GM: What models can be saved (from a designer's standpoint)

Reading a coworker’s Car & Driver review of Pontiac’s G6 Street , recently I had to chuckle out loud- “You know it’s sporty because the overblown styling on the so-called Street Edition has all the subtlety of a death-metal band. We found the big rear wing and aggressive fascia so embarrassing that the GXP went out only under cover of darkness.” Sure, it was a bit mean, but have you seen the “hammerhead spoiler?” My amusement turned to sadness when I read the price: $31k, with a “respectable” observed gas mileage of 23mpg. Good God.

(2008 Pontiac G6 GXP)

Edmunds chimes in as well: “Until today we’d never heard of a “hammerhead” spoiler. Honestly, after seeing the one on the 2008 Pontiac G6 GXP Street edition we still wish we were in the dark. It’s an option, so we considered cutting Pontiac a little slack, but the grotesque nature of the offense eventually forced our hand.”


I know that the much-maligned ‘elites’ have all but written off General Motors’ products. As the country is trying to decide what to do with our floundering (domestically-owned) auto industry, I was wondering- what can be salvaged from GM’s current worldwide lineup? What vehicles can compare (on quality, value and design bases) to alternatives from Europe and Asia? I like my Saab 9-3 (a GM product- if just), and for $27-28k (thanks to GM’s inability to get anything out the door without multi-$K rebates) it’s been a great car. Given the captain’s chair, what would you axe? What would you save? How about Chrysler & Ford? Even if their labor/pension/medical costs were resolved, would there any hope for the US auto industry?

I would keep:

The Solstice/Sky (pick one)

And thats about it. I think GM is
capable of creating a good product. The Corvette has always been a shining example of bang for buck American goodness. The Malibu and CTS also give more expensive Euro/Japanese competitors a good run for their money.

Outside of that I think you could consolidate almost all of their other products into 3-5 other models to fill out the range (full size, compact) though none of the existing products are very good.

Full-size truck lines are keepers. But Chevrolet and GMC are redundant, so they should pick one, they don’t need both.

Just as important as reduxing the number of “brands”, they need to seriously reconsider what it is that a truck is supposed to be, and do. What, for example, is an Avalanche for?

And Hummer. … … why?

P/U’s were originally commercial vehicles, it’s time to return them to that category.

GM has actually admitted that the only reason it has so many brands is because it’s actually more expensive to axe them than to let them flounder along on hand-me-down badge-engineered versions of more successful cousins. I wish I could quote the specific article but it was a while ago and I didn’t save it.

As far as what to keep design wise–

Easy picks are the CTS (and all upcoming variants) and the Corvette. The new Camero has as much of a future as its Mustang and Challenger competition, so it should remain as long as New Muscle as a whole remains on the scene.

Saab makes a fine car, but I don’t think they’ve been competitive in a while, at least not stateside.

Pontiac–axe the G6, immediately. All it’s doing is sitting in the G8’s shadow.

As far as the rest of detroit, can I take a moment and point an accusing finger at Jeep? Why, oh why, are there seven kinds of Jeep in the world? Its a study in redundancy. Jeep, imo, is best served as a niche brand–the everyman’s Land Rover. You need two cars in this lineup, the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee. The rest just serve to subdivide it’s own market and dilute the brand image. It could just be me, but I think they’d be doing much better if they only kept the two. Have an economy package, a deluxe package, and an offroad package for each. There, done.

my $.02

GM in North America needs to be Cadillac and Chevrolet (and maybe Pontiac, although I don’t personally think so). The rest of the brands serve no purpose and only take customers from each other. What is Buick? A Chevy for old people. They still can build a car for old people and call it a Chevy, and old people will still buy it. And what’s a Saturn? An Opel. You can just as easily put a Chevy badge on the Astra. What’s a GMC? A Chevy truck with a different badge and stupid ads. Kill it.

Unfortunately, they can’t just kill these useless parasites, because they would have to compensate all the GMC/Pontiac/Buick/Saturn/Saab dealers. However, a bankrupt GM can kill those brands, which is one of many reasons the government should offer debtor in possession financing and let GM go through the painful but necessary step of chapter 11. Instead of throwing GM $50 billion and having to go through all this again in a year or two, they should require chapter 11 reorganization, and instead use that money to clean up the resulting messes (e.g., fund the gov’t pension guaranty system, help out the dealers, retrain workers, etc.) There is approximately zero chance of that happening though I reckon.

GM does actually build more than a few passable products. They are just saddled with enormous costs they can’t cut, plants they can’t close, and a 1950’s brand lineup they can’t streamline. Bankruptcy is the only way to fix any of that.

Why, oh why, are there seven kinds of Jeep in the world? Its a study in redundancy. Jeep, imo, is best served as a niche brand–the everyman’s Land Rover. You need two cars in this lineup, the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee. The rest just serve to subdivide it’s own market and dilute the brand image. It could just be me, but I think they’d be doing much better if they only kept the two. Have an economy package, a deluxe package, and an offroad package for each. There, done.

Exactly. They should take a page from Mini. Make 1 model. Bolt on some options at time of sale, send it home. I would contend that they don’t even need the Grand Cherokee, you can get that somewhere else. They should get back to their roots. Hell, we should be able to make these decisions for them, if we’re the ones that are going to pay for them to stay afloat! (by we, I mean US taxpayers)

You know, I didn’t even consider that–kill the Grand Cherokee too. Chrysler or Dodge could produce an equivalent if they really want to hang on to that market. Jeep should mean Wrangler. It should be offroad ready, tough, dependable, and that’s what it should be known for. Not this mess:

I’m sorry, THAT is a vehicle that has had its balls removed. Pardon the language.

1> Instead of halting Design to save money, fire the entire marketing department.

2> Bailout money should be used for 0% car loans, so people can actually buy the cars.

3> And for hiring lots and lots of engineers who can actually build a car. Engineering isn’t numbers- it is hands on wrenching and bending. (ok also painting).

4> Caddy = Mercedes, Chevy = Toyota, Pontiac = BMW. And all the crossing over and platform sharing has to stop.

5> One attitude per car, please!

I love you for that.

Slight aside here, I highly recommend anyone with an interest in this industry read Lee Iacocca’s books, especially Where Have All the Leaders Gone? There’s a decent amount of politics, but also a lot of interesting insight on the auto biz and detroit’s inner workings. Obviously Lee talks more about Ford and Chrysler than GM, but still.

I read an article a while ago, highlighting some chief engineer or another. (Unfortunately, I’m horrible with names). The point that was made stuck with me tho–this guy signed his entire development team up for advanced driving/racing classes. His logic was “how can I expect these people to build a car that performs well when they don’t know what ‘performance’ looks like?”

As long as it is “Rant Day” at The Kardel Group, I need to comment on the Plymouth Sky. I happened to see one yesterday as I was “crazy driving” with my 16 year old daughter in the Mini convertible… I think I counted five different design themes (and this was at a combined passing velocity of at least 100 mph). And how could Pontiac introduce a sport-niche car that was so underpowered?

Plymouth Sky- do you mean Saturn Sky?


I guess it just looked like a Pontiac. Wasn’t there a 60’s convertible model with sharp fender creases? let me look it up… It’s a 1969 GTO that it reminds me of. It would of looked good with the headreast fairings, too.

Hmmm, while I would like to see GM punished for its lousy design, allowing them to go belly up is in no one’s best interest. Just as Lehman bros was in no one’s best interest. No one was helped out by just letting that company fold. And if GM were to close, it would take literally millions of jobs along with it. There are already suppliers going under because they are getting behind on payments and reducing orders.

that said, I would kill Buick, and I would have killed Buick and kept olds a few years ago. I test drove a Buick and almost killed myself and the sales guy because I nearly fell asleep on 394 coming into Minneapolis, lol.

I would keep the vette, and keep making it more and more powerful. I would also keep the CTS and keep it in the horsepower race with Mercedes and bmw.

I think Saab should compete with Audi, by playing up their turbo powered cars, and tightening up the interior details.

The Malibu, especially the hybrid, should cost around 16-20k.

I agree that we don’t need both GMC and Chevy, but I think GM should have GMC trucks, and Chevy cars. Pontiac should be making luxury/power cars. Leather(ish) bucket seats, tight cockpits, cool gauges, etc.

Saturn is a cheap car, either make it all hybrid with no non-hybrid options or cut the price. Maybe bring over some of the smaller opel cars. What about bringing some of the more successful Holden models?

To me, that’s like saying that jeans were originally workwear, and we need to get them back to that. Not that I think that people need to be driving trucks- it’s more that the alternative should be appealing:

It’s been interesting to see everyone’s responses. While I don’t think that we can afford to let GM go under, from a taxpayer’s perspective, I’d rather see us hemorrhaging cash on wind Starck-designed turbines than bland (or worse) cars. Massive retooling, anyone?

That said, Buick is clearly well past its sell-by date. Chrysler seems to be doing a decent job, design-wise, though we’ll see how they fare mechanically without Daimler’s help. In the US, GM seems to be the worst off from a product and brand schizophrenia standpoint. I don’t know the answers, but the only domestic car that really interests me at the moment is the HHR SS panel van- in part because it’s so wrong (and cheap). What would you guys buy, if there were no more imports?

Dodge Challenger. Because deep down, I will always be a five year old who played “T-Rex vs. GI Joe” on his bedroom floor and holds the inherent ridiculousness of muscle cars in high esteem.

In the 60’s I desired the GTO but I envied the Charger. And I drove a VW. Reality still sucks.

To start, if there were no imports, I’d drive what I have now, a Ford Focus. Designed in Britain, engineered in Germany, built in Mexico. ha!

Anyways…GM. I still say that GM should keep Buick as they are the only division that knows its customer.

That gets me to what Tim brought up in the Modernism thread: user-centred design. Look at the wide variety of clothes and entertainment we have to choose from. Easily, one could find a few market segments for each GM brand and have some left over. Here is what I dream of:

Chevy: I know Chevy has the best name recognition, but they are over-extended. Cut them back to being the entry level brand. Smallest engines, least options, etc. Spin Corvette off to be sold in Caddy dealers.

Pontiac: American performance. You can rebadge the Chevy models, but always with a bigger engine…nothing under 6 cyl. & RWD. Add more options over the Chevy. The style should follow the idea of “American performance” Kind of a Harley-Davidson for cars.

Saturn: The anti-Pontiac performance. Saturn gets smaller engines, but with turbos…basically the Opel model line. Emphasis should be on safety, braking and cornering. Marketing should make fun of people that like Pontiacs. Again, more high end than Chevy with more options.

Buick: Old people and the anti-cool car. The Chuck Taylor is cool because it’s not trying. Buick should be the Chuck Taylor of cars. Basically, their product might already be there. They don’t do anything bad, but they don’t excel either. Marketing should push the Buick like old VW marketing used to push the Beetle.

GMC: Should sell trucks. Since the truck market is bombing, just cut the Chevy truck line.

Caddy: Continue to build on what they are doing. The CTS is almost there. They need to keep pushing just as hard though to catch up.

That’s just my outline. Someone would need to deep dive into each to flesh it out.

BTW, there is another reason they keep all these brands. They make more profit per model. I know with Ford, they make an extra $500 profit on Mercury models that are identical to the Ford model. I guess people that buy Mercurys can’t negotiate or something!

Something to keep in mind: the age of the big V8 is once again coming to an end (at least for now). Watch for big super- and turbo-charged V6’s to become the “big” engines for a while.

Orion: I hear you. They can always play with numbers though. In my scenario, I figure that Saturn and Pontiac have equivalent power, just that Pontiac makes it with small displacement, aluminium V8s (Think the 3.5L Rover V8 that was bought from GM). Saturn would make similar power with blown 2.0L four cylinders. However, for marketing, the idea that the Pontiac has a V8 will still hold cache to consumers who know nothing about engineering.

I think the high-torque V-8 (especially with RWD, because of the rearward weight transfer and traction under acceleration) feels much more powerful than an equivalent hp turbo 4 or 6, because it is not as RPM dependent. Primal.

Question for Mr-914: Would moving the 'Vette to Caddy rather than Pontiac be because of price? Cadillac’s SLR-V seems to fill that niche already. From a marketing standpoint, GM should be clear on what each marque represents, and who the competition is for each. Pontiac seems to be a better match for the sports-car racing BMW and Porsche.