Friday, August 14, 2009

Same Old GM

This week GM trotted out the Chevy Volt again. This time to announce the car gets a stunning 239 mpg as estimated by the EPA. Whether the Volt gets 239 mpg or just half that number, it’s a major achievement. But there is one problem with the Volt. It’s made by GM.

Forty years ago, GM made cars that were aspirations. In the days they controlled 50% of the market, their cars were beautifully styled and well made. People were proud to own a Chevrolet. Pontiacs were bad boys in muscle shirts. A Buick or Oldsmobile in the driveway indicated you were squarely middle class. With a Cadillac, you were someone to be reckoned with.

GM lost its way in the 1970s. With the oil embargo, strict emission standards, and labor strikes it stopped dictating the market and began second guessing itself. Innovation was stifled by a heavy handed corporate culture that made the Soviet Politburo look like Google. Lately GM has started to recover some of its edge. Cadillac and Chevrolet are making good vehicles again and even Buick is showing signs of life.

But the product gestation period is too long. It takes GM at least five years to launch a new vehicle, twice as long as most other companies. And GM flaunts their cars years before they are ready. Cars like the Camaro and Volt are old news before they are finally launched. I get that the drive train technology for the Volt needs time to be developed, but five years for a Camaro that looks like a cartooned evil twin of the 1969 model?

C'mon GM.

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