GM and Chrysler – and, to a lesser extent, Ford – aren’t so much having their dirty laundry aired in public during this rollercoaster economic crisis, as posting a pair of their crustiest undies to each and every one of us. Even if you’ve picked holes in their business plan for years, you’ve got to feel sorry for the guys in Detroit as they beg for state assistance. The giants of the Big Three must be feeling pretty small right now.
Reading the painful detail of turnaround plans submitted last night to the federal government, I’m reminded of a tube of toothpaste being squeezed and squashed and eventually thumped until every last ounce is hammered out. Now it’s right and proper that businesses should be run efficiently, but my heart goes out to the tens of thousands (possibly more) of real people whose livelihoods are on the line. Many will lose their jobs, others will see their pay packets plundered. All will be fearing for the roof over their heads. And the pain is heading to Europe very soon, as GM has revealed plans to cut $1.2 billion from its overseas operations.
What hope can enthusiasts hold in these desperate times? We’ve said it before, but dead wood will fall as the industry reinvents itself. Let’s hope that the businesses that do emerge at the end of all this bounce back stronger, leaner and fitter for a redrawn industrial landscape. And today we’re seeing the first signs of those green shoots.
The new product from GM and Chrysler
Amid the 117-page document handed to the US Treasury Department, there are some intriguing nuggets that spell out the direction GM is headed. There are numerous hurdles to cross yet, not least persuading American politicians to cough up billions more in funding to see them through this mess. And what will happen to Opel/Vauxhall, let alone the more imperilled Saab, Hummer and Saturn brands. All face closure at worst, at best a fire sale to eastern brands desperate for a swanky nameplate.
Our industry is driven by new product and GM’s Viability Plan contains a glimpse into life after 2009. Cadillac presents the production version of the CTS Coupe (so far we’ve only seen the concept), which – crisis notwithstanding – will arrive in 2010 with a 3.6-litre V6 and six-speed auto.
So far, so old-school. Where are the range-extended hybrids? The fuel-cells that GM’s been titivating us with for so long? Turn to page 22 of the General’s federal document and it seems that the Opel Ampera and Cadillac Converj will land in 2012, while the first fuel-cell vehicles and a third-gen hybrid are due in 2015.
Chryser, too, gives a glimpse into the more economical cars it’s developing. There are renderings in Chrysler’s Viability Plan that suggest the 2010 Chrysler 300C and Jeep Grand Cherokee will be gently modernised and – more importantly – cut their fuel consumption by a fifth.
A drop in the ocean
But will any of this work? I fear not. All these vehicles are same-again models tweaked in a rush to pander to carbon-obsessed politicians. None of the models soft-announced today will fix GM or Chrysler’s problems. The malaise of Detroit (and other European brands let’s not forget) runs much deeper than that.
What’s needed is a total reinvention of their industry. Some manufacturers, most notably Japanese but some Europeans too, are at the forefront of imagining a new carscape where new models meet owners’ needs: cars styled to meet current mores, with tax- and fuel-efficient powertrains, and a large slug of desirability and reliability. It’s those companies that will, when the market recovers, prosper.
But I fear that at least one of the American brands will see its recovery hopes dashed. The journey from today’s industrial meltdown to a remapped industry meeting those consumers’ needs is a long one. Probably too long for some…
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