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4/13/2005

What Does It Mean To Drive a “GM"?

Filed under: — GM Guy @ 10:19 am

In the Fastlane blog post Sharpening Focus, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz explains the recent corporate reorganization at the top instituted by GM Chairman Rick Wagner, wherein Wagner is taking over responsibility for all of No. America, and Lutz is being moved to be the head of product development worldwide. Now, actually this is old news, blog wise, but a short blurb in today’s LA Times called All GM Brands to Get Logo made me go back and reread the Lutz announcement to see if I could find any hints at this new development.

My first reaction was, “wait a minute, they all HAVE logos now!", then I paid attention . . .

Saying that many consumers are unaware that Cadillac, Saab, Chevrolet and other brands are part of General Motors Corp., the automaker on Tuesday announced that it would add the GM corporate logo on the side of all its vehicles.

The addition of a silver badge with the GM logo on all 2006 model-year vehicles coincides with the automaker’s recent efforts to promote the GM brand, with increased spending on advertising and marketing.

OK, now I get it. But my question to Lutz, Wagner, and Mark LaNeve, who is now head of sales & marketing for No. America, is this – What happens to the significance of your divisional brands if you successfully brand all your vehicles as GM? What makes a GM Chevrolet Impala any different in the minds of car shoppers from a GM Pontiac Grand Prix? Not much, at least in today’s models, and many of those are destined to continue into ‘06, ‘07 and beyond due to the General’s killing of the Zeta rear-wheel-drive platform to speed up development of the next generation of trucks and SUVs. (Bet that decision sure looked better a few weeks ago before gasoline prices started their race toward the stratosphere!)

To be perversely positive about this GM branding decision, maybe it’s the upper management’s recognition that heritage aside, they have so much overlap in their overall product structure that no future plan can be conceived that will save it as it currently exists. At one time, in the early seventies, there was talk in Washington of severing Chevrolet from the GM family for anti-trust reasons and forcing it to become a standalone entity. Chevy was that strong. That plan failed in large part because Ford, Chrysler & AMC/Jeep (all separate US companies at that time) all feared the competition that would be unleashed with a Chevrolet unburdened from the stoic GM management’s restraints and from a lean/hungry General Motors forcefully separated from its Chevy cash cow. It would have been interesting.

But nothing like that would be possible today. GM no longer has anywhere near 50% of the U.S. market share it did in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Those were salad days for the then largest company in the world. Today, the General must go on a radical “fitness” program, shed dead weight, and speed up development of world-class products, or it’s not going to make it. If you drive the new GM products, and I have leased two since 1988, a Buick and a Pontiac, they are much better than they were in the early ’90s. Unfortunatley, the competition from Japan mostly, and Europe kinda, at least status wise, not to mention Daimler/Chrysler’s rebirth of a modern rear-wheel-drive platform for Chrysler and Dodge has upped the anti faster than the General has been able to react.

I was actually hopeful until I read about the outright killing of the Zeta program, and doubly disturbed to find out that, according to Automotive News, all the products were fully engineered, ready to go to tooling. Later it was announced that Cadillac’s Sigma rear-wheel-drive platform might be shared with some Pontiac & Buick models, but the Zeta was a more modern architecture and would have had less cost built-in as it was not intended for luxury vehicles like the Sigma. So maybe we will get an ‘08 or ‘09 rear-wheel-drive Pontiac GTO, but at what price level? Surely at a premium over what the Zeta based Goat would have been.

So, let’s see what the boys of the Renaissance Center’s upper floors come up with. I just hope they dont’ screw up Cadillac, which has truly put its house in order and only needs a few more product tweaks, mostly in interior materials quality/texture, to be totally competitive in the luxury performance universe. Good luck guys, you’ll need it!

BTG Motoring, for all your car, truck or SUV parts and accessories

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