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Posts filed under ‘GM’

Just When They Got It Right…
The Pontiac G8

February 22, 2013 by Matt

Pontiac G8 GXP Silver

Pontiac should’ve built the G8 20 years before it arrived at dealerships in 2009. Instead, it lasted two whole model years and was axed along with the entire brand.

The GM marque’s cars’ bark was always worse than their bite. Notorious for ages for being festooned with sporty-looking plastic side cladding, amped-up interior trimmings and yet being decidedly lackluster to drive, Pontiacs arguably represented all that was wrong about GM’s approach to performance cars. Sure, they may have had big engines and moved respectably well in a straight line, but the automaker’s lineup—cars like the Grand Am and later G6, Bonneville and Grand Prix—were all built on FWD platforms shared with cars from other GM divisions. In addition to wrong-wheel-drive, conspicuous in their absence were the option of a stickshift paired with the cars’ higher-end engine choices as well as any semblance of being fun to drive.

Pontiac G8 GXP Silver

A truly easy formula to master, after years of trying to convince the buying public, with varying degrees of success, that what matters vis-a-vis performance is the appearance of it, in the G8, Pontiac finally, finally had its first true sports sedan. And then killed it.

Pontiac G8 Engine Motor V8

A rebadged version of the Holden Commodore (a front-engined, RWD sports sedan produced for years by GM’s Australian arm), the top-of-the-line G8 GXP was available with a 6-speed manual gearbox bolted to a 415-hp iteration of the Corvette’s LS3 6.2l pushrod V8. The car’s 4.6-second sprint to 60 and excellent road manners belied its 3,950-lb weight. After years of trying to compete with the likes of BMW and Audi on a superficial level, Pontiac finally had a sedan with the engine, driveline and chassis chops to take them on. Was it really that hard?

Pontiac G8 GXP Interior Inside Console Cockpit Dash Dashboard

Even the interior is well laid-out and largely fluff-free. Coupled with the handsome, tailored, linebacker-ish exterior, the G8 was nothing less than the realization, in the flesh, of 30+ years of Pontiac marketing promises.

As for its demise, who’s to blame? GM has a history of misguided and shortsighted product development decisions, so it could well have been the penny-pinchers in upper management deciding that the perfect car for Pontiac really wasn’t worth it from a cost/benefit perspective. The more likely explanation is simply the fact that the G8 came out in 2009 in the throes of the recent economic downturn, when the Big 3 were holding their respective fire sales and axing anything and everything they could in order to remain solvent. Thus when Pontiac was selected for the block, the G8 was simply collateral damage. Shame.

Who knows; perhaps lightning does strike twice and GM will “get it” once more… But at the moment that’s too much to hope for.

Image credits:,,,

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The Pontiac G8

Battery Drain

August 3, 2011 by Matt

2011 Chevy Volt

The latest report in a long string of stumbles out of the starting blocks, Chevy moved exactly 125 of their new Volts last month, far below expectations.

With most technological vanguards, an initially slow rate of adoption is somewhat to be expected, but given that the Volt was barely visible through the cloud of hype surrounding it for the past year and a half, the recent sales figures are stunningly low—if not entirely unsurprising.

Legions of automotive journalists have addressed the myriad of possible angles to the Volt narrative, so I won’t attempt to cover it in any sort of comprehensive sense. That said, I do want to emphasize one aspect of the story in particular: The connection between the overambitious yet half-baked nature of the car’s technology and the subsidies that underpinned its development.

The problem here, as with most government-funded endeavors, is that the absence of “skin in the game” in the form of the company’s own capital means risk assessment and market analysis is much less rigorous than it would be otherwise. When a company isn’t constrained by a sober appraisal of the position of the their product vis-a-vis market demand weighed against the capital they’re investing, they’ll almost always want to push the specifications of their product beyond what the market is prepared to accept. If it’s not your money, why not go nuts and make the most sophisticated car you can? Gotta give the taxpayers their money’s worth, right?

So, in contrast to other companies (Toyota, Honda, Ford, etc) who have been doing their due diligence, easing alternative propulsion technology into the marketplace progressively and deliberately—their own investments at stake—and achieving a fair amount of success (see: Prius, Civic and Escape Hybrids), GM, flush with capital they’re less accountable for, made the financially-dubious attempt with the Volt to pass their rivals in one fell swoop. It’s evident that a more conservative rolling-out of hybrid technology into their model line probably wouldn’t captivate the automotive press, but it might lay a foundation for more long-lasting success.

Government subsidies almost invariably produce solutions miscalibrated to market demands, whether below or above the parameters requested by would-be buyers. The Chevy Volt carries the unfortunate distinction of having its feet in both camps: Too “advanced” compared to other hybrids, which mesh better with existing infrastructure, and less car for the money than most consumers are looking for (seating capacity for only 4, range restrictions, very expensive even with “incentives,” etc). Those obvious reasons for its lack of popularity seem to escape GM, at least publicly, who prefer to harp on about “supply problems” and so forth. I don’t relish the premonition, but as with the EV1, I fully expect the Volt story to end in ignominy.

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A Teetering Juggernaut

July 5, 2011 by Matt

GM Building

Like nobody saw this coming. Throw a whole bunch of money at the problem, make no fundamental changes in the way you structure your company, and expect a different result. By the same token, maybe if I just load my kids up with ice cream every time they misbehave, they’ll grow up to be something more than little entitled barbarians. Yep. Same logic.

Bloomberg is reporting that GM truck inventories have been on the rise, and fears are increasing that the bailed-out company is again sinking into the mire we taxpayers so recently pulled it from:

After GM’s truck inventory swelled to 122 days worth of average sales, the company said 100 to 110 will be normal going forward for such a large and complex line of vehicles, compared with 60 to 70 days for most models. Peter Nesvold, a Jefferies & Co. analyst, isn’t convinced. Ford Motor Co. (F), which makes similar trucks, is running at 79 days, and Nesvold says GM averaged 78 days on hand at year end from 2002 to 2010.

“It’s unbelievable that after this huge taxpayer bailout and the bankruptcy that we’re right back to where we were,” Nesvold, who has a “hold” rating on the stock, said in a telephone interview. “There’s no credibility.” In a research note he asked: “Is GM falling into old, bad habits?”

Answer: They never kicked the “old, bad habits” in the first place. The problem is systemic—the UAW. Any union that entrenched, with that kind of sway over a company’s way of doing business is necessarily going to put them at a competitive disadvantage compared to their rivals at Ford and Chrysler, to say nothing of the foreign competition. It’s a given. Their bloated salaries increase the price of every vehicle, and shield under-performing employees from being let go and replaced by more competent workers, the upshot being that the quality (design and build) of each model suffers. Oh sure, they can create a world-beater when they put their minds to it (e.g. the CTS-V, or the ‘Vette), but the average quality of a GM vehicle still lags far behind those from other companies. For example, VW just seems to care about the quality of their Golf in a way that GM doesn’t about their Cruze, and it shows. There’s attention to detail evident in most of the foreign competition, whereas the GM car seems thrown into the market niche as nothing more than a placeholder.

Compounding the problem, for ages now, GM’s business model could be summed up in one word: Reactionary. That is, instead of looking the big picture, keeping their ear to the ground about world events and trends that affect consumer attitudes and buying habits, they’ve been stuck playing catch-up. This was evident in the ’70s and ’80s when they fell from a position of dominance to being completely marginalized in the luxury market in favor of German and Japanese brands, and has been happening since the beginning of the last decade when Toyota and Honda anticipated the shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles while GM was still pumping out SUVs by the boatload. The American giant finds itself, time and again, in a sort of deer-in-the-headlights crisis mode where they’re scrambling to slap together the automotive equivalent of a plug in a leaky dike, rather than looking forward, anticipating trends and building a seawall, metaphorically-speaking. But sadly, they’re just done in by their own inertia, not to mention leftover arrogance from the heady days of the ’60s, when the company told Joe Consumer what he wanted in a car. Sorry GM, it doesn’t work like that anymore. We’re not lucky just to have you.

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