The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

7 May 2007

The mark of excrement

I've spent rather a lot of time over the years prescribing remedies for the ever-ailing General Motors, and most of them boil down to the same thing: develop some cars that are good enough to sell without two grand of incentives sitting on the hood. One thing that's standing in the way of this goal is the fact that the General is vending vehicles under eight different brands, which can't possibly be efficient. (Toyota, on its way to ruling the world, has three.) The Timekeeper calls for euthanasia for four GM marques:

Merge Pontiac into Chevrolet. Eliminate the overlapping models and rename the remaining models with Chevrolet-appropriate names if necessary.

Merge GMC into Buick. The two divisions complement each other nicely, with very little overlap in model range or demographics, although both marques appeal to the same income brackets. Getting GMC customers into a dealership that sells Buicks may get them to take a look at what is available and provide a bump to Buick sales.

Merge Hummer into Cadillac. Again, both brands appeal to similar demographics with no overlap in vehicle range at all. Hummer is another niche vehicle that does not need its own division within GM.

Merge Saab into Opel and continue the Opel/Saturn partnership. Since Saab is already selling vehicles based on Opel models (and built in Opel plants in Germany) this won't have much effect on the company, except for the savings in marketing and management. GM's Vauxhall division (its UK Marque), which sells rebadged Opels and Holdens, should also be closed down at the same time, resulting in even more savings.

To some extent, GM is already thinking this way: the Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership is becoming increasingly popular. And if Americans won't embrace Buick, the Chinese have, which suggests that Pontiac is ultimately more expendable: if we're going to have low-end hot rods, they should be Chevrolets.

Losing Hummer would be a bit more problematic. The brand has two major constituencies — people who drive over rocks for the fun of it, and people who want to tell Al Gore to go pound sand — and while their overall numbers are small, their loyalty is unquestioned. Best of all, they have no unique vehicles (the short-of-milspec H1 has been put out to pasture), yet a crummy H3 commands more cash than its Chevy cousin. This could be GM's Jeep if they played their cards right. (Yeah, I know: big "if".)

A Saab/Opel merger, though, makes sense, since they're basically working the same turf. Frankly, I'd rather see someone buy Saab outright and bring it back to life, but I have no reason to think the General would consider selling it, especially since Volvo is actually making a few bucks for Ford. And the Opel connection is clearly helping Saturn, which now has a nice lineup that (mostly) doesn't cannibalize Chevy sales.

I still don't see why they need both Chevrolet and GMC trucks, though: are we supposed to believe that the bowtie boys are, um, amateur grade?

Posted at 6:51 PM to Driver's Seat

I'm still sad that Saab isn't a standalone company. I always wanted the Saab to be my grown-up car.

Posted by: Scott at 9:16 PM on 7 May 2007