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The General Motors Story - Part 2

Broadcast date : 4th June 2006

GM has been through tough times over the past few years, and some critics suggested it was the end of the road for the car giant. But how is it possible that the Worldís Number One automaker, with hundreds of different top-selling models, is in financial trouble?

The answer is a social oneÖ its retirement scheme is draining profits as pensioners live on well into their eighties and even nineties, thanks to modern health care. Lutz feels top-notch product will save the day.

There is a new spirit of cohesiveness about General Motorsí global corporate identity. Stylists in all divisions try to reflect both core GM design DNA, while retaining model individuality. No easy task, but the Buick Centaur SUV has been well received.

This is the fun part of the business. Working on a full-size resin model of a car that, nowadays, has been designed to intricate detail on a computer, and seeing it come to life for the first time. The Centaur is an important car for the conservative Buick division.
A new direction for Cadillac is reflected in its Escalade range of Sports Utility Vehicles. For a number of years now, sporty utility vehicles have been Number One sellers, notably for Ford with its F150 range until its reputation was sideswiped by a problem with original equipment tyre failures.

As the standard-bearer for the entire General Motors model line-up, the Cadillac has to offer something special in the SUV market too, and itís obvious that lots of work has gone into making the Caddy Ute a striking piece of mobile architecture.
Globalisation in the motor industry has posed lots of problems for the traditional American approach to cars, where they have been seen as relatively disposable appliances.

For this reason, even up-market American cars have been designed and engineered with production ease and low material costs taking priority in the boardrooms around Detroit.

But the success of top Japanese products like Lexus and Infiniti, and German standard bearers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW has forced companies like GM, Ford and Chrysler to up their game.
There has been an appreciable increase in the quality of fabrics and plastics used in the interiors of cars like the Caddy. This situation that has been forced on the American carmakers as they have realized that they cannot afford to ignore the important markets in Europe, Asia and the Southern Hemisphere.

Comfort has always been king in America, so the idea of in-car entertainment, seats that can fold every which way but loose, and beverage holders are pretty much American stock-in-trade.

So are heavy-handed ladlings of chrome and brash frontal treatments that say "hullo!" without waiting for a formal introduction.

No question. The American approach to automotive chic is still an acquired taste, somewhere between Pimp My Ride and the Country and Western Hall of Fame.

American car stylists are on much more solid ground when rendering a new edition of a genre they created themselves.

Muscle cars were invented in the USA and the concept is simple: a big fat steroidal V8 motor in a relatively light car.

The Camaro is in fact in a muscle-car sub-division called the Pony Car, named after the success of the Ford Mustang. It may have taken GM two years to come out with its own version of a pony car, but ever since, the Camaro has been the king.

Thereís also a distinct customiserís delight in the styling. The people responsible for that chopped roof definitely grew up on a diet of Hot Rod magazine.
Ever since 1967, the Chevrolet Camaro has been that little bit sharper in the handling, that little more responsive in the engine department than its opposition.

When it comes to raw-boned muscle, nobody does it better than the Americans. The 2006 Camaro Concept is a celebration of the American car, with all the good bits emphasized. A superhero of a car, in fact.

In the snow-bound climes of Sweden, itís no surprise that General Motorís Saab division places a heavy emphasis on safety.

The 9-3 convertible is built with typical Swedish thoroughness, but also with strong performance capabilities. In fact Saabs are something of a cult in the UK, a country that has always embraced cars with a somewhat quirky nature.

GM builds a range of convertibles in both Europe and America while the task of the new small Caddy, which South Africans will be enjoying next year, is to gain global acceptance.

The new Cadillac SUV also employs sophisticated diesel technology as part of its engine line-up, and GM is proud of the fact that it has moved far away from low-tech push-rod V8s as its American engine staple, towards high-powered, electronically-managed petrol and turbodiesel engines.

The General Motors Story - part 1

The General Motors Story - part 3

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