General Motors Death Watch 156: Struth!

general motors death watch 156 struth

This is my first General Motors pre-obituary. I’ve never penned one because I never liked having to face the reality that GM's killing itself one bone-headed decision at a time. But in carmaking as in any type of proto-warfare, turning a blind eye to stupid mistakes doesn’t make things any better. In the past few weeks, GM has made three product announcements that are so head-shakingly absurd they’ve earned themselves the starring role in a GM Deathwatch. Strike one…

GM has announced that it will be importing the Holden Ute– a modern day Chevrolet El Camino– to the U.S. The Ute’s based on the same Zeta platform underpinning the upcoming Pontiac G8, which has already been fully developed for the Australian market (where such vehicles are tremendously popular).

On the face of it, this is excellent news. Without even having driven the new Holden Commodore/Pontiac G8, you can count on it being an excellent sport-sedan. A modern rear wheel-drive platform, powerful V6 and V8 engines, up-to-date transmissions and strong prices all add up to a winning combination. A cute UTE would be icing on the proverbial cake.

Unfortunately, GM is going to sell this pickupish vehicle as a Pontiac. GM Car Czar Maximum Bob Lutz addressed this issue squarely between the [cross] eyes. “If we do the Ute…it could be the most enthusiast-positive decision to bring back the El Camino. But you look at their lineup and Chevy has too many vehicles.” Er, no. Chevy has too many poor selling vehicles. Although I can hear more “American Revolution” snickering, and I’m sure the Holden Ute holds plenty of hoon potential (light back ends making drifting even easier), the imported Aussie flatbed should be a Chevy. We build excitement. Pickup. No.

Strike two…

When the idea of importing a Holden sedan as a new Pontiac was first mooted, GM acknowledge the profit-busting exchange rate problems involved and said they’d be building the new G8 here if it sold well, as soon as possible. Back in February, MaxiBob told Automotive News that bringing over the G8 was a “transitional phase. It permitted us to get the car quickly and for a minimum of investment.” The unions (then in contract negotiations) breathed a sigh of relief as Lutz assured “It’s highly likely we will begin to produce [the Zeta-platformed Pontiacs] in North America.”

Fair dinkum. Let's get the first ever G8 into the American market ASAP. This week “probably will” became “probably won’t.” Gary Cowger, GM Vice-President of Global Manufacturing and Labor Relations, said there are “no plans at this point” to move production to North America. This despite GM’s excess plant capacity in the U.S. and Canada, which will build the Zeta-based Chevrolet Camaro.

Building the G8 in the States is the right thing to do. Holden Australia will have no problem recouping its manufacturing investment in sales to Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, and China. The benefit to building Pontiac G8s in NA? GM doesn’t run the risk of slim profits or red ink losses as the American currency slides further down in value. Oh, and there’s the little matter of not pissing-off the UAW that GM just somehow persuaded to not revolt (yet).

But let’s give Mr. Lutz the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps when he was talking about adding U.S. production for “global rear-drive architecture” he really meant ANY rear-drive platform– not necessarily Zeta. Because hey, GM has announced that it has another, smaller rear-drive platform, this one called “Alpha" (rear wheel-drive from Z to A). Small, cheap, lightweight, rear wheel drive? It’s music to my ears.

Strike three… the music turns to noise.

The first two brands that receive Alpha cars are the worst two choices in GM’s stable. One is Cadillac, which we’ve already carpet-bombed for deciding to erode its image with an even cheaper car than the CTS. But the news of the week: the second company to get the Alpha platform would be… Chevrolet.

Last week Motor Trend “revealed” that Chevy, not Pontiac, would get an Alpha car. Since that’s totally schizophrenic (didn’t Lutz say Chevy “has too many vehicles”?), a GM fan fired off an email. Lutz allegedly responded that the Motor Trend claim was "Totally untrue. Don't believe everything you read on the internet! Valuable advice! Even in politics…or esecially! [sic]."

Note to Bob: Motor Trend blew the story. The internet is how you’re setting the record straight. Anyway, I’m not buying it. By thy duds they shall be know. Clearly, the Car Czar has no clear idea of which GM brand should get what and why. While rear-wheel drive is an enthusiast’s dream, unless GM sorts out its “global” production plans and domestic branding, great products will only go so far. In fact, not far enough.

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  • Martin Albright Martin Albright on Dec 10, 2007
    Martin, I can confirm that pickup trucks are still generally slow, underpowered, stodgy, and uncomfortable compared to today’s cars. Which is a little like saying that a tomato is not nearly as sweet as an apple. It's true, but it's also irrelevant. Because trucks today are fast enough, powerful enough, and comfortable enough that combined with the additional capabilities that a truck brings, it's not nearly the bad compromise that it was back in the 50's.

  • Jthorner Jthorner on Dec 10, 2007

    If the market doesn't have enough buyers to bring back the station wagaon then I don't see how there are enough buyers to bring back the El Camino. Personally I wish both configuration were readily available, but I seem to be in a very small minority of the market.