Welcome to the Detroit show, where the spotlight’s firmly on GM and Chrysler. Chapter one of a Great American Comeback story – or an obituary? As far as I can see it’s one of each. GM might just pull through, but Chrysler doesn’t stand an earthly.
Sure there are still colossal financial woes at GM, but they’re being worked through. Today’s point is that this is a motor show and GM has pretty convincing new cars, for today and tomorrow and the next day.
I’m not just talking about the Camaro here. That’s a niche car and so it’s a side-issue when it comes to saving the company. I’m talking abut the mainstream stuff. This might surprise you, but their reliability and fuel consumption numbers are now up with Toyota.
Example one: the new Malibu saloon is properly competitive. Sure it’s boring as a brown envelope by our standards, but remember that’s how millions of Americans like their transport, as the tedious Toyota Camry has shown. The Malibu is strong in all the right areas to face down its Japanese-brand rivals, and should do big trade.
Example two: GM has two nicely made, smart-looking crossovers that pitch right where US buyers seem to be turning. Hello to the Caddy SRX and Chevy Equinox.
Example three: the Volt. Sure, this has been endlessly hyped and is still almost two years away, but while several other manufacturers are talking today about launching extended-range electric cars like this, GM is actually a long way down the development track.
And by showing the sexy Cadillac Converj concept, GM is proving the Volt’s technology could work in some far more desirable machinery.
But hang on. The American public has over the past weeks seen GM bosses having to wash their dirty laundry in front of hostile politicians before being granted Government loans that may or may not save the company. Hasn’t that scared them off? Will they buy from a company that’s known to be in such deep trouble?
Apparently it’s not a huge issue. New research shows that once it was off the front pages, Americans more or less forgot, and GM’s market share went back to normal. It’s the cars and the deal that the buyers care about.
But having the right cars is only half GM’s problem. It still has too many factories and brands and dealers, and all those things cost huge sums to maintain. It is addressing the issues with grim determination, but no-one knows yet whether it’ll succeed. Still, if it does, the company will be restored to health quickly – because the new cars are on the way.
Chrysler, on the other hand, is zombified. Watching Chrysler executives trying to put a positive spin on the company’s position was like watching wild-west snake-oil salesmen in action.
There’s nothing new of substance on the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep stand here at the motor show. Sure, the 200C is a nice-looking concept, but there are no plans to build it in the foreseeable. The company’s green petrol-electric powertrains are nowhere near production-ready.
The only new model Chrysler can put an intro date on is the Dodge Circuit, a Lotus Europa with battery-electric power. Something so esoteric might do as the one product line for a silicon-valley startup (Tesla), but it’s never going to save a gigantic money-losing monster like Chrysler.