GM: Greatness is just a few good decisions awayPosted: April 30, 2012
Ever since Pontiac was killed off as a result of the financial crisis, GM has not had a proper American sedan to compete with the successful Dodge Charger. The Pontiac G8 had been in this segment, but it came out right as many people became wary of buying GM products, due to their economic uncertainty at the time. A replacement for it has not yet been seen, although there has been talk of it coming back as the Chevrolet Caprice. I think this would be a great seller now, if GM’s lineup were structured properly, because they have basically recovered at this point and have been doing great things.
One of the issues with the G8 was that GM tried to make it replace more economy minded, front wheel drive sedans. This idea was clearly based on the size and space of the car alone without much thought being given to the fact that the G8 is an entirely different sort of car. Chevy has just released the new Impala, and it looks promising for its segment. I would want to keep the Impala where it is, but with just a slight change to it so it would avoid any internal competition. Instead of the 303hp 3.6L V6 the top line Impala should have the 270hp 2.0L Turbo Ecotec engine. The reason behind this idea is that this segment of full size front wheel drive cars gives priority to practicality for an average buyer, as the emphasis is not on performance here. The V6 Impala gets 18mpg in the city, but the turbo 4-cylinder would match the fuel economy (mid 20s) of the lower range Impalas while giving the higher power desired. Also, having the 2.0L Turbo would give the Impala a serious fuel efficiency edge over the V6 equipped Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon, and the Ford Taurus. People who are seeking performance do not want a big front wheel drive car like an Impala; they want a rear drive sedan like the Caprice, that is where the 3.6L V6 belongs. The Impala would be much better off with an all 4-cylinder lineup.
The Caprice would basically follow on the G8’s path with some tweaks here and there to make it fit the current GM lineup in quality. The 303hp 3.6L V6 would serve as the base model Caprice, the 430hp 6.2L V8 would be the mid range SS, and a top of the line 556hp LSA V8 equipped Caprice would come in as the top dog (SS?). It is a tried and true lineup that is already seen in the Camaro. All GM has to do is match it up with the sedan chassis that they already make, so the logistics are as simple as can be.
As for the demand question: people buy Dodge Chargers, so why wouldn’t GM get in on that market? There are also a few ways GM could make the Caprice better than the Charger. First off, give every model the option of having a manual transmission; this is a sports minded car after all, and Chargers are all automatics. Next, they need to make the Caprice handle well, and this is very easy to do because GM has learned a lot about handling with the Cadillac V program. Some of that knowledge should go into the Caprice to make it a real sport sedan and not just a brutish, one-dimensional muscle car like the Charger. If they get that right, then they may start stealing sales from BMW and Mercedes, because why have a 240hp 3 series when you could have a 430hp Caprice, that handles as well and is faster, for the same price?
There is one more part to this idea though, one that I think has been overlooked for some time. On the same Holden chassis as the Caprice there is the Ute, a two door car with a pickup bed. Here the Ute version of the Caprice would naturally be the modern El Camino, and I cannot think of a more quintessentially American package. It is a pickup and a V8 muscle car all rolled up into one; my question really is “how the heck is this not sold here already?” The bean counters seem to think it would be seen as a competitor to actual pickup trucks, and this is entirely misguided. The El Camino would not be a pickup truck, it would be a pickup car. It cannot do everything a truck can, but a truck is not as good to drive as this Ute would be. People want to downsize these days, and trucks tend to guzzle gas, whereas the V6 El Camino could probably see 30mpg on the highway. For people who just need the pickup bed, or who just want the cool image it has a lot of appeal. Not everyone with a pickup truck actually needs/uses it as a truck, and the Ute design is perfect for those who just need the practical space. Look at the El Camino Ute as a lifestyle car for a big niche market here in America; the country boys would eat it up. It also wouldn’t step on the Camaro’s toes because it only seats two and offers a much different appeal due to its practical design; the Camaro is a four seat coupe and this is a two seat pickup–no overlap whatsoever. Model wise, the 303hp V6 for the base model and the 430hp V8 for the SS would the same, but I would advise against putting the 556hp LSA in the El Camino because there is no weight over the rear wheels.
I think the El Camino Ute would be a great success in current America, but many of the bean counters disagree because the Chevy SSR failed so miserably a few years back. The problem with the SSR was that it was on a big truck chassis, but it was trying to be a sports car. The El Camino is a sports car pickup on a car chassis, and it is already a proven success abroad. All aspects of the Ute design are already hugely popular here in America; the Ute just needs to be marketed properly for them to find their niche. Also, like the Caprice, GM already makes all of the pieces of this puzzle, so logistically the El Camino would be easy as well.
Cars like the Impala and the Malibu are great for competing with all the mainstream Japanese sedans, but those are American versions of a Japanese design at the end of the day. The Caprice is a real American car, something that clearly still sells, based on Chrysler’s success. There is nothing wrong with offering the Japanese style cars, and it is surely the base of their business at this point, but they are missing a huge market segment that is either going to Chrysler, Hyundai, or the Europeans. The Caprice would solve that problem, and GM is poised to make it the perfect offering for that segment by giving it things (like a clutch pedal) that current offerings lack. As for the El Camino Ute, it seems perfect for our market now and it has heritage in GM’s past. If marketed properly Utes could become a solid niche market here in the States, just as they have in Australia, and that would mean big profits for GM. So, really all I am suggesting here is that GM make the Impala better for its market segment, compete with Chrysler for the rear drive sedan segment, and offer the Ute to the current market and likely create a new segment. They already have all the tools do make all of this happen; all they need to do is do it. GM: success eagerly awaits you.