The Automotive Amanojaku

This is where you'll find news, random car-related thoughts and personal views from a rabid car nut. "Amanojaku" is Japanese slang that means "person who is deliberately contradictory". I've always found myself drawn to the less appreciated car makes - the "underdogs" if you will. Suzuki, Pontiac, GM Daewoo and Holden, are among my favorite brands to watch and comment on. Let me hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Truly Global GM

I wrote this yesterday for, please feel free to comment:

The Truly Global GM: One and a Half Years Later
And How having "too many" brands can be an asset
Commentary by Ming


Back in September of 2005 I wrote a commentary here at GMInsidenews titled " Should a Truly Global GM Replace North American GM Brand Cars? ". With over 12,000 views, it spawned some excellent debate by our passionate members at the time, and even bled over into some other news forums and blogs.

I still think that a strong GM needs to be a "Global" GM. Not because I endorse some kind of Globalism that robs U.S. workers of their jobs, but because the best of GM's competition thinks globally and competes globally. Toyota doesn't let the fact that Scions and Lexuses are not produced in the U.S.A. interfere with selling them here. They don't make a practice of holding back great product from the North American market because of Union agreements or internal politics. They don't endlessly debate about "what the American consumer wants" before introducing cars like those in its Scion lineup --- cars that many predicted would fail for being "too Japanese".

Now, one and a half years later, I feel that GM is due some praise for the steps it has taken to make its U.S. lineup reflect the best of what it offers overseas. I honestly never would have thought that within two years GM would be offering a mildly restyled Holden Commodore as the Pontiac G8, or the Opel Astra as a Saturn. I had asked for it, but I did not expect it.

If one believes that GM is still a lumbering dinosaur unable to move quickly to adapt, then it would be logical to assume that GM already had these plans in the works or was deep in discussion with its subsidiaries regarding importing these cars before I had written my commentary. I'm not so full of hubris to assume that my article on this one forum out in a sea of automotive internet sites might have spurred these plans on. But that doesn't mean I don't want to congratulate GM for what it has decided to do, nonetheless.

The Saturn Astra, from the press photos we've seen, looks superb. Projector headlamps, 3 and 5-door styling (not some sedan with a tiny trunk) and as-is styling elements all over? Not one bit of apparent "blanderization" by the beancounters in Detroit looking to make a buck or two by stripping parts away that they think we might not notice? Wow.

The Pontiac G8, with a bold, masculine grille and edgy styling unlike the rumored Solstice front end swap? I've long felt that the as-introduced 2004 GTO's biggest problem was its 1990's "bubble" and swoopy styling. None of that in this new G8. It's modern and sharp-looking and is the first Pontiac that I've really wanted to own since my 2000 Bonneville SSEi. And this is thanks mostly to Holden. Detroit could have over-reacted to the lackluster debut of the last GTO and gone hog wild with some kind of bizarre restyle of the front end to avoid people saying "GM didn't do enough to make it look like a Pontiac". But common sense won the day, and the experts at GM realized that the new Commodore looks mighty handsome as it is, and didn't need extra ribbing or swoopy curves. Again, wow.

Many point out that GM has too many brands in the U.S. to support with enough unique models. It was the 1980's all over again when GM announced it would make the Crossover Sport Vans for no less than 4 of its U.S. brands, and the major difference between them would be slightly different grilles. We all know how that went down.

But having many brands can be an asset. How? Each of the traditional rebadged, re-grilled and or "reskinned" brands in the U.S. - lets face it, Pontiac fans, you know what brand I'm referring to - need not be a lineup of Chevy USA clones with different styling to some degree but otherwise mechanically identical (Torrent, SV6, G5). While it might be difficult to make the transition to "Holden USA", Pontiac, for example, could benefit from a unique to the U.S. market lineup for the first time in decades. No longer would you be able to get the same basic car with different styling down the road for less at the volume discount Chevy dealer or next door in the Buick showroom. As of now, the only Pontiac products that aren't some level of reskin or rebadge are the Vibe, and its a Toyota-engineered product with Toyota manufactured parts. Of course the "on hiatus" GTO, and the G6 Coupe/Convertible, which is unique.

To sum it up: the North American market-only brands that demand too much in the way of resources to keep competitive and unique can rely on very different models from overseas instead of just more styling variations of the same cars for each brand.

It shouldn't stop with the Astra and G8. To give an expired example, instead of a 4th CSV (Relay), Saturn could have waited and gone with the Opel Zafira instead.On the flip side of my article was an urging for GM to export more from Detroit. U.S. built Cadillacs are sold in Europe, Korea and China. But perhaps even more importantly, Detroit-engineered vehicles like the HUMMER H3 and Cadillac SLS (long wheelbase STS) are to be produced in more overseas locations, such as South Africa and China. This kind of development is vital for Detroit to remain a hub of engineering prowess. GM should encourage the global strength of Opel, Holden and GM Daewoo, but shouldn't rely on them completely and outsource all engineering to them. Toyota keeps the heart of its engineering at home, and Detroit's GM headquarters shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that they can outsource everything and just manage their hard-working global subsidiaries from their armchairs in Michigan.

Again, GM should be praised for these efforts. "American" cars and trucks sold and built overseas indicate to people around the world that Detroit-based GM is a global player and still very relevant despite the withering attack on its market share by Japanese automakers at its home of operations.

So what's left for me to ask for?

For one thing, GM is still not making full use of its GM Daewoo subsidiary in the U.S. market. Rather than yet another Epsilon-based reskin, a brand like Buick could use an entry-lux car in the form of the Daewoo Tosca, for instance. If its good enough to be Holden's Camry fighter, then its good enough for Buick, which sorely needs an injection of young, professional, bargain-hunting buyers who also want crisp, modern styling - not just an aging model with heavy rebates, or something they could buy from a Chevrolet dealer but with "Quiet Tuning" and a tri-shield badge. The kind who flock to Korean cars like the Hyundai Azera for the long list of built-in features and current styling elements. This is where the Daewoo-built Tosca beats 1996 Riviera-styled LaCrosse as Buick's entry-level car. That doesn't mean a car the size of the LaCrosse has no place in Buick's lineup. It's just that the current model is not designed in a way that effectively lures younger buyers to the brand, from a styling or pricing standpoint. Suzuki no longer sells the previous version (Verona) so that exclusive agreement, if it ever existed, should not stand in the way.

We saw the Aveo take the subcompact market by storm a couple of years ago and rise to the top. In an increasingly competitive market, GM Daewoo can deliver a high level of standard equipment for a low price, and modern, frequently refreshed styling. GM Daewoo is simply more nimble and able to invest in its much smaller product line than GM in Detroit (which recently decided it wasn't "worth it" to dedicate resources give the Cobalt a mid-cycle refresh, for instance), and can help keep GM North America's car offerings more diverse and fresh looking than what Detroit's GM can do alone.

Astra, Commodore (and Ute?), and Tosca (or next-gen Lacetti). These cars represent some of the best offerings from GM's global subsidiaries, and I look forward to seeing all of them here.But for now, let me just congratulate GM for making the steps needed to integrate its various disparate brands around the world into the highly competitive U.S. market where they can help GM stand against the relentless onslaught of Toyota, Honda, Nissan and others.

Cheers to our mates in Australia and Germany for designing the great looking, competitive cars we'll come to know as Saturns and Pontiacs!And maybe, just maybe what we'll see next will be a single model Chinese LaCrosse displacing the W/G-Body U.S. Buick LaCrosse and Lucerne, with a Daewoo Tosca / Holden Epica at the low-end "entry lux" for volume sales wearing a Buick badge as they do in China, a market where Buick is highly respected. Or a Holden Statesman replacing the Lucerne.
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