I had a list of great, and not so great things that happened in the automotive universe this year. Really, I did. While I pondered, and researched those “things”, the reality was I kept coming back to two defining themes that stand to make the year 2008 an extraordinary year in the history of the culture of cars.
I. The Mighty Big Three on the Brink of Collapse
The day of reckoning is here for GM, Ford, and Chrysler. For all of us consumers and enthusiasts who wondered how long these companies could sell the North American public crap products until it finally caught up to them, we have our answer. Too many brands, too many cars. And many of those cars are not appealing to consumers.Ã‚Â
Many of you are likely bracing yourselves for another rant against our domestic automakers. You will not be getting one from me today. Witness the car pictured below.
Of course, that yellow beast is the new Corvette ZR-1. The Corvette has always been the ultimate GM car-the symbol of its capabilities. Think back to 1975 though, and these were very dark times for the Vette, whose V-8 punched out an anemic 165hp. That was rock bottom. Through the years, a lot of hard work has paid off for the Corvette, and the proof is in the current Vette, and especially in the ZR-1. $100,000 is more money than 99% of us will ever spend on a car, but when you consider that the Corvette gives you similar performance of the $186,000 Ferrari F430, tell me you aren’t impressed.
Does anyone remember the Cadillac Cimarron? The huge, ungainly Brougham? I doubt it-it is tough to recall those cars that were so detrimental to Cadillac’s image while looking at the new CTS-V. Cadillac finally has a true contender for the outrageous BMW M5. Cadillac’s hard work is paying off.Ã‚Â
Granted, the ZR-1 and CTS-V are extreme cars, built for a niche market. But it shows that GM has the smarts, creativity and ingenuity to build cars that can stand up to the best the world has to offer. My hope is that GM understands it cannot reserve that level of work and commitment to its high-end cars. That philosophy has to trickle down all the way to the bargain basement Chevy Aveo if GM hopes to make it.Ã‚Â
Ford has done better for itself than GM. The proof is in that they are working quickly to bring small, stylish, and fun cars from Ford of Europe to our shores. Chrysler remains the question mark here. I agree with most people that the Challenger is a hoot of a car, but with no new product news coming out of Chrysler to respond to a changing market, you wonder how much longer the company can last.
My thoughts are that with the taxpayers loaning money to keep Chrysler and GM afloat, there will be some accountability. But the taxpayers are going to be impatient. It took Chevy 33 years to get from that lowly 165hp Corvette to today’s ZR-1, and I am afraid The Big Three don’t have that kind of time anymore.
II. The Reality Check
Sales of SUV’s were already on the decline-but when the cost of gas in the US seemed well on its way to $5 a gallon, the sales practically stopped. The good news is that prices have dropped, but no one has forgotten what it cost to fill up that Ford Expedition pictured above last summer.
A business analyst on WCBS News Radio out of New York City declared that the North American car buying public “hit the reset button” when it came to the cars they were buying. This change was a long time coming. It’s hard not to recall a time when it seemed Mommy’s with one or two kids were flinging their Chevy Suburbans around town, latte in one hand, cell phone in the other, careening towards you…
The gas prices of the summer forced people to give serious thought to just how much car they actually needed. Turns out, a family of four does not require a Ford Expedition. The office worker who wants to play cowboy doesn’t really need a Chevy Silverado HD for the daily commute to his cubicle. This is a reality that Europeans have lived with for decades-it is about time we caught up. We are just now, finally coming around.
We’ve come back to Earth, in a way. There is a couple who lives around the corner from me. They used to own a Pontiac Trans Am and a Mercedes ML320. This summer they traded them in for a new VW GTI and Honda Civic EX. Smaller? Yes. More fuel efficient? Yes. Just as fun, if not more? YES! Any practicality lost? I doubt it.Ã‚Â
It was the automakers who already had the cars that met the new demands of the North American consumer that were selling cars, while acres of new SUV’s sat on lots. The new challenge is for our automakers to shift their focus-fast-to meet these demands.Ã‚Â
I am sorry to disappoint if you wanted a best/worst list from me, but these two stories tower over any new product launch seen this year. The automotive landscape is changing, and these were the stories that finally brought those changes forth. Grab some popcorn and a cold drink, and stick around The Garage for 2009 to see how this soap opera plays out!