Tuesday, September 16, 2008

GM comes around?

I am not a terribly huge fan of domestic cars. The 80’s did everything it could to destroy my generation’s perception of Detroit heritage. Cars made by GM, Ford and Chrysler have a notorious reputation for producing ugly cars, with poor quality and horrible resale value.

In recent years we have seen some of that turn around. Chrysler revamped the Dodge lineup by introducing the Magnum, Charger and now the Challenger, then Ford came out with its own retro styling of the Mustang, ushered in a decent mid-sized sedan with the Fusion and have some other cool projects in the works.

However, the biggest turnaround seems to be for GM. A (finally) stylish Pontiac lineup has arrived. No longer does the brand have th
at ugly, chunky plastic molding. The Solstice and G6 are sleek and stylish, and the all-new G8 is what car enthusiasts have been begging for from Americans for decades. Plus, Pontiac has shifted strategy with their lineup going to all rear-wheel drive – an excellent strategy in the re-birth of horsepower boom.

The brand I am most impressed with is Chevy. It’s the American at heart in me that has always pulled for Chevy to do better. I dry heave at the days of the Lumina, Corsica, Beretta and Cavalier. Eeek. Chevy’s newest offerings include a really cool looking Malibu that will make anyone double take and the SS Cobalt that will give any 350Z, RX8
or S2000 a run for its money, in FWD fashion. The new 2009 Camaro is something I have been lusting after ever since its concept reveal in 2006. If I can get my hands on one of these, you can bet I’ll be trolling the bully frequently.

Today I popped open Google News to see that Chevy has also officially unveiled its newest eco-friendly iteration in the Chevy Volt. It’s an electric car hybrid with an estimated 150hp that will get you 40 miles without hitting it up for gas. Most of all, this car is actually…attractive.

This is a critical move for GM. I truly believe that the future of the company rests in the hands of this single product. If it can’t make a ultra-reduced emissions vehicle, with a little bit more than a little bit of power, and do so with style and charisma, the company (who posted a recent 6% dip in trades and record-setting profit losses) may eventually become pink-slipped – or worse, bear the name of Toyota.

But here’s what’s puzzling to me. In 2003 GM canceled it’s EV1 program which delivered a compact all-electric car that could take you 160 miles on a single charge, that you could plug into your wall outlet at night, and that actually had a little zoom behind it. Those were the days when automakers weren’t particularly concerned with economy or alternative energy. And, if you believe everything that the film "Who Killed the Electric Car" tells you, then you’d see that GM actually worked hard to kill the program in favor of big oil.

Now, 5 years later, and with gas prices more than double what they were at the time of the EV1 program buzzkill, one has the wonder if GM regrets literally pulling the plug on the technology.

The Volt will take me 40 miles before the electric battery runs dry, but the EV1 had 4 times the range and was all-electric. With consumer demand for alternative energy like never before, why hasn’t GM simply resurrected the project instead of offering the medium that the Volt has?

The Volt seems to be one of the best legit hybrid offerings yet. Heck, I am a horsepower nut and swore off the smugness for years, but this is actually a decent option to me, and I can only hope that as GM develops its technology, that we’ll eventually see it improve in both style and economy.

Just don’t nix the gas-guzzling horsepower on the Camaro before I get to it!


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