"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Comment Promotion: GM Cars

It's the weekend, so I thought we'd continue the Car Talk (apologies NPR). Here are the last two comments on the GM quality thread. ChETHB had several interesting things to say about his GM driving experience and Kathy follows up with some thoroughly delightful prose on her own history with the brand. Beware "the Golden Bitch." And no, that doesn't refer to Kathy. You'll see.

ChETHB said...

Just had to weigh in on this one since I became an auto enthusiast in the mid-50's -- IMHO, the quality of GM vehicles was without equal during that time period.

I worked in a gas station summer of 1959 and had the opportunity to look very closely at many different cars - GM vehicles were the best.

I believe this trend continued until, perhaps, the late 60's, based on my experience. For example, my new 1968 Chevelle SS396 rattled like a bucket of bolts as I took delivery and drove it away from the dealer. Sadly, I traded in a 1963 Impala SS that had zero rattles at 95,000 miles and got in excess of 18 mpg on the highway. With a high performance engine, I still never got below 13 mpg in that 1963 Impala and that was with some impressive hotrodding. The 1968 Chevelle (hindered no doubt by EPA regulations) never exceeded 11 mpg and generally got 6-8 mpg in the city.

I was still firmly in GM's corner (although shaken) until the mid-70's when they began to introduce small cars that were shoddy junk. It was pretty much the same with the other members of the Big 3. After the oil crisis in 1973, Americans were clamoring for nice, smaller, fuel efficient vehicles. Detroit provided cheaply-made, small, junky vehicles - shoddy interiors, very few options, no luxury appointments, and so forth.

The Japanese, on the other hand, after having been soundly beaten down with their initial introductions to the US, went home, did their homework, and came back with small, fuel-efficient cars that had the luxury appointments that Americans wanted and expected. The rest is history. Detroit, and especially GM, continued producing the kinds of cars that Americans didn't want and in addition, allowed their quality to sag lower and lower.

In summary, I think GM could have maintained their superior position had they simply responded to the market. Instead, they continued their view that they knew best what the customer wanted and consequently, their market share has continued to slide as the customer finds what he wants in the Japanese and European vehicles. The unfortunate part is that hundreds of thousands of Americans are directly or indirectly affected by the poor state of GM's business acumen.

I think all the different car names and models are an attempt to stuff one bad apple under the rug and replace it with something new, all the while hoping that the customer doesn't realize that it's the same thing with a different name. I generally agreee that the newer American cars have been significantly improved over their predecessors. I drive rental cars occasionally and have noticed that the current American offerings have seen considerable improvement. These are basically new cars so I have no impression about the reliability and maintenance requirements.

I can offer a final commment, however. When I get home from a business trip, it is always refreshing to crawl behind the wheel of my Acura and drive away. Unfortunately, I don't believe that GM currently builds a comparable vehicle.

Kathy Hutchins said...

"I believe this trend continued until, perhaps, the late 60's, based on my experience. For example, my new 1968 Chevelle SS396 rattled like a bucket of bolts as I took delivery and drove it away from the dealer."

This comports with my experience as well. My very first car was a 1967 Chevy Camaro, straight 6 230, purchased in 1974 (for $795.00 cash. Would that such things were possible today, eh?). It had none of the features American consumers would demand today -- no a/c, power steering, power brakes. It did have a radio. I drove it hard, and often stupidly, for six years, put something like 120K miles on it, turned around and sold it to a kid in Texas for $1200.

It was a great car, but unfortunately in 1967 you could no longer count on a GM product's quality from specimen to specimen. My younger sister's first car was also a 1967 Camaro, purchased in 1976, one of the souped up Super Sport models with a 350 V8, power everything. It was a piece of junk from start to finish -- electrics, hydraulics, finish work, seals -- the car was such a constant headache we called it "The Golden Bitch." I spent so much time giving that pile of manure jump starts I should have applied for a tow truck license.

8 comments:

Hunter Baker said...

One question, ChETHB. You mention Acura, which is the luxury class vehicle for Honda. Does GM have anything to compare in their Cadillac division?

connie deady said...

My first car was a 67 Rambler rebel. What an ugly gas eating boat that was. My next car was a Honda Civic. I had two of them and they were terrific cars.

I like Chryslers. I have a PT Cruiser that I love and my daughter has a Sebring convertible.

Right now the only American cars that have a corner on the market are trucks like Dodge Rams.

Hunter Baker said...

I'm very curious about today's Chryslers. I think the design is very good, but don't know anything about the mechanical performance and reliability.

I was interested in the Town and Country, but the wife prevailed in her desire for a Honda Odyssey.

connie deady said...

My mechanic loves Chrysler Motor Corp Products. He thinks they are easy to work on, better parts and more reliable.

ChETHB said...

In response to Hunter's comment - I don't know if Cadillac represents a step up in quality, reliability, etc as compared to the other GM offerings. Quite a few years ago, I looked at a new Seville and found 3 major quality defects on the car in the dealer's showroom. I was not impressed!

Connie's comments about Chrysler products are interesting because in the not-to-distant past, Chrysler's quality and reliability were extremely suspect. Perhaps the merger with Daimler has brought improvement to Chrysler. I certainly hope so. By the way, I believe the Ford F-150 is the sales leader in this country.

I have been thinking more about the decline of the American automobile industry and have come up with one more tidbit to throw out - the rise of MBA's in American industry. This started in the mid-60's and it has been my personal observation that decision-making in technically oriented businesses has suffered as managers/executives with technical degrees have been replaced by executives holding MBA degrees. Could something this simple have started the downfall of GM?

Kathy Hutchins said...

Just an odd observation -- we Americans may gripe about the quality of American cars, but go up to Canada and in the western provinces that's all you'll see. In June 2002 I drove from Minneapolis to Anchorage. and then in September from Skagway to DC. From Winnipeg to the BC/Alaska border, the only vehicles on the roads are gigantic GMC, Ford, and Dodge pickups, with the occasional old lady in a Crown Vic (aside from all the addled old Americans in Winnebagos, that is). This in an economy where gasoline was, from my perspective, brutally expensive (back then, about 90 cents Canadian per liter, goodness knows what it is up there now).

Ron Winship said...

How about a VW Bug and '67 Big Block El Camino 4-speed?

jasontrite said...

GM CARS ARE GOING DOWN HILL
I own a peice of crap made by gm.
2006 pontiac torrent with nothing but issues that nobody can solve.
The car has less than 30000 miles.
I have taken it to the dealer to fix it but they cannot find nothing wrong.
The car has visible oil leak running down the front of motor from sending unit, possibly leaking from intake gasket also, if you own a newer gm product take a look at it.
There are several other issues with the car starter sticking,AWD does not mean all wheel drive only 2 spin when your stuck, grinding noise when AWD tries to work. There are a few more but the one that baffels me the most is you cannot put the windows down [rear mainly] because the pounding pressure. This is not right it could possibly dammage your ears but they say there is nothing wrong. People need to realize there is something wrong this should not be like this.