California Autos Examiner

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blogger Follow-Up Call With Bob Lutz

GM offered bloggers the opportunity to have a follow-up call to today's press conference.

When asked to confirm the hold placed on the Saturn Aura, Lutz stated that it was true that the Aura will not be synchronized with the launch cycle of the Opel Insignia in Europe. The original plan had been to short-cycle the Aura, but by giving the Aura a normal life cycle GM can save some dollars. The Aura has picked up some now that a four cylinder is available.

The Buick Invicta (not the production nameplate necessarily) will be a simultaneous launch next spring with the USA and China (give or take). Lutz believes the Invicta is the nicest mid-size sedan that GM has ever done, "It's going to surprise a lot of people" Lutz quipped. The concept and production should be nearly identical.

Chevrolet Beat (Spark) as it stands is not compliant with US safety standards. The costs to make it compliant and the time required would not make sense for the first generation. GM is looking at the second generation model for the USA.

The delay in bringing the Chevrolet Cruze to market in the USA is several fold: the Cobalt is selling well and the 1.4L DI turbo mill that will launch the product is still being developed.

GMC will see smaller crossover, it will differ vastly from the next Chevrolet Equinox with which it will share its underpinnings.

Lutz continues to believe that diesels aren't going to make up a huge piece of the US market. The added cost of emissions equipment and their adverse effect on fuel economy combined with higher diesel prices make it less advantageous.


The delay in the Aura has been explained, but is there a subtext? There will be a cost savings but also some breathing room to further analyze the market for Saturn. Lutz has said that GM does like the brand and that it attracts a different type of customer. However, with sales being less than expected after a full model makeover, one has to wonder how much longer GM will minister to its baby. My thoughts are that Saturn is a few marketing dollars and a longer warranty away from being somebody. My experience with the Astra showed that the public is woefully unaware of what Saturn is currently offering. If GM can successfully tell the Saturn story and give buyers a reason to buy an Aura over a Malibu or an Outlook instead of a Traverse then I think they can make a go of it. The problem is that marketing budgets don't grow on trees and Saturn has to be selective on where an how it presents its brand to buyers.

I was disappointed to hear that the Beat will not be coming to the US market in the near future. I had hoped that the Beat would have been designed with US standards in mind--something that GM is now doing for most of its platforms going forward. How quickly can GM get a Beat or Groove into dealerships?

Lutz has very strong feelings on diesels. I'm reminded that Lutz also had very powerful feelings about hybrids as well and later changed his tune. Most of the time Maximum Bob does have a vey good sense of the market, but I do hope that GM does not get too far behind the curve with regards to the US diesel market. Lutz pointed out that GM has a wide range of diesels in foreign markets, but as we have seen with the Beat there can be a punishing delay in bringing any foreign product up to US spec. VW is reporting a strong order bank for the TDI Jetta sedan and wagon, but there is likely a pent up demand for such a car from previous owners. I'd wager that Mercedes will see a similar initial surge once its diesel vehicles are 50 state legal. BMW is bringing a very strong, powerful diesel motor to the US--how successful this strategy will be remains to be seen. I'm very anxious for Honda and Nissan's diesel offerings to bow. Recent word has it that Chrysler will also offer a diesel minivan, a very interesting concept for a minivan fan such as myself.


Steven said...

Go back a re-read what Lutz said about diesels. Put that up against what happened to the Jetta TDI. VW has been hawking it as 50MPG+ in the glossy brochures since Dec 2007 and just a few months ago they said 60MPG was possible. Then the EPA testing comes out to 41 MPG. Getting the 50 state emissions right is gonna take a lot of the top of those euro-diesels that GM has already. Are you will to pay two premiums (engine and fuel) for a diesel that was getting 50 MPG in the UK, but now only gets 35 MPG in the US? What kind of PR is that going to be for GM?

rwcmick said...

Lutz could be right on this. However, how far back is "plan d" should diesels take off? Honda is claiming that they will not use a urea SCR NOx aftertreatment system on their diesel and that could greatly simplify things. Certainly DI & turbos are going to bring quite a bit to the table, but until this all plays out it really is vital to look into all fuel options out there.

As for the VW MPG debacle. Yeah, it's true that we were a bit oversold on MPG claims. I would say that in tests by publications far more technical than my blog, diesel vehicles have been beating EPA mileage estimates. For example check out Edmunds recent hybrid vs. diesel comparo where the GLK 320 CDI had an observed city mileage of 22.1 compared to the 18 city on the Mulroney.

rwcmick said...

Sorry, the Edmunds link got cut off there.