carry the flag would be good for their image.

  • avatar

    After the 60’s and early 70’s the cars fell apart
    – no innovations anywhere
    – Windows that would hit your head Cutlas
    – Film scum would go on the windows
    – Keys that bang on the column in any turs
    still like this in their outdated trucks
    – Springy rides
    – Windows freeze up
    – Lousy heat
    – Sick and tired of seeing rust in the same
    places for 2 decades. I mean come on.
    – Fat gus sucking motors.
    – Chrome (alum paint) on PlasTIC remember that
    – Seats ripping
    – How about the rivet bolts in the
    Bumpers.Remember those????
    – GM needed a re-invention starting in 1975
    – and yes FORD needs NEW Ford decals I bought
    one and took that ugly cheap looking badge off.

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