GM Revisits 1972 Again

While everyone else is talking about General Motors’ move to spin-off Saab to allow the unit to declare bankruptcy alone, over here we felt its later press release was more important. According to the company, resources from its High Performance Vehicle Operations have been diverted to other units.

This basically means that all those fun cars like the Corvette ZR1, Caddy V series, Chevy SS series, and other vehicles are S-O-L. It feels like 1972 again – when high insurance costs and a fuel crisis spelled the end of corporate support for all things high-horsepower (high compression small block engines, Hemis, multi-carb setups, race-spec cars on production order sheets). At the time, GM stopped funding sports cars and convertibles to focus more on the rapidly evolving compact segment.

So what do those of us at The Four Wheel Drift have to say about this?

About frigging time GM did something smart!

Look, we like hi-po cars probably more than you do. (Did you pick up your five-year-old from preschool in a Corvette today? Sam did!) But at the end of the day, low-production sports cars can’t save a company. What saves companies are high-volume, good profit cars like mid-size and compact sedans that sell due to being without a doubt better than the competition.

We couldn’t help noticing that last week GM quietly moved its product czar, Bob Lutz, to the corner as a part of what we call “executive cleansing”. While we love Lutz’s damn-the-torpedos approach to the world and his love for sports cars, he’s certainly been wrong more times than he’s been right on high-profile products. Lutz has been part of the problem — too much emphasis on ego products using horsepower numbers (like the GTO and Caddy V) to improve brand image, rather than using a bottom-up overhaul to finally put complaints about quality, cheap materials, lack of refinement, and inferior technology, which affects perception of the whole corporation. You can’t make all of Pontiac look good if all ya have as an example is a G8, which is at best a higher-horsepower “alternative” to BMW or Infiniti. Consequently, GM has also put Pontiac’s name in the news: the nameplate is going to be reorganized so that it is no longer a “stand-alone brand” — instead being a model lineup sold at Buick-GMC dealers.

Along with Lutz, the corporation canned its head of dealer relations, which is a good move. GM seemingly never (with the exception of with its Saturn division, which unfortunately is scheduled tol be dissolved in 2012) understood that much of the corporation’s problems have stemmed from a network of poorly-trained, and therefore completely inept, dealer service entities. GM has yet to connect the dots between perception of quality and the fact that — especially with higher cost vehicles like Caddies and Corvettes, the dealer’s inability to solve a maintenance issue reflects on the brand image.

It is going to be a long road going ahead. Putting Saab’s small market share and high warranty costs out to pasture shows good judgment. Stealing from HPVO to build better core-market products is even smarter.

Hold onto those Corvette ZR1s and Z06s, because unlike Confederate Dollars, they’ll be worth something someday…kind of like 1971 Hemi ‘Cudas and other kings of the previous American performance wars.

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