, Wed, 3 Aug 2005 08:00:00 PDT
Ask anyone within earshot, and you'll understand why singing is not my bag.But in the shower, I'm a Caruso. And it's this tendency toward what I call"differential self-evaluation" that brings me to the subject of GeneralMotors.
It doesn't take a dedicated aficionado to notice that GM is on the ropes.Its 110,000-person workforce is facing a 25-percent slashing. Kirk "CasinoKing" Kerkorian is tendering a takeover bid. Pension liabilities are loomingso large as eventually to block out the sun.
So, what does General Motors do? It sings in the shower. It sings a lotbetter than I do, I have to admit; but there seems to be a distinct lack ofacknowledgment an almost militant denial that cars and trucks are purchasedfor what they can do on real roads in the real world at real gas prices. Notfor how they sound in the shower stall.
In and of themselves, two new models the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP and the Saab9-2X Linear are very nice, very competent, very enjoyable cars. The problemis that consumers don't judge cars in and of themselves. They judge them inand amongst the competition, and in the mid-size sedan and compact sportwagon categories, respectively, Pontiac's and Saab's new contenders arebehind the curve. Out of the shower, in other words, their curb-appeal is alittle wet.
I'll pile on with the clich du jour de l'anne, in point of fact andmention that Saab's thinly disguised "adaptation" of the Subaru Imprezasport wagon is now waggishly known as the Saabaru 9-2X. That's about theextent of the news concerning the intro of an entry-level offering by GM'sSwedish protectorate.
Once again, this is no write-off of a very competent car. Theall-wheel-drive Impreza is a wonderful vehicle a personal favorite, infact and Saab has at least done no harm to its spritely, nimble drivingcharacter and its versatile people-and-cargo utility. But I'm troubled justthe same in a deep, philosophical way. Do you mean to tell me, in otherwords, that one of the world's largest corporations with its back againstthe wall and desperate for clever, relevant product declines to inventsomething new but instead simply raids the parts bins in order to transformPeter's Subaru into Paul's Saabaru?
If that is indeed what you're telling me, then I can only reply, "Come backwhen you've got something to say."
Because the way things now appear, GM's idea bank is slouching towards bankruptcy. It's one thing to realize that shared vehicle platforms have given rise to nearly identical domestic U.S. models like the Pontiac GrandPrix, Chevrolet Impala and, formerly, Buick Regal. But to deflect theonslaught of clever imports from Europe and Asia with the "Impalafication"of Subaru's Impreza into Saab's 9-2X is a bit of a Dudley Dooright Defense,wouldn't you say? Or Doolittle, as the case may be.
I draw two conclusions from the arrival of the Saabaru 9-2X. One is that Subaru's combination of all-wheel-drive, a 165-hp "boxer" four-cylinder motor and convertible seating-and-storage space of 28-62 cubic feet iseminently worthy of GM's in-house plagiarism. And, two, there is so much over-capacity inherent in GM's worldwide structure that it's becoming impossible to sustain so many different dealership networks with so many different models. So the short-term solution is to make the models less different and to share them out among the networks.
Far be it from me, a humble scribe, to suggest nay, to predict that axeswill someday swing. So long, Pontiac. So long, Buick. So long, Saab (in theU.S. at least). Oldsmobile, after all, is in a much happier place now. Andin heaven, you never have to change the oil.
4-door, 5-pass.; 2.5-liter SOHC H4; AWD, 4-sp. auto; 165 hp/166 ft.-lbs.; 23 mpg/city, 29 mpg/hwy w/ regular; cargo: 28-62 cu. ft.; std. equipment: 4-wheel ind. suspension & ABS disc brakes, HVAC, AM/FM/CD, 16-in. wheels,front/front-side/front-head airbags; base price: $22,990; as-tested: $26,735