Yeah, that's right. I'm laying out my plan to save the industry, but first, I've got some shit to get off my chest...
I've been mulling over a massive critique of the American auto companies for a while now...Ever since I went to the (Detroit) North American International Auto Show a couple years ago and watched as GM countered the onslaught of the Prius, hybrid Hondas and other kick-ass imports with the big unveiling of their updated GMT900 line of full-size trucks and SUVs (Silverados, Tahoe, Yukons, Suburban, etc.)
One year later, Dodge brought in a herd of cattle for their new full-size Ram pickup to "drive" through downtown Detroit. Putting aside the sheer stupidity of that stunt and lack of relevance of using the truck for actual labor, they were even further behind than GM.
Now I'm not saying all of those vehicles weren't a little long in the tooth, and didn't need a facelift—they did, and they are the best looking versions of those trucks yet—but GM (and last year, Chrysler) was betting EVERYTHING on these vehicles at a time when it was clear the Era of the Big SUV was winding down. They've made some admirable gains in fuel economy, introduced a hybrid Tahoe, but the fact remains they were behind the curve in a big way, and instead of investing in warm blood and fur, they poured hundreds of millions of dollars redesigning the dinosaur right before the Ice Age.
It appears they have learned that lesson now, when it is too late. GM has indefinitely suspended plans to redesign the line again, instead of the standard six-year lifespan. What brought them to that conclusion? Full-size SUV sales have plummeted 51% since they unveiled the 2007 models. The Trailblazer (mid-size SUV) sales fell 73%. And those numbers are from before gas prices spent the summer over $4.
One thing Detroit can clearly still do is rear-view mirrors.
Here's the thing: Two years ago, I knew those SUVs were going to be launched, and how fucking stupid a bet GM was making, but that's not what's most frustrating... It was going to the NAIAS this past January and seeing these cars:
What's wrong with those cars, Mr Furious?
Nothing. Nothing except the fact that in January of 2008 they were still fucking concept vehicles for GM! I'm pretty sure Toyota's been making money hand over fist in that niche with Scion since 2004.
All I could do is stare from offstage, snap my pics and wonder aloud, "Why the hell aren't cars like that in showrooms NOW?!?"
If I were on the Senate Banking Committee today, I'd ask Rick Wagoner why it wasn't some team's 24/7 job to get those two cars on the road by the end of the year. Seriously. And don't waste time blanding-down the design—those two cars are hot and would sell like crazy just as they are.
Which leads me to my first bailout requirement:
Fire everyone who looks at a concept car and says, "our focus group tells us that they won't like..." I bet there's a whole level of management jackasses in each division responsible for taking cool cars and turning them into Cobalts and G5s. History backs me up on this. The cars released in the last decade that made the smallest style jump from show floor to showroom were successful: The New Beetle, Mini Cooper, PT Cruiser, the current Prius. Next up? The Volt. They've already made the concept car look too much like a Stratus. Why is Detroit afraid to take a fucking chance? The Volt NEEDS TO look different. It's the first electric car. People who buy one don't want to be mistaken for Malibu drivers (and for the record, I think the Malibu is the best-looking Chevy sedan in forty years). Do you hear what I'm saying, GM? "Green" sells. Prius drivers aren't just saving gas, they're making a fucking statement driving around in that lozenge. All the hype around the Volt is going to deflate somewhat when that cool-ass concept everyone saw looks "normal."
Let me get to the real nuts and bolts stuff that needs to happen to save these companies. Trim the fat. And there is plenty of it. All of the Big Three have too much duplication across brands. Cut brands, and cut models:
Buick—Gone. The loyal Buick customer base has to be pushing 70. Elderly people buying their last car ain't a plan for the future.
Cadillac—An upscale line is good. And I like the new "sharp edge" direction. Skews younger. Pick one full size sedan, I like the STS, so ditch the DTS. You can only keep the Escalade if every single one is Hybrid or DoD (Displacement on Demand—shuts off half the cylinders when not needed)
Chevy—Family cars, SUVs, pickups and the Corvette. That's it. Start making Hybrid Equinoxes. And goddammit, build a fucking station wagon again. No more Avalanche—stupidest idea ever. All full-size trucks and SUVs need Hybrid or DoD powertrains.
GMC—Gone. There is no need to duplicate with Chevy: Yukon=Tahoe. Stop building both. All commercial trucks are Chevys now. Why? Because the separate division has a whole layer of management that is redundant.
HUMMER—Gone. Just for symbolism's sake if nothing else, but that market is dead.
Pontiac—Because I like the Vibe, Solstice and G6 so much it's hard to let go. Pontiac can be the "sporty division" and those three and the G8 is their lineup. That's it. No SUVs or vans, and ditch the G5, it's ugly.
Saab—Sell it. Please. Let somebody in Sweden make cool, quirky cars again. GM trashed this once great brand the second they bought it, and I will go back to Detroit and kill someone if their mismanagement means Saab's demise.
Saturn—Duplication is a problem here, but they have the best lineup in the company, run differently from factory to sales floor and as far as I know do well.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY
Ford—Your website won't load, so you get nothing. Actually, here's what I want: The European Focus. Wagons and hatchbacks. Trust me.
Lincoln—Again, and upscale brand is fine. Sedans only. No SUVs.
Mercury—A fetish for vertical grillwork is no reason to duplicate an entire line of automobiles. Good bye.
Chrysler—Family sedans and minivans. No more Aspen. All trucks and SUVs are now Dodges or Jeeps. Limit duplication.
Dodge—Sporty cars and trucks only. All lame sedans (Avenger=Sebring) and vans are now Chryslers.
Jeep—Compass, Liberty or PAtriot: Pick one, lose the other two. Everything else is fine.
Note: In no way do I support a financial benefit for Cerberus, the holding company that owns Chrysler, until the company is back in the black and they earn a reward for their investment.
All companies need to start cracking on electric, hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles like fucking yesterday. Engine technology improvements have gone too far over towards power instead of efficiency. There is really no need for any average family car to be packing over 200 horses. Get that shit turned around.
No companies can pay dividends, and stockholders are holding the bag—I don't care if they take a bath. Top level executives forgo salaries until the loans are paid back. Their stock options should be compensation and incentive enough. Mid-level management should have been thinned with consolidation of brands and models, all salaries and bonuses are frozen.
Union wages freeze. Contracts are not opened up, but concessions can and should be made. Negotiations to alter terms for legacy costs should ensue.
ALL THREE COMPANIES NEED TO ACTIVELY PUSH FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE. When enacted, all employees top to bottom, plus retirees need to abandon company healthcare in favor of national plan. This single factor will relieve their biggest current and legacy financial burdens.
That's all I can think of now, and I'm tired. Get it done, you bastards.