GM Death Watch 171: Focus!

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
gm death watch 171 focus

Last Thursday, GM asked the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for "extra credit." Despite the fact that Chevy's gas-electric plug-in hybrid isn't in production, the General's generals wanted the rules modified so the Volt could more fully satisfy the Golden State's Zero Emissions Vehicle requirements. Done. And then, today, GM announced it will build 1000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for the same purpose. Only it wants someone else (i.e. taxpayers) to fund 40 hydrogen refueling stations. Once again, GM's reveals its core weakness: ADD.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD) demonstrate "a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity, as well as forgetfulness, poor impulse control or impulsivity, and distractibility." As the Brits would say, they "run around like a blue ass fly." GM's CARB strategy is a perfect case in point. It's not ONE strategy: plug-in hybrids. It's TWO: plug-in hybrids AND hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Of course, if THAT doesn't work, it'll be something else. Just pay the fines? Build an EV-only Volt? Who knows? Not GM. And don't ask, ‘cause they're very, very busy.

You don't have to read many installments of this series to know that GM is all over the show with everything all the time. To wit: GM Car Czar Maximum Bob Lutz infamously dismissed hybrids as a fad. Not long thereafter, GM rushed to produce not one, but two different gas – electric systems ("mild" belt-assist and dual-mode), both on their own and in partnership with other automakers. Cars get the former, SUVs the latter. (For now.) And then GM launched a "moon shot" mission to create an entirely new type of hybrid using unproven technology. But wait! There's more!

At the same time, GM is developing and unleashing hydrogen fuel cell test vehicles, and talking-up the technology– to the point of "unveiling" a hydrogen fuel cell concept Caddy without a powertrain. Yes, "all" GM needs to make hydrogen-powered, zero-emissions (at least at the tailpipe) cars work is $160m of California taxpayers' money for the filling stations. What's that's just $10 per resident or "two Starbucks coffees!" Meanwhile, passenger diesels are not on GM's menu. Until, of course, they are. And then…

Stop! While my Honda minivan was in service, I drove a base (as in cloth seats) Accord. I was amazed by the sedan's four-cylinder engine. It was smooth and reasonably powerful. The five-speed transmission did its thing without fuss. Does GM have an engine to match this? No.

Last year, Honda sold 392,231 Accords. Some 71 percent were four-cylinder models. Even without considering the Ohio-built sedan's German style, American-sized comfort or brand-faithful reliability (discounting excessively darty steering), there's no wonder the four-banger Accord is a popular car in these fuel-conscious times; it delivered well over 20 miles per gallon (EPA 21/31).

GM's Ecotec (Emissions Control Optimization TEChnology) engine is GM's "house" four. It's found in 12 American products, from the Chevy Cobalt to the Satrun Vue. It's not a bad unit. In some installations, GM's engine gets slightly better mileage than the [supersized] Accord. And the Ecotec is more-or-less bullet-proof. But it's no world-beater in terms of refinement, power or efficiency. So what if…

GM took all the billions of dollars it's plowed into hybrids and used them to develop a smooth, more powerful and a more efficient four-cylinder engine? What if they kicked Honda's ass? Don't get me wrong: I have no doubt GM is working on improving its gas-powered four-cylinder engines. They're working on everything else; why not that as well?

As an ADD sufferer, GM singularly fails to understand that the only way you can create a world-beating anything is to NOT do other stuff. Hybrids? Fine. Go for it. Fuel cells? Uh, OK. But not all of it. Because no matter how many engineering divisions or worldwide resources you have; "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" is the worst of all possible development strategies. Or, more simply put, just because GM CAN do something doesn't mean they SHOULD.

GM should have spent its money developing what it had. They should have refined and improved their mainstream Chevrolets, Buicks and Caddies– rather than "investing" in new brands (Saturn, Saab, Hummer), new vehicle genres (SSR?), new models (dozens) and new technology (complicated powertrains). But it didn't. The mess you see today is the result.

So the only remaining question is this: is there enough time left for GM to stop messing around, focus its energies, strengthen its brands, recapture lost momentum and stay in business? Judging from the torrent of news coming from RenCen these days, I don't think we'll ever find out. Unfortunately, it seems clear that only bankruptcy will provide the Ritalin that General Motors needs.

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  • SAAB95JD SAAB95JD on Apr 06, 2008

    GM: IF you really care about lowering your CAFE then why not small diesel engines in the smaller to midsize cars? The technology is already there. You have it in Europe. Just bring the bloody things over here to the US and shut up about all the stupid "efforts" you are making towards alternative technology.

  • HEATHROI HEATHROI on Apr 06, 2008
    DetroitironUAW.And I see no problem with getting some government help developing the Volt. The only reason the Prius is competing is from heavy donations by the Japanese government. About time Americans are competing on a level playing field. If the Japanese govt wants to to use funds confiscated from its citizens to subsidize the purchases of some American Consumers, fine by me but as ford fancier (for my sins), GM can crater rather than get tax money to cover up its own failings. Kwanzaa it would not surprize me if the Nazis did attempt a flying saucer - like GM they frittered their resources away on that sort of thing rather than decent fighters, tanks and submarines

  • Dave M. I think I last listened to AM after 9/11, but the talk radio cesspool took its toll on my mental health. Prior to that I last listened to AM in the '70s....I'm a 20-year XM subscriber; Apple Music also has me in its grip. For traffic conditions I use Waze, which I've found to be highly reliable.
  • Art Vandelay Install shortwave so I can get numbers stations
  • THX1136 Radio World has been talking about this for a few years now. The public perception of AM has done much to malign it. As some have pointed out, there are parts of the country that work well with AM, especially when considering range. Yes indeed, there are options. To me that's what this is more about. The circuitry for AM is probably all on one chip now - or close to it. It cannot be a matter of cost - even at the inflated manufacturer asking price. Making what appears to be an arbitrary decision and reducing choice seems unwise in the area of radio in vehicles.Some have commented that they never listen to AM 'so I'm not missing it'. I'm guessing that many folks don't use ALL the features their many devices offer. Yet, they are still there for those occasions when one wants to avail themselves. Bottom line for me is it should still be an available option for the folks out there that, for whatever reason, want to access AM radio. Side note: Top 40 radio on AM was where all the music I listened to as a youth (55 years ago) came from, there were few (if any) FM stations at that time that carried the format. FM was mostly classical and talk and wasn't ubiquitously available in a portable form - AM was. FYI, the last I knew all stations - AM & FM - still have to have an EAS system as part of their broadcast chain. It's tested by the FCC at least once a year and all stations must be able to pass along the alert messages or face action from the FCC to correct the situation.
  • Robert I don't know why they don't use a knob for the gear shifter on the console like in the Ford Fusion. Takes up a lot less space than a shifter on the console and looks a lot better than a stalk on the steering column.
  • David S. "Stellantis" a woke company showing off evil ICE trucks!?! Bernie Sanders is having a stroke!!