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The View
Through The Windshield

About Cars ... and Everything Else I See
by Joe Sherlock

Fixing General Motors
What Improves GM Improves America
(posted 4/12/2005)
car blog

General Motors does not have too many brands. It has too many vehicles that are the same. Wearing different badges. GM needs to differentiate its various nameplates. Like it did in the old days (the period roughly from 1935-1975). Like Honda versus Acura is now. Or Lexus vs. Toyota vs. Scion. Or BMW vs. Mini vs. Rolls Royce.

There was a time when Pontiac, Buick and Chevrolet had distinct identities and characteristics. Here's how to restore that uniqueness - nameplate by nameplate:

Chevrolet should offer entry-level cars, trucks and SUVs. Car models would include Aveo, Cobalt and Malibu/Impala. (The Impala should be a Malibu with a 4-5 inch stretch.) Dump the pseudo-luxury Monte Carlo coupe. And the overpriced SSR. And the redundant, too-late HHR. Keep Chevy trucks, vans and SUVs. 95% of all Chevy sales will be under $25,000. Chevy's 'halo vehicle' should be the Nomad, based on last year's concept car of the same name. It would have the Cobalt SS engine and would be based on a slightly-stretched version of the Solstice/Sky platform.

Corvette - drop all Chevrolet references and bowtie badging. Make it a stand-alone brand and a reward for the 'best' Chevy dealers. If there's no good Chevy dealer in a town, give it to the nearest good Pontiac dealer.

Pontiac becomes GM's performance-brand (again); classier and faster than Chevy. Pontiac should offer the Solstice roadster, GTO and hot sedans. Every Pontiac should be supercharged or a V-8. Or both. Drop the Montana Minivan. Cut the GTO price by $5,000. (How do you do that? I don't know but that's why GM has all that high-priced talent ... to figure it out.) Pontiacs are youthful and performance-oriented ... Acuras with more cylinders.

GMC: "All truck, all SUV, all the time." No car-based platforms here. Now available at some Pontiac dealerships; GMC should be made available at all Pontiac dealers. A GMC truck is always more luxurious and/or more powerful than a comparable Chevy truck.

Buick = big and almost as luxurious as Cadillac. The LaCrosse should be the smallest Buick offered. Phase out all SUVs except the car-based Lucerne. The top-of-the-line Buick Roadmaster is Cadillac DTS-based and a specially-styled two-door coupe variant becomes the new $50,000 Riviera halo car. Buicks offer 'no-excuses' quality and the quietness of a Lexus. Typical Buick performance (acceleration and handling) is more-than-adequate (Lexus-like) but not-quite-Pontiac.

Cadillac ... becomes an all V-8 brand. No more V-6 CTS or STS. The XLR roadster continues as the top model. Continue with V-Series variants. Cadillac shouldn't offer a special 'halo' model. Every Cadillac should be a halo vehicle. And a moneymaker.

Saturn-Saab - GM's quirky brands should share dealerships. (Whenever GM gets a hybrid, it should wear Saturn badging.) If there is no nearby Saturn or Saab dealership, a good Buick dealer should be given the opportunity to sell these brands. The Saturn Ion 'cheapmobile' is phased out - it offers too little; too late. The product focus should be on the new, larger sedan. The Saturn Sky roadster would be like the Pontiac Solstice but lower in price and without a supercharger. The Vue is GM's 'quirky' SUV offering.

Hummer: Who cares? It is a dead-end brand. Where does GM go next with it? (How do you restyle a box?) Let Hummer slowly devolve to an expensive, testosterone-loaded men's toy. Eventually, Hummer should be folded into GMC. Or, if GM must to keep dealerships alive, merged into Saab-Saturn.

If necessary, General Motors should call up the ghosts of Alfred Sloan, Harley Earl and Bunkie Knudsen. They'll teach today's generation of managers that "branding" is about product. And perception. And differentiation.

It goes without saying that quality and amenities for every GM car produced (regardless of price), must be as good or better than anything offered by Asian competitors.

There are no overnight solutions. I know of no plan that will guarantee immediate and ever-rising quarterly earnings numbers to impress stock analysts. These recommendations will take years to fully implement. It will take time to change public perceptions. I'm sure others will disagree with my recommendations and offer their own. Fine and good. But at least I've offered a concrete plan with action elements. And that seems to be something that General Motors doesn't have right now.


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copyright 2005 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved


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