California Autos Examiner

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Post of 2008

It's almost 2009, so today is a great time to look back at 2008 and make some predictions for 2009. As far as automakers were concerned, if 2008 was a fish, they would have thrown it back. There was simply no way to predict all that happened. Sure, perhaps you could have foreseen higher gasoline prices, but what about the melt down on Wall Street and the subsequent tanking of energy prices? Inconceivable! Now that we've taken a pounding, what can we expect from '09? Firstly, there is the survival of the big three at stake.

I was shocked when Ford put almost all of its assets up as collateral for loans when Mulally came on board, but now that move looks like sheer genius and I applaud them for it. Frankly, I think Ford is positioning itself quite nicely. They have a nice lineup of cars, trucks and crossovers coming to a dealer near you and reportedly good quality to match. I haven't spent that much time in Fords as of late and when I did the mirror fell off the windshield, but I'm not going to hold that against them. Here's hoping that the reskinned Fusion and Taurus are able to resound with customers!

GM has been in dire straits as of late, but more so because of past decisions than current and forthcoming products. It used to be hit or miss with new vehicles from the General, but as of late most offerings bring great styling and interior trimmings to the plate. I do think that GM will have to "right size" and that will mean axing a lot of the fluff, but in the end it will be all the better for it. Given the recent government assistance for both GM and GMAC, I'm quite confident that the company will live to see more prosperous times.

When it comes to Chrysler, I'm the least optimistic. Except for a few products, the company has very little in the way of compelling offerings for customers. I blame the Germans, who produced such stinkers as the Sebring/Avenger and the God awful interiors of the Caliber/Compass/Patriot. Cerberus has tried to improve Chrysler's products, frequently touting the approval of thousands of upgrades. However, it's just not enough and there is very little on the way to save this sinking ship. Finding buyers for the pickup, minivan and Jeep operations would probably be the best move. Hopefully some of the existing factories could be absorbed by another manufacturer.

As far as the industry in general, 2009 is shaping to be a slow year, but at least we all know that upfront. I could even see things picking up as the year progresses. The problem is to get the right model mix and shy of a crystal ball, that is going to be the biggest challenge. With oil prices in the doldrums, fuel economy may begin to fade from consumers' minds, but it would be foolish to make this bet. The only way to really be competitive is to have flexible factories that can easily shift between models as consumer preferences change.

Well, that is all I've got for you today. I want to wish everyone a safe holiday and a joyous 2009.

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