Friday, March 18, 2005

How the Might have Fallen

GM is in trouble, again. Why? And how?

Pundits will argue it's the union's fault, or it's the high cost of health care and retirement benefits. Certainly those are issues.

But the real reason that GM isn't making it is this: People don't want to buy their cars and trucks.

With gas prices high, no one can afford to buy big SUVs anymore. And as you can see in the above photo, GM is still making cars that appeal to a narrow demographic. The Chevy Monte Carlo is a car that many do not find appealing. Yet it is still being sold. NASCAR cars don't even really look like it anymore.

Lutz is using methods that worked brilliantly for Chrysler a decade or more ago. Back then, most cars were boxy shapes, and design hadn't moved forward from the 1980s significantly. Remember the Dodge Intrepid? Now look at the Pontiac G6. Basically they have the same shape, yet were made years apart. They also were both Lutz creations. Lutz has always emphasized clean lines, and a bubble like shape. When they first came on the scene, it worked. But now, it's old fashioned. I can buy a bubble car from Honda, that is more reliable, and gets better mileage. There's no emphasis on design.

Granted GM's cars are no longer ugly. But they're also no longer attractive, and haven't been for decades. One of the biggest myths of the auto industry is that if I give you a great deal on price, all the features you want, a good engine, good handling, and a bland but inoffensive looking car, you'll want it. No, most people will not. If I make a car that is amazing looking, doesn't handle that well, is certainly not as reliable as some competitors, and is expensive, guess what? It will sell. It's what the Europeans have been doing since they came over here.

All the Big 3 can offer is looks, and to a lesser extent performance. Outside of the Corvette, the Big 3 really have never offered a car that handled well. And arguably the Corvette didn't start handling well until the C5 was introduced. American roads are straight, not curvy. American tastes are for power, and grandeur. They don't want European handling, or Japanese reliability when they buy an American car. They want something that looks good.

It's all GM has got, and they're not using it. They need to unleash whatever hold they have on their design studios, and give them a free reign. If it means making cars that are brash, and filled with chrome, like the 300c, then do it. Look at what cars sell that GM makes. Cadillacs. The Corvette. These are vulgar, ya-gotta- have-it cars, the types that rappers, and 1980s detective shows main characters drive. Make more of those.

Conservatism is what got GM into this mess, and over the top design is what is going to get them out. I hope.

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