Some Solstice mention but article seemed a better fit for general auto forum.
Giving Voyeurs A Peek
Jerry Flint, 06.28.05, 6:00 AM ET
Upcoming car models aren't kept secret the way they were in the 1950s and 1960s, but General Motors is going to great lengths to give reporters and security analysts a good look at its future vehicles.
The logical is simple: Show the press and Wall Street what's coming in the hopes that it will take some of the heat off the company. The tactic is meeting with some success. For example, in mid-June the upcoming Pontiac Solstice two-seat roadster was on the CBS Sunday Morning Show.
Besides the Solstice, which quite frankly General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) has been parading around for a couple of years, GM also revealed a lot about the new Chevrolet small sport utility vehicle, the HHR, as well as bigger trucks coming out over the next two years, such as the Chevy Tahoe SUV and GMC Sierra pickup. In all, GM revealed a lot of information about 18 future models.
The people who have seen the new vehicles--at least the people I've talked to--say they are a big improvement. I've seen some of the coming cars, such as the re-skinned Chevy Impala and the Buick Lucerne; I've read reports on the coming "SS" models, to spice up the Chevy lineup; and I've heard of the broader use of V-8 engines across the line. Interiors are finally competitive with the best in the industry. For that we can thank Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz, who started pounding for better interiors after his 2001 arrival at GM.
Better-looking cars and trucks are a crucial step in slowing GM's decline. But it's not the only step needed. GM, unfortunately, has a reputation for mishandling launches and for failing to offer state-of-the-art technology even when it comes up with good designs.
The Pontiac Solstice is one example. It's a great-looking car, but it's a roadster, a sports car. Such cars traditionally sell best when the weather is nice, so it makes sense to launch them in the spring, when consumers are thinking about convertibles and not snow blowers. The Solstice was supposed to come out this spring. But it's late and won't arrive in volume until September or October.
Then there's the Pontiac G6. It's bad enough that GM couldn't have made a big splash last fall by bringing out the new G6 sedan, coupe and the convertible all at once. Instead, it dribbled out the sedan last fall, and the coupe was supposed to arrive this spring but is six weeks late. The G6 convertible? It was originally scheduled for this fall--again, not a great time for this type of car--but it has been pushed back until next spring, a year and a half after the sedan. Yes, BMW can get away with trickling out its new models, but a struggling mass-market brand like Pontiac would have been better served by rolling out several G6 variants all at once.
he Pontiac G6 came out with an old pushrod V-6; a more economical four-cylinder and a more potent V-6--also a pushrod engine--are just entering the market. It is a similar story with transmissions: The competition, including Ford Motor (nyse: F - news - people ) and Chrysler, are now offering five- or six-speed transmissions in some models. But brand-new GM cars like the Pontiac G6 and new Buick LaCrosse still have to make do with four-speed automatics.
Then there's the smaller Hummer H3, a new lower-priced ($35,000-plus) model, which is just what's needed to help Hummer grow. Too bad GM is bringing it to market with only one engine, a low-powered five-cylinder motor. It is a sissy engine in what's supposed to be a he-man vehicle. Hummer dealers must sell the H3 against the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is available with a V-6 or several V-8s, including the muscular Hemi motor.
Some GM launches have been ruined because the vehicles lacked the right options. Another point: It's good to put a sexy name on a new car. Does anyone think names like SRX (Cadillac) or G6 are sexy?
I blame such shortcomings on General Motors' organization--or better stated, its lack of organization. GM is like an army without generals. It just has a lot of lieutenants and captains running around while the privates look on in wonder. Key divisions, such as Pontiac, Buick and Chevrolet, don't have anyone with the power to get things get done. Lutz is one notable exception, but he can't be everywhere.
One more thing bothers me: how GM has been lurching from one sales promotion to another. The latest deal is the "Employee Discount" on virtually every GM vehicle except for Corvette. Yes, it will work: Sales will rise, inventories will drop and GM will grab back some market share--at least temporarily. But this means GM is giving away five months of overstocked production and it is selling ahead, or moving inventory at giveaway prices to people who might have waited for the '06 models. All this is further conditioning consumers to wait for another outrageous deal before visiting a GM showroom.
Why not just shut down the factories for a month? Probably because the financial men who run GM, and have lost 30% of market share in a dozen years, figure they can improve cash flow with the giveaways. They don't care what it does to the business tomorrow.
As I said, new models are important. But it takes more than that to win in today's auto business.