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Cars and Trucks

Radical Surgery

Can the U.S. automakers fail? No. Too expensive socially, economically and environmentally to allow. Your government agrees and is in the process of bestowing so-called bailout money on GM and Chrysler. So, what must the big three accomplish next to survive? Technological leadership, retail consolidation and the scariest prospect of all … regaining consumer confidence. Let’s for now, look just at the belt-tightening that might be accomplished by consolidation and the resulting economies of scale. A corporate stomach stapling, if you will.

If there is no remaining brand name goodwill, then GM might as well blow off all of its division names and just continue as “GM”. Ford should thusly eliminate Mercury and Lincoln. And Chrysler should give Dodge and Jeep the “Plymouth” treatment. But apparently some of those anciliary nameplates still carry at least a little cache. Here are some suggestions.

Saturn was always more of a concept than a product.  With nothing but badge engineered borrowings from elsewhere after the first couple of years, the concept seems to have failed. Personally, I love the idea of non-negotiable pricing. The sale of common retail items like cars shouldn’t be quite so much like haggling in a Calcutta bazaar. But GM seems to have already acknowledged that “no-haggle” pricing isn’t what America wants and says they’ll turn off Saturn’s lights in two or three years.

Since performance without a “green” edge is currently out of favor, Pontiac needs to be a boutique division concentrating on Solstice and G8-like products as its current bread and butter models are Chevy duplicates. All of the GXP series as well as the unique G6 convertible and sadly euthanized G8 “El Camino-like” Sport Truck fit this vision. GM is currently working to consolidate all Buick, Pontiac and GMC dealers into combos, so other than focusing only on exciting cars for the excitement division, little more needs to be done there.

Hummer is a niche product that is currently out of favor. We’ll all be sorry if no buyer is found for the currently-for-sale division should that type of product come back into favor. But what are the chances of a Rambo revival in the near future?

Saab? Would it still be around if GM hadn’t bought it? If the answer is no, then cut it loose now. Good cars, but an ignition switch mounted on the floor alone is nothing mass-marketable enough to justify its continuation.

Cadillac does indeed have an identity, a great product and a following. As long as they continue with enough volume to make separate sales and marketing worthwhile, God bless them.

Buick – great cars. China loves them. And they are different from the newly-revived Cadillac division. They just don’t seem to have a market in America. Like Oldsmobile, their traditional clientelle is fading away and they aren’t doing enough to attract a new one. What to do with Buick? What to do?

Chevrolet? Ah, Chevy – everything to everybody – so why continue Buick, Pontiac, and GMC at all? For one thing, to avoid the expense of buying back and closing all those BPG franchises. Failing that, GM needs to put an end to badge engineering. Either GMC sells trucks – which is the only thing they do – or Chevy sells trucks. Not both. GM is having enough trouble competing with actual different models from Ford, Toyota, Honda et al to continue competing with itself with identical-under-the-skin products. To avoid hosting a courtroom full of angry BPG franchisees come dissolution time, products need to be unique. Granted, the days of division proprietary engines, transmissions, CPU’s, stability control systems and so on are over. But is it asking too much to at least not see rows of virtually identical Chevy Traverses and GMC Acadias staring at each other across the streets of every local auto mall?

Which brings us to Mercury. Useless. Nothing unique here. A pure duplication of Ford’s resources. Mercury’s hey-day ended a half century ago in the early 1950’s – longer ago than any other American auto division. Make Mercury different or let Lincoln stand alone (if it can) and concentrate on what it does best.

Chrysler division as it relates to Dodge? See Chevy vs. BPG and Ford vs. Mercury.

Jeep is unique enough to stay a separate make. Whether there is enough sales volume to allow stores to stand separately from Chrysler may be another story.

The caveat to all of these suggestions is, can the corporations and the public – to the extent that taxpayers are footing the bill – afford these changes? For the answer to that question, ask the business owners who’ll have to shutter or consolidate franchises. Ask the UAW and stock and bond holders. Ask the private health insurance system whose costs have spiraled far beyond H&R projections and created an untenable overhead for the Big 3. Better yet, ask consumers if they’re willing to stop exporting their loyalties and their standard of living to foreign-based manufacturers whose once-real but now only perceived superiority is based more on misty marketing notions and tales from your Uncle Bob than actual statistics.  Because, like it or not, the survival of America’s auto industry and the new form it will take affects every one of us.



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