GM, Charging Boldly into the Past
Last Friday, I spotted a new Chevrolet Camaro, very similar to the 2006 concept version pictured above. Although the new Camaro is great-looking, stirs the senses, and faithfully harks back to the original Camaros of the 1960s, the problem is just that -- the Camaro is, literally, a car of the past. On Saturday, I read this article in the Washington Post, which confirmed my fears about the Camaro, its bankrupt manufacturer, General Motors, and GM's 76 year-old Vice Chairman and former global product development chief, Bob Lutz. Incredibly, they just don't get it.
The Camaro comes with either a hefty 3.6 liter V6 engine with 304 horsepower, or a much heftier 6.2 liter V8 engine. The Camaro weighs from over 3,700 to over 3,800 pounds. Fuel "economy," if you can call it that, for the Camaro is rated at only 17 miles per gallon city/29 highway for the smaller engine, and an even worse 16/24 for the larger one. In other words, the Camaro is a "muscle car" that reflects little change from its forty year-old ancestors. This is at a time where President Obama has raised the U.S. fuel economy requirements to 42 mpg for cars by 2016.
So what does GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz have to say about this? Tellingly, he drives a Corvette, another GM gas-guzzling muscle car based on even older ancestors than the Camaro. But wait -- GM is developing and marketing the hell out of a true car of the future: the all-electric Chevrolet Volt. Isn't it? Well, not so much. As the Washington Post reports, Lutz says, "If you look at most of the mainstream media, you get the impression that 95 percent of Americans today want a vehicle like the Chevrolet Volt or a [hybrid such as the] Toyota Prius . . . . And that, by God, the reason General Motors is in trouble, is that we have not offered a vehicle like that. But when you look at the reality, at today's fuel prices, most Americans still want a conventional car." Then why is GM developing the Volt at all? Lutz says, "[b]ecause it is an important symbol. We need it. It has a chance to change our image."
What? GM is half-heartedly putting out a car that its executives think Americans don't even want, merely for reasons of "image"? And Lutz thinks people want to buy Camaros instead, based on "today's fuel prices?" Has Lutz paid any attention to the rapid rise of oil and fuel prices at the pump in recent months? It's obvious to almost everyone, except Bob Lutz, apparently, that we are never going to see $ 2 or less per gallon gas again. It's also shockingly obvious to me that General Motors executives like Bob Lutz still don't get it. When it comes to looking backward when developing cars like the "new" Camaro," they have no trouble seeing back decades. But when it comes to looking forward, the limits of their vision seems to be a few months at most. Meanwhile, Toyota is coming out with the third generation of its wildly successful Prius Hybrid, which gets 50 miles per gallon and comes with such innovative features as solar-powered ventilation. Whose business plan do you think is better, GM's or Toyota's?
Now that I and the other American taxpayers own 60 percent of GM, I'd like to vote my shares. My first vote would be to replace dinosaurs like Bob Lutz, and to get some new executives with some fresh, forward, realistic thinking in there, quickly.
UPDATE: Hours after I wrote this post and just as I am publishing it, news comes today that Bob Lutz is leaving GM. That's a good first step.