Everyone put on your postulating caps, we’re about to get theoretical up in here. Welcome to armchair auto czar class, where anyone with half a brain can be the expert. After all, if a politician like our dear President can run the car companies, why can’t you? Below you will find five strong catalysts for recovery at the General. Any other ideas?
1. The E-flex Platform
You may have known it as E-REV (extended range electric vehicle) in the past, but the marketing guys got to it and E-flex was born. For the noobs, this is the golden chalice powering the new Chevy Volt. A magical battery pack containing 220 lithium-ion cells provides power to the wheels for up to 40 miles of driving sans fossil fuel. When the charge is depleted, a small ICE acts as a generator to recharge the battery. Clever, no? Personally, I think the name works well since the hope is for E-flex to be a versatile framework underpinning all sorts of vehicles in the future. This was demonstrated at Detroit this year with the debut of the Cadillac CONVERJ concept. This luxury 2+2 electric coupe might actually MAKE money compared to the Volt. From there, expansion into small SUVs and larger sedans is imminent. What makes the E-flex a savior is not only its flexibility, but its scalability. It’s much less expensive than the massive array of laptop batteries powering the Tesla roadster, so GM expects to stop losing money on this venture sooner rather than later. And as technology progresses, expect this car to go all-electric with a much greater range.
2. Standardized Safety and Emissions Standards for Both Euro NCAP and Our NHTSA
I warned you we were going to get theoretical. Please keep in mind that our government is currently shoving money into GM’s failed business practices instead of changing the business environment itself. What needs to be done is an overhaul of the INDUSTRY, which requires vast changes in the rules of the game. For starters, it costs auto makers billions of dollars to modify and import perfectly good, safe and attractive cars that are already available in Europe. The Ford Mondeo and Fiat 500 are fine examples. With common standards these cars could be over here in months, not years (assuming the whole Chrysler/Fiat thing happens). Let’s take safety, for example. The European NCAP does side impact testing at an angle while the NHTSA runs tests with the impact square on. Low speed bumper requirements are also nearly identical, but not quite. Emissions are basically the same story.
3. The Chevrolet Cruze
This car will single-handedly save General Motors. Can you guess why? Because it fits the description perfectly of cars the government says people want to buy. And they know better, right? Right!? In all seriousness, the car is quite attractive, with a steeply raked windshield and a short deck. The base engine will be a 16-valve, 1.6 liter making 112 hp. Optional will be a 1.8 liter with VVT and 140 horses. Fuel economy numbers are not available yet, but you can imagine 40 mpg is in the cards. The Cruze is available now in Europe and should be coming to a local dealer “soon”.
4. Moratorium on CAFE Increases
It’s never been so difficult being a liberal that loves cars. There are policies of Obama’s that I do and don’t like, but this CAFE increase makes me want to grab him by the lapels and *censored for my own safety*. What is he thinking? Americans want fuel efficient cars, but at what cost? Let us not forget that in the year 2008, a year in which fuel prices crested $4.00 per gallon, the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado were still the two highest volume sellers among all cars. I know the CAFE increases aren’t as bad as they seem (I’ll explain why in a different post), but it’s still an unnecessary stress on the auto industry. What I’m proposing is a 5-year moratorium on EPA and CAFE standards. Yes tree huggers, I know we’re destroying the Earth. And yes, at this rate our planet will be unihabitable in 10,000 years. Let’s just say for this once, I’ll take that risk.
5. Change Public Perception
A wise man once told me that perception lags reality by approximately six to seven years, and the car business is no exception. You can tell GM is working hard. The new Malibu, the CTS and the Enclave prove the General can build attractive cars. Unfortunately, for every Saturn Sky out there, there’s still an Impala or a DTS. By the time the rest of the line is moderately attractive, GM will be well ahead of Toyota in terms of styling. What about reliability concerns? Well, if you buy into J.D. Power rankings GM is doing quite well. But many don’t. Luckily, an increasing number of reports show that domestic car quality is easily on par with the competition. Believe it or not, Toyota has been dreading becoming number one for years. When they finally overtook GM, there wasn’t any cheering or hoopla for fear of a consumer backlash. Now the title of numero uno (and the huge production volume attached) has begun to reveal cracks in the armor. So what does this mean for GM? The perception lag is going to happen. All they can do is keep making quality cars and wait for the public mentality to catch up. Good marketing will move things along too, with any luck.