Maybe we’re just too cynical around here. We’ve seen United States Taxpayer Dollars go to Chrysler and Chevrolet and we’ve seen the Cash for Clunkers program throw more of the Citizens’ money towards pushing the American car market.

Has it worked? Have the execs at these companies learned anything? Imports made out nicely with small car offerings for “clunkers”. Ford did OK. But they did not take the “bail out”. GM and Chrysler sales fell in August.

Maybe they just don’t get it. Maybe they don’t see the American auto buyers’ market the way they should. Chrysler has the 2010 line out there and the cars look good and are likely great vehicles offering the range from sipping economy to road burning performance. The question is…  Will the public take notice?

2010demon1Take, for instance, the 2010 Dodge Demon. It looks sharp and reports list it with a 172 horsepower, 4 cylinder engine. It should appeal to sports car lovers with an eye towards effeciency.

However, it has been introduced as a concept car. It might showcase in Europe. Will the U.S. have this car? If not… Why not?

A few other details holding it back are unclear sources for the engine and base chassis. The chassis could come from Chevy… from China! The engines could be Mitsubishi or Hyundai produced. So what we have is a Chinese Chevy with a Japanese or Korean engine and a Dodge logo glued on the front. Yes…  I can see where Americans would be clammering to get one.

Another hurdle is the mindset. We’ve heard what Chrysler and Dodge execs have to say about the 2010 lines. Peter Fong, President & CEO at Chrysler had this to say.

“The Chrysler brand delivers provocative, eye-catching designs engineered for passionate living. Our owners are expressive, creative and vibrant, and seek a vehicle that rewards their independence. Through American design and ingenuity, Chrysler strives to deliver premium vehicles that exceed the aspirations and needs of our customers, all at a great value.”

Here’s an idea, Mr. Fong. How about “sexy, fast cars that offer economy and heart-thumping excitement at every acceleration, every turn and, yes, even every trip to the corner market.” Dammit, man! What does “expressive, creative and vibrant” have to do with how the car feels on a country road at 62mph?

The Dodge CEO, Michael Accavitti, is no better.

“In 2010, the Dodge brand stands as the quintessential American brand that continues to defy industry convention in order to build products that allow customers to do more, grab more life and flat-out live life to the fullest.”

Michael…? Quintessential…? You want to sell Challengers you better drop “industry convention” and let consumers know the thing is going to snap them back against the headrest when the light turns green!

Have you people been out of the office and seen the way American consumers think, speak and live? Have you seen the way Mitsubishi, Honda, Mazda and others from the other side market their vehicles? All we’re saying is you would be better off talking to real people instead of reading a thesaurus. You aren’t selling cars to first year art students. You are selling cars to Americans. If you can’t tell us what you’ve got without using words like “aspirations” and “quintessential” you had better prepare for the biggest year-end closeout clearance sale you’ve ever had. We’ll look for it in November and December of 2010.

Chrysler and GM might well be building cars “Americans” would want. Unless they can deliver a message to let us know that, they might as well be selling burgers at a PETA convention.

If you consider yourself an auto racing fan, or even an automobile enthusiast, you have probably had a discussion with a non-auto person who fails to see the attraction of the sport. It is also likely they fail to see the validity of the sport noting, in their view, it is merely a loud waste of time and fuel while being an environmentally destructive activity. These critics have rarely taken the time to research their opinion. They only look at the surface and apply a self-righteous set of values to come to these conclusions. They do not recognize production car advances taken from the racetrack. Vehicle safety, aerodynamic design, engine and transmission technology, braking applications and fuel economy all come from track testing and refinement on racing cars.
penskesaturn1That said, can we assume that knowledge, engineering and applications of building race cars from the ground up can directly translate to building production cars for the general public? We likely have our chance to find out. Roger Penske (Penske Racing) has signed on to take the Saturn brand from economically challenged General Motors. Penske is taking on a challenge but that is nothing really new. GM has failed the Saturn brand on several fronts leaving Penske open to rebuild the name as he sees fit. If he can keep cars running in NASCAR, INDY and GrandAm then this may seem like an easy win. He’s got a shot but not a guarantee.

General Motors launched Saturn in the mid 1980’s as a “different kind of car company”. Saturn quickly became a high ranker in consumer satisfaction. Their cars were attractive and held value. They were competing quite well with some of the imports know for economy and life span. So… what went wrong? You probably can not take one singular point as the problem but a high ranker could be the GM mindset of building one car with several labels. Saturns began to be built on the same platforms as other GM brands’ models. What was a “different kind of car company” became “the same car with a different badge”.

Enter Roger Penske. Anyone familiar with the Penske name will know he doesn’t jump without looking. It does not mean he never misses (Penske Car Care Centers…) but it does mean he sees something with potential. He has a deal with GM to basically supply Saturn models for the next couple of years. Penske will have to eventually set up or take over his own design and manufacturing facilities. Some current Saturn models are re-badged European models from Opel/Vauxhall. It has been rumored the Chinese are looking at the Opel label and it would seem unlikely that Penske would, with the facilities in place in the U.S., purchase a Chinese owned product just to drop his badge on it.

The questions remain and the answers may be some time in coming. Can Roger Penske succeed with Saturn? Will the Chinese take control of the Opel name which some of the Saturns are based on? Will Penske get control of manufacturing facilities inside the United States? What would a Penske design team put out to the American public? Will it continue to be “Saturn” or will we see a “Penske” brand take shape?

The answers to these questions will, hopefully, be very exciting for the American automotive public.

pontiac_logoThe Pontiac brand is being put out by General Motors. Is this a move of logic by General Motors or is this a pressure move from the Federal Government which stands to take over more than 50% of GM stock in cancelling a chunk of bailout debt? Pontiac is a “performance” brand name with a history of muscle cars, sports cars and racing heritage. The current administration is certainly waist deep in “green” cohorts and may not want to have a controlling interest in a brand known for burning rubber and turning fast laps. Is Pontiac really losing money or is it a show of “green” power? Currently, Pontiac power plants and car models are running and winning on the track. Just recently at Virginia International Raceway, a Pontiac powered Daytona Prototype won the class in the Bosch Engineering 250. On the same track running with the DP class, a Pontiac GXP.R won the GT class. Pontiacs are selling. They are out on the road with their split grills and diamond point logos. So the question remains…  are they really losing so much on the showroom floor? More so than other brands…?  Really?

1969 Pontiac GTO "The Judge"
1969 Pontiac GTO "The Judge"

The historic Pontiac GTO has been a staple of muscle cars since it was introduced. Now, General Motors is ready to throw it in the ditch and keep Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac and Buick. Buick!? Are you kidding? Think… Can you remember the last time you saw a Buick on the road? What is it that says keeping Buick and dropping Pontiac makes sense? Is the bottom line on Buick really so fantastic? Is the bottom line on Pontiac really so dismal? Is this a “business” decision or is this a mandate from a government being lead by a man who was driving a Chrysler 300 up to the point he announced a campaign and politically embraced “climate change” verbage with the purchase of a hybrid to show how “green” he could appear to be?

2009 Pontiac G8 GXP
2009 Pontiac G8 GXP

Pontiac is not the only brand in line with the scrap yard. Hummer is on the list. Why anyone wanted one of these toned-down military knock-offs in the first place was amazing. They make Pontiac look “green” as country meadow! Saturn is on the list to go. Really? Saturns have a pretty good reputation for dependability and economy so why would they be out there on a limb? Saab is GM owned but they don’t want it any longer. Saab has always been a niche luxury sports car with a loyal, but smaller, following. Saab has, however, made some good moves with styling and performance but perhaps was too little, too late.

The questions concerning Pontiac just scratch the surface. The economic turn down has made the magnifying glass turn on every aspect of modern business. Larger questions remain. Right now, as things stand to continue to go downhill or could swing towards growth, a large question concerns trust. How much do we trust those that are telling us things are bad and drastic measures must be taken? How much do we know about the coincidence of chopping performance cars off just as those that push the “green” agenda gain access to those in power? How much is real and how much is manufactured? Time will tell. When it does will we realize we’ve been duped or saved?