2008 Pontiac G8 GT, et al.: Textcast -- How To Fix GM, Part I
June 30, 2009
Sadlier: So, continuing its pattern of hiring random people to do important things, GM taps us to be the guys who make sure that the new GM is devoid of the stupid stuff that plagued old GM. Where do we start?
Magrath: I suppose we start from the outside in. It's how I pick my books and women; why not evaluate companies likewise?
Sadlier: Good, let's focus on outer beauty. It's the LA way.
Magrath : GM has never really had a problem selling to GM fans, so the trick, it would seem, is to get non-GM folks to take the cars seriously. This means that Chevrolet, the largest and most important brand, needs to ditch the bowtie.
Sadlier : The bowtie is obviously tainted, but I think it's potentially salvageable. Hire a design firm with money they don't have and sex it up.
Magrath : Salvageable? Except for Colonel Sanders and Tucker Carlson, who wears a bowtie? And as you may recall from Jon Stewart's pummeling of Tucker , the bowtie was a key part of Stewart's argument that what Tucker did on Crossfire is theater and not real news. Bowties are gags.
Magrath : They could try to sex it up, but that would end with the thing being a bolo tie like you see at rodeos or in Arizona. There'd be turquoise and a cow skull...not good.
Magrath : Besides James Bond, whom I don't think GM wants to evoke unless the new Camaro is a submersible, name something positive associated with a bowtie.
Sadlier : Ummm...the tuxedo? 17th-century Croatian mercenaries ? Balzac ? Hell, the Playboy bunny wears a bowtie. This is too easy.
Sadlier : The bowtie can rise again. Just not in its current form.
Magrath : Fine, then if GM is sticking with a bowtie, Lexus should switch from a stylized "L" to a mawashi .
Sadlier : Deal.
Magrath : And GM cars should be available only in black and white, or in Croatia.
Sadlier : ...with your choice of a complimentary Playboy playmate or French novel.
Magrath : I'm in.
Sadlier: Moving along. Here's an uncontroversial one: ditch the dorky dot-matrix readouts for the trip computer and audio/climate controls and every other damn display in sight
Sadlier: Toyota went LCD in the early '90s. Maybe earlier. Time for GM to follow suit
Magrath: Hey, how 'bout that, Michael Jackson's dead.
Sadlier: Whoa. Really?
Sadlier: Well, I'm sure it's a headline on CNN.com.
Magrath: It is. Though I had to confirm with TMZ; they have stricter standards than CNN.
Magrath: Anyway...yes. The amber dot-matrix displays are the worst. They wash out in the sun and in the shade.
Sadlier: Everything dot matrix must go. Done and done. Next?
Magrath: Badge engineering.
Sadlier: Let's have it
Magrath: I am, surprisingly, for it.
Sadlier: I'm listening
Magrath : Mull this over. Softly sprung, under-damped G8 in Buick clothes (call it the Regal), complete with speed holes, powered by the 3.6 DI motor for normal folks who just want a solid car. Then throw some Impala SS badges on that bad boy, firm up the ride a la the GXP, sharpen the looks, and you've got a desirable Chevy. Win-win. Both cars need navigation though. The current display is ridiculous.
Sadlier : You know, the G8 platform is versatile enough (see Camaro) that I could get behind that. I think the flavors could be different enough that it wouldn't be completely stupid, a la Cobalt/G5.
Sadlier : That should be the badge-engineering litmus test: is it completely stupid like the G5? If so, kill it. If not, we can talk about it.
Sadlier : For example, GMC. Kill it. Because the entire lineup consists of completely stupid badge-jobs.
Magrath : And not only would killing GMC save them dozens of dollars a year in GMC stickers, but cancelling the GMC variants of the pickups would almost instantly put all of those sales into the coffers of Chevy, which would then, rightly, gain the top-selling pickup truck. Win-win.
Sadlier : There you go. So, okay, let's flesh out this "completely stupid badge-job" test. Any badge-engineered car would have to have both unique interior and exterior treatments and unique dynamics. That's the test.
Sadlier : ...which would have the pleasant side-effect of making GM think hard about each badge-engineering project before green-lighting it, since doing badge-jobs that way actually costs money.
Sadlier : That's why Acura gets away with the Accord/TL connection, or Lexus with the Camry/ES connection: they actually put time and money into making sure that the premium product is sufficiently differentiated rather than an ill-disguised cheaper car. (Example #1 of how not to do it is of course the Taurus/MKS, but we're not talking Ford today.)
Magrath : I'm trying to think of a GM badge job that's been done correctly A-B. I don't think there is one. Nothing's really different.
Sadlier : You know, the Corvette/XLR had potential. I think the XLR passes our test. It just wasn't nice enough to compete at that price point
Magrath : Does the XLR use the transverse leaf? XLR-V, by the way, is still one of the worst cars for the money I can think of. Too bad, killer looks.
Sadlier : That I don't know. The XLR had its own suspension details, so perhaps no leaf.
Magrath : So that's more platform sharing than badge engineering.
Sadlier : Well, yes. Actually, I think that's what we're getting at here. Badge engineering is out. Platform sharing? Absolutely. That's smart.
Magrath : Yes. Lexus has proved that platform sharing, done correctly, is a goldmine...but like you said before, it's because an ES doesn't feel or look like a Camry.
Sadlier : Right! And it's not just different...it's nicer. Obviously nicer. Like, anyone-who-sits-in-it-will-notice nicer
Magrath : "Anyone-who-sits-in-it-will-notice nicer." Good point. Maybe that should be the test. Get some people off the streets and put them in both variants. If they notice, at any point, that the cars are uncomfortably similar, the project doesn't get the green light.
Sadlier : This brings me to a crucial point, and it's twofold. Obviously, any plaform-sharing project must differentiate clearly between price points (i.e., must not replicate the Taurus/MKS charade). But, because GM has, thanks to decades of subpar products, absolutely obliterated any benefit of the doubt it ever had with the non-GM faithful...
Sadlier : ...forthcoming products need to be BETTER than the other guy's. Not just competitive. Better. Like, "Wow I want that" better. That's how disgraced companies start winning people over again.
Magrath : Stylistically, they've got that with the CTS. But, yes, they need to lead, it's too late for them to be merely competitive.
Sadlier : Yeah. You don't just say, "You want soft-touch materials? Here, here's a soft-touch dash, now shut up." You make a compelling overall product that causes even diehard GM skeptics to sit up and take notice.
Sadlier : The CTS is about the closest they've come, yes, and it's damn close. But it's not a volume seller. They need to do that with their volume sellers. Malibu needs to be a "wow" car relative to the pack. Cruze. Equinox. Etc.
Sadlier : "Wow, these jokers have finally got their acts together." That's what the new GM's products should get people saying. Offer people a lot more than they'd expect from the brand, and you'll start to get their money. Good cars have a way of making people forget whatever came before.
Magrath : The new motto should be "Good cars. Really."
Sadlier : That is marketing gold. Let's tell Barry .
(Note: Stay tuned for Part II later this week, in which Magrath's secret life as a fairy-tale author will be laid bare.)