The Cash for Clunkers car wreck

Dan Mitchell picks out one thing of the infinitely long list of worst features of the Barack Obama (mis)adminstration:

Three economists (from MIT and Tex A&M) have crunched the numbers and discovered that Obama’s Cash-for-Clunkers scheme back in 2009 was a failure even by Keynesian standards.

The abstract of the study tells you everything you need to know.

The 2009 Cash for Clunkers program aimed to stimulate consumer spending in the new automobile industry, which was experiencing disproportionate reductions in demand and employment during the Great Recession. Exploiting program eligibility criteria in a regression discontinuity design, we show nearly 60 percent of the subsidies went to households who would have purchased during the two-month program anyway; the rest accelerated sales by no more than eight months. Moreover, the program’s fuel efficiency restrictions shifted purchases toward vehicles that cost on average $5,000 less. On net, Cash for Clunkers significantly reduced total new vehicle spending over the ten month period.

This is remarkable. At the time, the most obvious criticism of the scheme was that it would simply alter the timing of purchases.

And scholars the following year confirmed that the program didn’t have any long-run impact.

But now we find out that there was impact, but it was negative. Here’s the most relevant graph from the study.

It shows actual vehicle spending and estimated spending in the absence of the program.

For readers who like wonky details, here’s the explanatory text for Figure 7 from the study.

The effect of the program on cumulative new vehicle spending by CfC-eligible households is shown in Figure 7. The figure shows actual spending and estimates of counterfactual spending if there had been no CfC program. Cumulative spending under the CfC program was larger than counterfactual spending for the months immediately after the program. However, by February 1 the counterfactual expenditures becomes larger and by April has grown to be $4.0 billion more than actual expenditures under the program. It is difficult to make the case that the brief acceleration in spending justifies the loss of $4.0 billion in revenues to the auto industry, for two reasons. First, we calculate that in order to justify the estimated longer-term reduction in cumulative spending to boost spending for a few months, one would need a discount rate of 208 percent. Given the expected (and realized) duration of the recession, it seems difficult to argue in favor of such a discount rate. Second, we note that Cash for Clunkers seems especially unattractive compared to a counterfactual stimulus policy that left out the environmental component, which also would have accelerated purchases for some households without reducing longer-term spending.

By the way, the authors point out that Cash-for-Clunkers wasn’t even good environmental policy.

One could also argue that this decline in industry revenue over less than a year could be justified to the extent the program offered a cost-effective environmental benefit. Unfortunately, the existing evidence overwhelmingly indicates that this program was a costly way of reducing environmental damage. For example, Knittel [2009] estimates that the most optimistic implied cost of carbon reduced by the program is $237 per ton, while Li et al. [2013] estimate the cost per ton as between $92 and $288. These implied cost of carbon figures are much larger than the social costs of carbon of $33 per ton (in 2007 dollars) estimated by the IWG on the Social Cost of Carbon [Interagency Working Group, 2013].

So let’s see where we stand. The program was bad fiscal policy, bad economic policy, and bad environmental policy.

The trifecta of Obamanomics. No wonder the United States suffered the weakest recovery of the post-WWII era.

A comment adds:

You missed one more. It was also bad social policy. There are two more things about the program that bothered me deeply.
Firstly, the program removed from the buying public a source of decent used cars. All of those cars were the types of cars that the less-affluent of our society typically buy. Now they had a choice of either keeping a much older clunker going, or doing with out transportation. Because all of the vehicles within their price range of affordability had been removed from the road.
Secondly as a car collector, I hate what it has done to the used parts market. A whole generation of good used car parts was removed from the marketplace. It was a requirement that the engines on these vehicles be run until they seized, and then the rest of the car was mandated to the crusher. This part never made ANY sense to me.
So, this program made a dent in the normal operational fabric of society that will have implications in the decades to come as well.

One of the accusations of Cash for Clunkers was that it would prompt people to purchase cars they couldn’t afford and then would have repossessed, just like the subprime housing crisis that crashed the entire economy.

Well, a few years later, the National Motorists Association reports:

For the past couple of months, there have been rumblings that auto loans are indeed on the same downward spiral as home loans were in 2008.  Fitch recently announced that loans issued in 2015 may end up being the worst performing ever in the history of auto-loan securitizations. Fitch rates the loans as cumulative net losses projected to reach 15 percent, exceeding the peak loss during the 2008 financial crisis.

This is a slow-moving train wreck however because experts are unsure about loans issued in 2016. The auto loan instability has to do with the fact that institutional investors grabbed subprime auto loan securities because of higher yields (similar to the subprime house loan crisis of 2008). These subprime auto loans have been repackaged several times over and stamped with a high credit rating.

Negative equity has hit an all-time high. During the first three months of 2017, the average negative equity per traded vehicles reached $5,195 which is the highest ever according to Edmunds.  Also the highest ever—the 32.8 percent of trade-ins with negative equity.  When the negative equity is then rolled into the new loan for the new vehicle—the consumer starts in a steep hole. In the event of a loan default, net losses soar.

Why all this negative equity? Business Insider says there are three reasons:

1)    Even though vehicle prices have gone up, consumers buy more expensive models because interest rates are low and longer loan terms keep the payments at an affordable monthly cost.

2)    Loan terms are longer. In the first three months of 2017, loan terms reached a record 69 months. Terms between 73 and 84 months (seven years) accounted for 32.1 percent of all vehicle loans in the fourth quarter of 2016, up from 29 percent in 2015 during the same period. Used-vehicle loans accounted for 18 percent, a two-percent increase from 2015.

3)    Used vehicle values are falling. In May, the Used Vehicle Price Index by J.D. Power Valuation Services declined for the tenth month in a row.

Also, just like with the mortgage crisis, many consumers who are seeking funds to buy a car do not really have the credit rating or the money to buy a car but are lured in with less than stellar lending practices. This usually means much higher interest rates for people who are already on the edge financially.

How can all this affect a motorist?

The New York Times recently profiled a subprime auto loan borrower named Yvette Harris who is still paying off her 1997 Mitsubishi even after it was repossessed.  Her auto lender took her to court and garnished her wages in order to pay off the difference of the sale value of the car and the outstanding loan. This is now a common practice of subprime lenders. Unable to recover the balance of loans by repossessing and reselling the cars, some are aggressively suing borrowers to collect what remains.

Why not take the chance on a risky borrower?

If he or she defaults, subprime lenders can repossess the vehicle and persuade a judge in 46 states to garnish the borrower’s wages to cover the balance of the car loan.

The impending subprime auto loan crisis might indeed be worse than the recent subprime loan mortgage crises for individuals. With a mortgage, a homeowner could turn the keys in and walk away. Not so with auto loan debt. Repossession is just the beginning of the quagmire for many car owners caught in the subprime auto loan trap. New York Legal Assistance Group consumer lawyer Shanna Tallarico said, “Low-income earners are shackled to this debt.”

In February, a Bloomberg article stated “To be clear, this doesn’t point to an imminent, 2008-style meltdown. After all, the U.S. auto-loan market is about $1.1 trillion, which pales in comparison with the $8.9 trillion U.S. mortgage market and $8.6 trillion of dollar-denominated corporate credit. And only about one-quarter of the outstanding car loans have been extended to subprime borrowers, who are the ones having the problems.”

Yvette Harris, the single mother living in the Bronx, mentioned earlier says this has been a nightmare. Even after $4,133 of her wages were garnished and she paid an additional $2,743 on her own, the lender still sought an additional $6,500. All for a vehicle that probably has a blue-book value less than $2,000.

 

On National Corvette Day and Drive Your Corvette to Work Day …

click here to read everything I have ever written about America’s sports car …

… which, because life is unfair, is not my sports car.

Today is the 64th anniversary of the completion of the first Corvette. Two days before that

Let them eat cake and walk

James Taylor of the Spark of Freedom Foundation (and thus not the singer):

Anti-fracking activists are resorting to a curious line of argument in their zeal to ban natural resource recovery through hydraulic fracturing: that rural communities are better off with economic stagnation than the ‘harms’ of abundant jobs and a vibrant economy.

In an Associated Press story published Friday, Sierra Club spokesperson Wayde Schafer called the North Dakota oil boom a “nightmare.” With the advent of new fracking and directional drilling technologies a decade ago, North Dakota’s shale oil deposits fueled unprecedented economic growth in the state. Even during the Great Recession, unemployment never topped 4.3 percent in the state. Unemployment currently stands at 3.0 percent.

“There are hundreds more jobs than takers in the heart of North Dakota’s oil patch,” the Associated Press reports.

Young workers without a college degree can earn over $100,000 per year in the oil fields. Job Service North Dakota spokesperson Phil Davis told the Associated Press oil production is creating jobs throughout the economy. In Williston, the heart of North Dakota oil country, “Every business on Main Street needs staff,” says Davis.

North Dakotans are quite pleased with the benefits of energy production, fracking, and the pro-fracking Republican Party. Republicans outnumber Democrats by a greater than four-to-one margin in the State Senate (38-9) and by a greater than six-to-one margin in the House of Representatives (81-13). Even the few Democrats elected to higher office, like U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, are decidedly pro-fracking.

Despite North Dakotans showing through their votes that they are ecstatic with the benefits of fracking, the San Francisco-based Sierra Club and the anti-fracking left engage in twisted pretzel logic attempting to spin the fracking economy as a nightmare. According to CNBC, all the high-paying jobs and dramatic rise in living standards means North Dakotans are being “crushed by truck traffic, plagued by lagging infrastructure, and shocked by a surge in violent crimes.”

Of course, a vibrant, expanding economy will always generate more truck traffic. A growing population will create more acts of charity as well as more acts of crime. And infrastructure always needs to be expanded and updated when people are using them more. These are small prices to be paid for rising living standards, and Norther Dakotans are proving with their votes that they are happy to meet these modest challenges that accompany economic opportunity.

Despite proof positive in North Dakota and other states that communities appreciate the benefits of fracking wealth and economic opportunity, the Sierra Club is not alone claiming a vibrant economy and rising living standards are bad for rural America. In a paper attempting to justify the ban on fracking in New York State, New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker – a Bronx native – argues “community impacts” are a factor justifying the ban. Zucker defines these impacts as “increased vehicle traffic, road damage, noise, odor complaints, increased demand for housing and medical care, and stress.”

It is easy for Bronx natives who were educated and who spent most of their careers in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Washington DC, to tell the rural communities they occasionally drive through that they are better off being poor and without economic opportunity. The people who actually live there feel differently.

One of the less-noticed causes of the Great Recession that began in 2008 (and ended when Barack Obama left office) was the 2008 spike in energy prices, when gas prices jumped over $4 per gallon and diesel prices jumped over $5 per gallon. Since fuel costs figure heavily in the transportation of any product, including food, remember what happened to food prices?

If energy independence is a goal, but so is transportation freedom, it makes sense to generate as much energy in this country as possible. Energy independence helps further the goal of destroying OPEC and the oil sheiks.

The price of driving

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

A sweeping Republican proposal to fund transportation and cut taxes would flatten income tax rates, lower the gas tax and raise new funding for roads by applying the sales tax to gasoline.

The goal of the plan, which is subject to change, is to hold gas prices steady by lowering the state’s 9.18 percent minimum markup on gas prices, according to Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

That means more money for the transportation fund could come from the bottom lines of companies that benefit from higher retail gas prices under the minimum markup law — both large national retailers and locally owned stores. Critics, however, say the money could also end up coming from consumers at the pump.

“If we do it right, the price at the pump will be exactly the same,” Macco said.

One of the goals of the proposal is to cut borrowing in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 budget plan from $500 million to $200 million.

In addition to the transportation funding changes, the plan also includes the first steps in eventually creating a 4 percent flat income tax over the next 11 years, Macco said. He declined to offer specifics.

Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, the architect of the plan, declined to comment before it is presented to the Assembly Republican caucus on Thursday.

Macco, who has been briefed on the plan, agreed to discuss some of the details after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an outline Tuesday citing unnamed sources.

Under the current thinking, the gas tax would be reduced by 4 to 7 cents per gallon, Macco said. It is currently 30.9 cents per gallon. Also the minimum markup on gasoline — currently 9.18 percent — would be reduced so as to bring gas prices down another 7 cents, Macco said.

The Depression-era Unfair Sales Act prohibits retailers from selling merchandise at less than cost and also sets a minimum price for tobacco, alcohol and gasoline.

The gas price reductions would be offset by applying the 5 percent state sales tax and any local sales tax to gasoline, which currently costs $2.26 in Madison.

Asked about Kooyenga’s proposal after Tuesday’s Assembly session, Rep. John Nygren, who co-chairs the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, said only that the plan will be “revenue-neutral,” a term that typically means a proposal’s net impact to state revenues is zero when accounting for all tax and fee changes.

Walker offered a similar proposal during the 2014 gubernatorial election. He has discussed the Assembly transportation proposal with Kooyenga, but didn’t want to divulge details Tuesday because it is in flux.

“If people are talking about cutting the gas tax as a way of reforming the system as opposed to raising revenue, I think that’s certainly something worth looking at if it’s a reduction in the gas tax,” Walker said.

Walker has sparred openly with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, about how to resolve a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the transportation fund in the upcoming biennium.

Walker has proposed borrowing, delaying projects and using general fund taxes to pay for transportation, but he has said he will veto a gas tax increase. Vos has called for leaving all options on the table, including raising the gas tax as a long-term solution.

Democrats have called for indexing the gas tax to inflation, a way of raising money to pay for road projects that was eliminated in the 2005-07 budget.

Macco noted by applying the sales tax to gasoline, the amount of revenue the state receives will increase as gas prices increase, though it would also decrease as gas prices decrease.

Part of the reason transportation funding has stagnated is cars are becoming more fuel-efficient and people are buying less gasoline.

Brandon Scholz, executive director of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, panned the proposal, saying the minimum markup law doesn’t increase prices as much as opponents say it does. The result will be retailers passing on the cost of the sales tax increase to consumers, he said.

“This is a tax increase. This is not a tax decrease,” Scholz said. “It’s kind of a smoke-and-mirrors gig.” …

Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said the proposal is a commentary on how far Assembly Republicans have to go to persuade Walker to support increased revenue for roads, especially when he previously said he would support a gas tax increase if there was an offsetting tax cut.

“It is truly amazing and amusing the number of hoops they have to jump through to effectively raise the gas tax and index it,” Berry said. “You can’t fault them for the creativity or the cleverness of it.”

It will be interesting to see where this proposal goes. Being revenue-neutral is good, because Wisconsin’s taxes should be cut, not increased.

One simple step that I’m surprised hasn’t come up before is to apportion sales taxes from motor vehicle purchases to road uses. That would mean that sales tax revenue couldn’t be used for something else, and government hates that.

The minimum markup on gasoline should be eliminated, not reduced.

Mark of eccentricity, or when did this seem like a good idea?

I am a member of several automobile-oriented groups on Facebook, including Cars Modified in Ways That Dumbfound.

While that group has whose vehicles were modified in ways that defy reason …

… this country’s automakers have occasionally sent out into the world vehicles with features, or sometimes lacking features, that make one wonder about the decision process that led up to that dubious judgment.

It seems as though most of those came from General Motors, which by the 1950s was the nation’s largest company in terms of revenues as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, the largest private-sector employer in the world, and the first U.S. company to pay more than $1 billion in taxes.

 

For all of GM’s innovations — the first self-starter, the Cadillac V-8s, the Chevy small-block V-8, their current automatic transmission design — GM’s major sin has been sending vehicles and technology into the marketplace before they were really ready to be there. One example was the 1980s Pontiac Fiero, a mid-engine two-seater with not much engine until a V-6 was installed. The much more fun driving experience of a V-6 in a light car lasted until the Fiero was canceled three years after the V-6 was introduced. (Apparently publicity about engine fires, a hallmark of the original engine, has a negative effect on car sales.) A much wider example was GM’s 1981 Computer Command Control, which was supposed to improve performance and fuel economy. Instead, it introduced the car-buying world to the yellow Check Engine light.

In 1960, Chevrolet began selling the Corvair, its first rear-engine rear-wheel-drive vehicle after decades of selling cars with the engine in the front and the drive wheels in back. Yes, Volkswagen sold air-cooled rear-mounted flat-engine rear-drive Beetles. Yes, Nash, which became AMC, entered the compact market 10 years earlier with the Rambler. But, for instance, one has to question the utility of a station wagon …

… or a pickup truck …

… or a van …

… where loads have to be placed over the engine. (Each was gone by the Corvair’s redesign in 1965.)

The bigger issue was the Corvair’s handling; engine weight over the rear wheels made them oversteer, as opposed to the traditional understeer of front-engine rear-drive vehicles. The suspension design not only made oversteer worse, it helped make the rear wheels bounce off the road surface, which doesn’t help, you know, controlling the vehicle. A change in suspension design for the second-generation Corvair made them handle much better, but why didn’t GM introduce that design for the first generation? Did GM test the cars in (imitation) real-world use enough to figure out they had a suspension problem?

Shortly after the Corvair debuted, GM’s other divisions (except for Cadillac, which was 15 years away from introducing something that wasn’t the size of an aircraft carrier) introduced their own compact cars on the same unibody chassis — the Pontiac Tempest, whose base engine was half (literally) of a V-8, with a rear-mounted transaxle (later to be seen on the Corvette); the Oldsmobile F-85; and the Buick Special, each of which had as standard or optional an aluminum-block 215 V-8, the basic design of which can be found in, of all vehicles, the Land Rover Range Rover. (The Buick also offered a 198 V-6, the design of which was sold to Jeep a few years later, only to have GM get it back in the early 1970s and use it into the late 1980s.) Chevy, meanwhile, came up with its own compact, the Chevy II, though on a different platform after the Corvair was badly outsold by the Ford Falcon.

The Tempest, F-85 and Special at least were attempts at innovation, which went away by 1964, when the redesigned intermediates were all variations on the same basic design, in part because of a steady increase of buyer interest in horsepower. But GM, and other carmakers, noticed an interest in smaller import cars, smaller even than the Corvair. And so with uncommon (for GM) speed, the company introduced …

The car was styled by Bill Mitchell, so of course it looks good. Ed Cole, who brought the world the modern Chevy small-block V-8, was its designer; he became GM’s president. The lead designer had worked on the Nova and Camaro, the small-block V-8 with Cole, and the Turbo Hydramatic automatic transmission, which has been used by GM for more than 50 years.

And that’s where things started to go horribly wrong. CheatSheet Autos explains:

Nothing had ever been done like this before, and from the get go, it was apparent that GM simply wasn’t up to the task. Dubbed project XP-887, Cole tapped recently-appointed Chevy brand chief John DeLorean to be cheerleader for the new car in the press. Almost immediately, he didn’t like what he saw. In his book On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors, DeLorean recalled:

From the first day I stepped into Chevrolet, the Vega was in trouble. General Motors was basing its image and reputation on the car, and there was practically no interest in it in the division. We were to start building the car in about a year, and nobody wanted anything to do with it. Chevy’s engineering staff was only going through the motions of preparing the car for production, but nothing more. Engineers are a very proud group. They take interest and pride in their designs, but this was not their car and they did not want to work on it.

By late 1968, Chevy had a running prototype, but in a sign of things to come, the front end sheared off after just eight miles of testing.

Fixing the front end meant adding weight, so engineers looked to shed pounds elsewhere. Inner fenders were deleted, as were plastic fender lines to combat rust, saving a whopping $2.28 per car. And instead of an iron block, they used a new 2.3 liter die-cast aluminum block inline-four. GM had built aluminum engine blocks with no major issues before, but this mill was different. Its heavy cast-iron head outweighed the block, and on top of vibration issues that caused the carburetors to rattle them selves apart, high compression caused engine blocks to warp and fail should temperatures climb over 230 degrees.

Strike three for the Vega was the car’s construction. Contrary to popular belief, GM did rust proof the cars, but its design allowed for air pockets to develop between the front fenders, cowl, and firewall during the rustproofing process, leaving the steel in those areas dangerously unprotected. Yet while all these defects were known to company brass, the Vega debuted on September 10, 1970, and just like GM hoped, it was a huge success.

1970 was when Detroit got serious about import fighters. American Motors snagged a Newsweek cover in April with the release of its subcompact Gremlin, and Ford’s Pinto became ubiquitous overnight, famously being described as “the car nobody loved but everybody bought.” Chevy was late to the party, but it hardly made a difference. Two years overdue and well over-budget (GM spent $200 million on the XP-887 project, or around $1.2 billion today), the Vega instantly became the star of the American subcompact segment, with its good looking kamm-tail body and mini-Camaro front end. It was slightly more expensive than the Pinto and Gremlin, but looked better, handled better – and at first, was almost completely unavailable.

General Motors spent $75 million retooling its production facility in Lordstown, Ohio specifically for the Vega, going full speed ahead while labor relations hit an all-time low. The company boasted that the semi-automated assembly line could build 100 Vegas and hour, and fit 30 of them into specially-designed freight cars, a drastic improvement over the standard 18 vehicles per boxcar.

But these advances in automation came with waves of pay cuts and layoffs. Workers at Lordstown briefly went on strike in late 1970, and again for 22 days in 1972, with the plant becoming the focal point of national labor relations as workers intentionally slowed down production and sabotaged cars to retaliate against company policies. As Vega supplies ebbed and flowed, “Lordstown Syndrome” became shorthand for the troubling times in the automotive world. For GM, it was only going to get worse.

The Vega won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award for 1971, with the magazine concluding, “…the Chevrolet Vega 2300 is Motor Trend’s 1971 Car of the Year by way of engineering excellence, packaging, styling, and timeliness. As such, we are saying that, for the money, no other American car can deliver more.”

But within a year, the car was already starting to lose its shine. By the end of 1972, GM would issue recalls for over 500,000 Vegas to cover defective axles, sticky throttles, and electrical issues that could cause a fire. And once that first winter hit, owners in the Northeast began complaining about their fenders rusting through; by ’73, Vegas in the arid Southwest began to rust too. Engines began to seize, and soon Chevy was swamped with angry customers. The American public had been conned; the Vega was a lemon, and it quickly became the poster child for everything that was wrong in Detroit. GM addressed the corrosion issues with galvanized bodies in ’73 and ’74, and completed an emergency redesign for the car and engine for ’75, but it was too little, too late. …

From 1971 to 1980, Chevy sold over 3.5 million Vegas and other H-body models. Despite their fantastic potential, a litany of recalls and atrocious build quality means that they’ve all but disappeared from American roads. The few that survive have become a symbol for all that went wrong in the American auto industry after 1970. There’s a direct line from the Vega to the Monza to the Cavalier to the Cobalt, and while each of them could be considered a fantastic sales success for the company, their reputations for being unreliable, unsafe, and embarrassing to be seen in ensure that none of them are remembered very fondly.

I have written about station wagons occasionally on this blog. This was another area for strange GM decisions. Before the early 1970s GM had a normal tailgate for its big …

… midsize …

… and compact wagons.

But someone thought it would be fun, or something, to mess with a successful, though conventional, design. And so GM introduced …

… the clamshell tailgate for its full-sized wagons, with the metal half folding into the floor and the glass half moving upward into the ceiling. (Except in cases of mechanical failures.)

For its midsize wagons …

… instead of the aforementioned conventional tailgate (being used by its competitors) GM thought a giant hatchback would be a good idea. (That was the completely opposite direction of the clamshell.)

Neither Ford nor Chrysler jumped on the clamshell bandwagon, nor did either jump on the monster hatchback trend. When GM redesigned its big cars, the clamshell did not survive:

The aforementioned wagon represented the first phase in GM’s three-phase downsizing of most of its cars in the late ’70s.

The full-size B-bodies and C-bodies were a home run in terms of design.

The intermediate A-bodies, well, less so.

Notice the rear door. The window did not roll down. (Nor on the wagon.) The reason was that the engineers removed the window mechanism in order to add elbow room through hollowing out the door. (I can speak from experience that extra elbow room was useless where it was located.)

The A-bodies were the second round of GM downsizing. The third round was the most radical, replacing the Chevy Nova …

… with the revolutionary (for GM, though Japanese manufacturers had them for years before) Chevy Citation, Pontiac Phoenix, Olds Omega and Buick Skylark:

(Side note: In 1977, the downsized Caprice was the same size as the last-year Malibu. In 1989, the downsized Malibu was the same size as the next-to-last-year Nova. One might think GM could have just called the 1977 Malibu a Caprice and the 1978 Nova a Malibu. GM did that with the Pontiac Bonneville a few years later. Bad, bad idea.)

Given that GM had started working on the Citation five years before introduction (in 1979 as a 1980 model), you’d think GM would have fixed its issues before Citations went to dealerships. Instead, the more than 800,000 first-model-year Citation buyers discovered an old-design and crude four-cylinder engine (previously seen in the Vega), a new concept called “torque steer” (front-wheel-drive oversteering upon applying foot to gas pedal), rear brakes that locked alarmingly often (antilock brakes were a few years away), and, by the way, poor build quality and worse reliability. The most radical design GM had attempted to date lasted six model years, though its inclusion on numerous Worst Car Ever Sold lists has lasted far longer.

On to pickup trucks. For the first half-century or so of their use, pickup trucks had one seat. While International offered a crew cab pickup in 1957 …

… followed by Dodge in 1963 …

… Ford in 1965 …

… and Chevrolet in 1973:

The crew cabs had fairly small customer bases — the military, government and railroads. You’ll note that the crew cabs are very long, longer than even the huge sedans of the day.

The same year Chevy and GMC got around to introducing their crew cabs Dodge introduced its Club Cab pickup, which was the first to have a (very small) back seat in a two-door pickup truck:

Two years later, in 1975 Ford introduced its SuperCab:

It only took Chevy and GMC 13 more years to build an extended-cab pickup:

One assumes based on the introduction dates — 1973 for the Crew Cab and 1988 for the extended cab, the first years of new-design pickups — that GM lazily waited until a new pickup design to get around to a new model already being offered by its competitors. (And when the extended-cab pickup came out, Chevy and GMC kept selling their old-design crew cab pickup; GM didn’t get around to a new-design crew cab until four years later.) No wonder Ford has outsold Chevy in pickups for years.

The same cannot be said about minivans, introduced by Chrysler in 1984, GM in 1985 and Ford in 1986. The difference between Chrysler’s minivans and GM and Ford’s is that the latter were based on their compact pickups, the S-10 and Ranger, respectively. (Each also developed a small SUV, the Blazer and Bronco II, respectively, based on the same small pickups.) Lee Iacocca came up with the idea for the minivan at Ford …

… but Henry Ford II wasn’t interested. Upon being fired at Ford, Iacocca took his idea with him to Chrysler, whose minivan was based on the K-car platform. The Chrysler minivans sold much better than their competition, and probably paved the way for more car-like vehicles such as the Honda Odyssey van and Pilot SUV, both based on the Accord sedan.

GM had multiple responses when it became apparent the Astro (and GMC Safari) were losing in the minivan sales race. Its first was the Lumina APV, based on the (by now midsize) Lumina sedan …

… immediately dubbed the “Dustbuster” (as were the Pontiac Trans Sport and Olds Silhouette) for their resemblance to the Black & Decker portable vacuum cleaner.

A few years after the Dustbuster went away, Pontiac came out with a concept vehicle, the Aztek …

… which proved popular enough on the car show circuit to make Pontiac decide to build them. But to prove the old saw about a camel being a horse designed by committee, and repeating its sin with the Trans Sport, which unlike the concept …

… was a warmed-over Dustbuster …

… Pontiac didn’t send that Aztek to market:

So what went wrong? Popular Mechanics explains:

Back in the bad old days at GM, the people in charge of vehicle manufacturing had huge control over how vehicles looked. Designers knew what they wanted GM’s first crossover to look like, but in the convoluted corporate world of the 1990s, GM’s own manufacturing team wouldn’t give it to them. The excuse? It would have cost too much.

That decision cost GM dearly … and not just in dollars.

The hideous slab-sided production horror that debuted in 2001 shares little with the 1999 concept. … Their proportions are completely different. The most visible alteration was to the angular roof of the concept that looked much like the production Chevrolet Equinox.

If the concept had made it to production, the fate of the Aztek would likely have been much different. Instead, the Aztek earned its title as the ugliest car in the world, and helped kill off the Pontiac brand.

Road & Track columnist Bob Lutz was hired from Chrysler to GM right as the production Aztek was introduced:

A bad car happens in stages. The Aztek concept car was a much leaner vehicle. Decent proportions. It got everybody excited. At the time, GM was criticized for never doing anything new, never taking a chance. So Wagoner and the automotive strategy board decreed that henceforth, 40 percent of all new GM products would be “innovative.” That started a trend toward setting internal goals that meant nothing to the customer. Everything that looked reasonably radical got green-lit.

These things require a culture of complete acquiescence and intimidation, led by a strong dictatorial individual who wants it that way.

The guy in charge of product development was Don Hackworth, an old-school guy from the tradition of shouts, browbeating, and by-God-I-want-it-done. He said, “Look. We’ve all made up our minds that the Aztek is gonna be a winner. It’s gonna astound the world. I don’t want any negative comments about this vehicle. None. Anybody who has bad opinions about it, I want them off the team.” As if the public is gonna give a sh** about team spirit. Obviously, the industry is trying to get away from that approach.

Early on, the Aztek obviously failed the market research. But in those days, GM went ahead with quite a few vehicles that failed product clinics. The Aztek didn’t just fail—it scored dead last. Rock bottom. Respondents said, “Can they possibly be serious with this thing? I wouldn’t take it as a gift.” And the GM machine was in such denial that it rejected the research and just said, “What do those a**holes know?”

The danger with the totalitarian management style is that people won’t speak up when there’s a problem. They’ll get their heads cut off or the messenger gets shot. …

One guy I informally interviewed about how the Aztek happened was one of the top guys on the project. And this guy, he looks at me and he says, “I’m proud of it.” Proud of the Aztek? “Yup. That was the best program we ever did at GM. We made all our internal goals, we made the timing, and I’m really proud of the part I played in it.” He had tears in his eyes. It was almost tragic. Everybody wanted to will this thing to succeed, and it didn’t work. All the emotional commitment and pride in the program was that it achieved all its internal objectives. And it was probably one of the great defeats in his life, or in his career.

For a company known for excess bureaucracy — which might explain the tardy introduction of extended-cab or crew-cab pickups, which cost GM lots of money given that pickups then and now are hugely profitable — one wonders how the Corvair and the other design oddities got to market. (“Totalitarian managment” is probably right on.) Every time a business debuts a poorly-thought-out product or service, or rebrands itself in a curious way (for instance, Wisconsin Electric renaming itself “We Energies”), one thinks there was a guy in a room who did not speak up when he (or she) should have about how dumb this idea was. Call him or her Mr. or Ms. Non-Groupthink.

 

Great moments in economics, motor vehicle division

GM Inside News reports:

General Motors has announced the leftist-led Venezuelan authorities have illegally seized its manufacturing plant and industrial hub in Valencia, reports Reuters.

The country of Venezuela, which remains in a deep economic crisis, did not respond to a request for comment on the situation when forwarded to the information ministry.

“Yesterday, GMV’s (General Motors Venezolana) plant was unexpectedly taken by the public authorities, preventing normal operations. In addition, other assets of the company, such as vehicles, have been illegally taken from its facilities,” the company said in a statement.

GM vowed to “take all legal actions” to defend its rights after the seizing halted operations in the country. GM estimates irreversible damage to take place and fears the worst for its 2,678 workers, 79 dealers and local suppliers.

The Venezuelan government isn’t a stranger to temporary taking things over. In 2014, the government seized two plants belonging to U.S. cleaning products maker Clorox Co which had left the country.

Many plants in the country are barely producing much of anything at all, thanks to dwindling raw materials and currency controls. In 2015, Ford wrote off its entire investment in the country by taking an $800 million pre-tax write-down.

If I were GM management I wouldn’t be holding my breath about those “legal actions.” I once erred on Wisconsin Public Radio when I mentioned that Hugo Chavez was president of Venezuela after he had died. Of course, the only discernible difference between Chavezuela and post-Chavez Venezuela is that the latter’s president is still breathing air.

GMI’s update:

Earlier, Venezuelan sources had reported the seizure stemmed from a 17-year-old lawsuit with a dealer group in Maracaibo, but it turns out the situation is much worse than first thought.

Enrique Tahan, head of corporate and government relations for General Motors in Venezuela, told the New York Times that the plant has effectively been occupied for the last 42 days after being taken over by one of the company’s unions.

GM did ask the government for help reclaiming the facility, but instead, in a stunning show of socialism, the government took over the Valencian plant for itself.

“In other words, we are twice out of control of our plant,” Mr. Tahan told The Grey Lady. Members of the union were still able to enter the plant after the takeover, but the government was still barring GMV’s managers from setting foot inside. …

This isn’t the first, nor the last time the Venezuelan government will take someone else’s stuff, since 1998 it has expropriated more than 1,400 private businesses.

Part of GM’s problem, according to CNN, is that it didn’t bail out of Venezuela fast enough:

A slew of global firms have pulled out of the country or been forced to halt operations as a result of government interference or moves to put key sectors of the economy under state control.

ExxonMobil (XOM) pulled the plug on its operations in Venezuela in 2007 after former President Hugo Chavez attempted to nationalize one of its projects. The oil producer then took the government to court.

In 2016, Kleenex maker Kimberly-Clark (KMB) suspended its operations in Venezuela, citing the country’s “rapidly escalating inflation” and the “continued deterioration of economic and business conditions.”

The government called the closure illegal. It took over operations at the facility days later, according to state-run media.

Coca-Cola (KO) was also forced to halt production of Coke and other sugar-sweetened beverages last year due to a sugar shortage.

The irony of Government Motors, bailed out by this country’s government (when it should not have been) almost a decade ago (losing the taxpayers $10.5 billion in the process), having its assets seized by another country’s government is certainly rich. Between GM’s illegal bailout (and associated unconscionable Cash for Clunkers) and its failure to figure out it needed to leave (even though GM had been in the country for seven decades because it wanted to sell cars in South America), I can’t say I have much sympathy for GM, though there is no case where nationalizing an industry is an appropriate government activity.

Jazz Shaw adds:

If nothing else, this incident will provide an enlightening, educational moment for the rest of the world. It’s a given that this is bad news for General Motors, for the workers there… let’s just say it. This is bad news for everyone except Maduro and his cronies. But it also serves to further pull away the mask, allowing the rest of the world to see what’s actually going on. So gather around, kids, because we’re not only seeing how socialism ends (and it always ends this way) but also how the socialist machinery operates through the various phases of its life cycle.

Originally, the government tolerates the presence of foreign manufacturing entities such as General Motors to fill needs they have which can’t be handled domestically. (GM has been there for roughly seven decades.) It’s not that the Venezuelan people are incapable of innovation or creation… there’s simply no motivation for them to strive for success. Anything they create simply becomes the property of the state anyway, so the hard working, innovative person doesn’t realize much more success than the guy who can barely keep his eyes open to show up for his job sweeping the sidewalk. There’s no point to being particularly innovative.

So companies such as GM are allowed to go to work. But once the system inevitably begins to implode, the tyrant in charge begins looking for new resources to grab. In the name of the socialist concept wherein everything “belongs to the people” he seizes the GM plant. They take the cars which are there to hand out to high ranking party officials and divide up the assets while demanding that the workers get back to producing automobiles. This is, of course, impossible because they don’t have the parts to do it and the people who actually know how to run things are fleeing.

These are the fruits of socialism. It’s a humanitarian disaster to be sure, but it’s also a teachable moment. Watch and learn.

Detectives on wheels

While looking for something else (Again?, readers ask), I hit upon the idea of combining two of my favorite subjects — fictional detectives and cars — though I’ve done that before here.

The imperative to create online lists of everything (i.e. top 10 reasons you should read The Presteblog, and by the way YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE NUMBER 7!) has created, to no surprise, several lists of top fictional detectives’ wheels, both here and abroad.

Remember the words “detective” (indicating non-marked police cars) and, most importantly, “fictional.” Along with Raymond Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder and Ten Commandments for the Detective Novel, someone online created this less serious list of private-detective fiction requirements, from which number eight is appropriate for this blog:

  1. Jazzy or Rhythmic Theme Music (if vocalized, should include your name).
  2. At least four suits with assorted ties and one complete tux (for weddings and similar occasions).
  3. A smartass attitude, a smart deductive wit along with a smart mouth (optional depending on who’s holding the gun).
  4. An Admin Specialist who know where all information is stored (along with all hiding places of liquor supply)
  5. The ability to safely tuck and roll while jumping or leaping from a moving vehicle (VERY IMPORTANT!!)
  6. Cache of unlimited funds for informants, bribes and paying off shady gangland figures.
  7. Backup PI partner for real sticky cases or situations (or in case of your untimely demise, will feel obligated to “do something about it”).
  8. A jazzy looking sports car of any year, make or model (SUVs and trucks for emergencies only).
  9. Reliable contact within the Police Department (’cause when the $#!% goes down, SOMEONE’s gonna have to answer the real tough questions).
  10. A capable doctor and a smart, savvy lawyer (preferably of “Perry Mason” caliber).

One of the obvious cars on The Guardian‘s list, Starsky and Hutch’s Ford Torino (which, as with much of you will see herein, fits both rules 1 and 8, at least in the series’ first-season guise) …

… is about as likely to be used by real police detectives as, well, the Ferraris of “Miami Vice”:

Of course, Thomas Magnum can use a Ferrari — well, Robin Masters’ Ferrari (which was modified so Tom Selleck could sit in it):

So could San Francisco police Lt. Frank Bullitt own a Ford Mustang, because it was his personal car that he just happened to be driving on a Sunday morning while doing some work:

So could L.A. private detective Jim Rockford:

The lines got blurred with (one assumes) a Bullitt successor, the SFPD’s Nash Bridges:

To this list I add a detective who may not have made the list because he drove several cars, Joe Mannix …

This was an Oldsmobile Toronado customized into a convertible by George Barris. It was seen in the titles and few other places.

… and a car that doesn’t make nearly enough appearances on TV:

(Apparently the world is waiting for me to create a Corvette-based work of fiction.)

Toptenz contributed its own list of iconic British detective (well, with at least one stretch) cars:

Lotus 7, The Prisoner

Nothing was conventional in the surreal world of the 1960s series The Prisoner, including the choice of car for the lead character Number Six, played by Patrick McGoohan.  Eschewing the director’s suggestion that Number Six should drive a Lotus Elan, McGoohan himself picked out the Lotus 7 arguing that the lightweight two-seater sports car better reflected Number Six’s maverick and freedom-loving persona.

Ironically, said Lotus was driven only in the beginning of every episode pre-capture and in the final scene of the last episode. Motor vehicles apparently were prohibited in The Village.

Volvo P1800, The Saint

Roger Moore’s embodiment of the suave Samaritan Simon Templar meant that nothing less than an ultra-cool car would suffice. Initially a Jaguar was sought, but the company turned down The Saint’s producers fearing that the programme would be unsuccessful. Whoops. For the next seven years Moore drove instead a Volvo P1800: a stylish 2 litre sports car that symbolised Simon Templar’s virtuous, good-looking, sophisticated yet adventurous nature. Roger Moore was so impressed by the Volvo P1800 that he bought one for himself.

Mark III Ford Capri, The Professionals

Tough, reliable, responsive, fast and able to cope in a sticky situation. Are we talking about the car or Bodie and Doyle, mercenary crime-fighters a.k.a. ‘The Professionals’? With its menacing throaty growl, the souped-up 3 litre Mark III Capri stood out in a series that featured many other cars that are considered classics today. With demanding car chases a staple of this action-packed show, the Mark III Capri was a natural choice, not only for its speed but for its (then) sleek lines and agile handling.

1983 Audi Quattro, Ashes to Ashes

“Fire up the Quattro!” barks Detective Inspector Gene Hunt. This is the 1980s, and Hunt’s sporty, four-wheel drive, red Audi Quattro is perfect for throwing around corners and mowing down piles of cardboard boxes in the high-speed pursuit of villains. Getting from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds and a top speed of 140mph helps. And Gene Hunt would no doubt be delighted to know that thanks to his patronage of the classic Audi Quattro demand for 1980s models doubled. Proof, as if further proof was needed, of just how iconic the cars used in British TV shows can become even now.

Ford Granada (various), The Sweeney

Jack Regan, as played by John Thaw (again) was the hard-hitting no-nonsense guv’nor in this 1970s cop series based around the crime busting exploits of the Met’s flying squad. Only a tough-looking dependable brute of a car such as the Ford Granada would do for Jack. Swapping between the Granada S and the Granada Ghia at will, Regan and his sidekick George Carter would routinely chase the baddies at high speeds in these 3 litre beasts before leaping out and cuffing the miscreants with a cry of ‘You’re nicked, Sonny’! Luckily for the production team, not only was the Granada good looking, gruff and well suited to Regan’s character it was also light for its size making it a good choice for stunt work.

The aforementioned “Ashes to Ashes” was a spinoff of the series “Life on Mars,” described thusly by Honest John:

Detective Inspector Gene Hunt, star of Life On Mars, was a no-nonsense copper from the ‘70s, so what better car for him than a beige Ford Cortina? Despite famously trading up to an Audi Quattro in the Ashes To Ashes spinoff, set in the 1980s, the Hunt made his mark in a 1974 Mk III Cortina GXL.

That said, the car used for filming was actually made up of various Cortina parts, rendering it unfaithful to the model year it was supposed to be from: some viewers spotted that its spoiler, for example, wasn’t introduced until the 1975 Cortina, while the dashboard was from a later, facelifted car. Quite.

Away from the home islands, Australia brings us, of course, Mad Max:

A Danish–Swedish series called “The Bridge” apparently includes a Porsche …

… of which actor Sofia Hein tells The Guardian:

‘It’s horrible, I hate that car … I don’t hate it. I love-hate it. The thing is, it’s so hard to drive. The gears are very sensitive’

Speaking of TV series I can’t watch, there is “Alarm für Cobra 11,” a series that has run on German TV for 22 years about “Die Autobahnpolizei,” highway cops:

It remains hard for me to believe that this hasn’t become a U.S. TV series. Yes, we don’t have autobahns in the U.S., but you’d think it’d be ridiculously easy to translate the German setting (to be precise, North Rhine–Westphalia) to a state with a lot of freeways — say, California or, if you want more wide open spaces, Texas — and conjure up sufficient freeway-based crime as needed. (If you need a template, watch “CHiPs.” Like California Highway Patrol motor officers Ponch and Jon, “Die Autobahnpolizei” are state cops.)

I have to add one more series that faded away far too quickly — “Chase,” a little-known Jack Webb production about a special L.A.-ish investigative unit that has all the best vehicular toys, plus a police dog:

There are two episodes (and perhaps more that are hidden) on YouTube. Each of the episodes I’ve seen ends with, of course, a chase.

The Corvette of SUVs

The Detroit News decided to do a thought exercise:

What if Chevrolet made a Corvette SUV?

Maybe that’s not so far-fetched. Corvette is a singular car within Chevrolet, and in many ways is a performance brand unto itself. Almost every performance brand now has its own crossover; the most prominent of which is Porsche’s money-machine, the Cayenne.

If Corvette did make an SUV, what would it look like? Detroit News presentation editor Jamie Hollar drew his own concept car, shown here. And The Detroit News talked to ex-GM big wigs, auto analysts and car enthusiasts for their ideas on what the high-performance SUV should be.

Since the first Jeep sport utility appeared in 1984, the automotive landscape has been transformed by high-riding, five-door SUVs with visibility and utility to spare. Even legendary performance brands that once built only ground-hugging sports cars have jumped in. Beginning with Porsche in 2003, SUVs have become a performance-maker’s goldmine. Nearly every performance badge wants a piece of the lucrative ute market.

Notably absent is the Corvette, America’s V-8-powered workingman’s superhero.

Though technically a Chevrolet product, the Corvette long ago became an iconic nameplate that’s equal to Europe’s elite sports car names. It’s faster than the Porsche 911, Jaguar F-Type, Alfa Romeo 4C and Lamborghini Huracan. And while those brands have all exploited their athletic images to expand into sport utilities — the Jaguar F-Pace, Alfa Stelvio and Lamborghini Urus — the Corvette remains a one-off.

“There’s certainly precedent for non-traditional SUV makers to jump into the market,” says Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Every time one of them has jumped in, it has worked.”

With nearly two-thirds of Porsche buyers opting for SUVs, Porsche makes up a whopping one-third of Volkswagen Group’s profits while generating only 2.3 percent of its sales, according to MotleyFool.com. “The idea of a Porsche SUV still rubs sports-car purists the wrong way, but it has been a spectacularly profitable product for the brand,” says John Rosevear, senior auto specialist for the website.

GM executives won’t talk about future vehicles — and even if they did, there’s no evidence a sport utility is in the works. But everywhere we went, car fans loved the idea. The consensus was if Corvette were to build it, it would be a home run.

The News story posits the Corvette XC7 or X06 as a five-door (four doors plus tailgate) all-wheel-drive SUV with one of the real Corvette’s 6.2-liter V-8s, the supercharged one going in the X06, and either an eight- or 10-speed automatic.

Right away you should be able to see the problems in that paragraph. The traditional truck engine was designed less for horsepower than for torque. (Of course, if your standard V-8 has 460 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, with the upgrade adding 190 horsepower and 195 pound-feet, maybe that’s not an issue after all.) Corvettes have two doors, two seats and front-engine V-8s that power the rear wheels, along with a choice between manual and automatic transmissions.

Other details?

“XC7 and X06 (mirroring the high-performance version’s Z06 name) are great starters for naming,” says Tom Wallace, the retired GM engineer who ran Chevrolet’s Corvette program from 2006-08. “Stingray is off limits.”

It would be essential that any Corvette crossover share the sports car’s DNA.

“Front engine, rear drive, with AWD option. Lots of aluminum in the structure,” muses Wallace. “Aluminum is mandatory to support the theme that Corvette embraces to be the lightest vehicle in its class. The two V-8s from the Corvette stable are also a must.”

That means the 460-horse V-8 shared with the base C7 sports car — or for the Z06 version, the supercharged 650-horsepower V-8 for what might be the fastest SUV ever built. Considering the rear-wheel drive Z06 sports car is slightly slower from 0-60 than its all-wheel drive 540-horsepower Porsche Turbo rival, an all-wheel drive X06 crossover should be competitive with the all-wheel drive Cayenne Turbo’s 3.8-second, 0-60 romp.

“Maximum Bob” Lutz, the ex-vice president of GM product design who is revered for bringing back The General’s design mojo, agrees with Wallace’s assessment: “Like the Cayenne, the appeal of the ’Vette SUV would be RWD proportions. It should, in fact, have a silhouette not too different from a Cayenne.”

Start with the C7’s dramatic, sculpted lines created by Tom Peters and widely recognized as one of the best designs in Corvette’s 54 years. All performance SUVs are essentially vertically stretched, five-door versions of familiar sports coupes, giving them an inherently heavy look compared to low-slung two-seaters.

But angular designs like our mock XC7 or Lamborghini’s Urus show that it’s possible to break with the soap-bar shapes of the Porsche Cayenne and Maserati Levante. With Corvette’s trademark shark nose, scooped hood and quad exhaust pipes, it would drip with menace.

Inside, the XC7 would share the C7’s acclaimed interior: comfortable seats, stitched dash and quality trim materials. Naturally, the signature “oh, crap” passenger grab-handles from the sports car would carry over (for those times when dad is seized by the need for speed).

Other parts like transmissions and all-wheel drive systems could come from common GM parts bins, which has been key in keeping Corvette costs down over the years. “To engineer the vehicle, I would have to combine some of the Corvette team with some of the SUV team,” says Wallace.

Price? “More than the $40,000 Cadillac XT5, but about 10 grand below” a $60,000 base V-6 Cayenne, suggests Lutz.

But the chassis might be a deal breaker. “To be successful, this vehicle would require an all-new RWD/AWD architecture, which currently does not exist,” says Lutz. “That’s high investment for relatively low volume.”

Porsche was able to “lunch off” the VW Touareg chassis, which enabled Porsche to package its V-8 engine longitudinally. GM’s new C1XX platform is the backbone for the Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia utilities; it has been lauded for its stiffness and light weight. But its front-wheel drive, transverse engine layout appears ill-suited for our ambitious XC7.

“The Corvette ute probably would be a stand-alone architecture (or a major modification of an existing architecture), so volume would be critical to call it a business success,” Wallace believes.

Cost aside, Lutz says there is another obstacle to an XC7: “The reason a Corvette SUV won’t happen is the business case would be tough. Besides cannibalizing ‘normal’ Corvettes, it can also be expected to damage GMC and certainly the Cadillac XT5.”

And yet, Lutz acknowledges the unique draw of the Corvette: “Corvette is a powerful brand that should be developed. Go upmarket with a mid-engine sedan using big Cadillac CT6 architecture, and maybe eventually something like Cayenne. They would split it off from Chevrolet — nobody makes that connection anyway.”

Kelley Blue Book’s Brauer says financial analysts would grill GM on creating another brand so soon after it axed Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn in bankruptcy. “But history would suggest there is no downside to a performance brand expanding into SUVs,” he says. “Non-Corvette owners who couldn’t justify a two-seat sports car could finally put a Corvette badge in their garage.”

There are SUVs with similar performance numbers; besides the aforementioned Porsche Cayenne and its 570 horsepower in Turbo S guise for $161,600, Land Rover makes the Range Rover Sport SVR with 550 horsepower, for the bargain price of $111,350.

One of the problems with a Corvette SUV might be the price, weirdly. The real Corvette supposedly loses sales to Ferrari and Porsche because it’s not exclusive enough. (What kind of fool thinks a car is too inexpensive compared with its competition, particularly when its performance numbers are comparable?) That’s despite the fact the Corvette is one of the great performance bargains of all time. At $79,450, the Z06 costs $122.23 per horsepower. The standard Stingray costs $120.54 per horsepower. The top-of-the-line Porsche, the 911R, costs $369.80 per horsepower. The new Bugatti Chiron produces 1,500 horsepower (really) for a list price of $2.998 million (really), or $1,998.67 per horsepower.

The bigger issue, of course, is brand dilution. That’s what happened when Nissan added two back seats to the 260Z. (But when the Z was reintroduced in 2002, it lost the back seat.) That’s what happened when Porsche, the maker of 2+2 cars, added the Cayenne SUV and the Panamera sedan. Of course, buyers have sucked up Cayennes, and you’d think GM would have noticed that.

Corvette Online adds:

For some reason, the C7 has polarized more than a few folks on its looks. It seems that while a good majority of us love the latest generation Corvette, there are some who are steadfast in their disapproval. That said, we are doubtful that these images will do much to win them over.

Adding a shooting-brake style hatch to the lineup of Corvettes has been an on-and-off discussion for ages. The shooting brake style would seem to be pretty easy to pull off, given the expanse would cover the space already occupied by the large, curved-glass fastback hatch already in place. Just switch it out. The concept seems easy enough that we could see some developments on this in the near future.

Adding an extra pair of doors is a little bit more controversial. Ultra-luxury sedans are all the rage, but to us, it seems like a boxing ring more suited towards Cadillac, than Corvette. After all, the CTS-V is already there fighting. But four-door Corvettes aren’t entirely new, either. Concepts have been made in the past. Their downfall comes from trying to stretch the Corvette lines over a longer wheelbase. It’s close, but it never seems quite right.

Well, if GM would seriously consider an SUV, why wouldn’t GM consider a sedan too?

There is another major problem with this. The next Corvette reportedly will be rear/mid-engine — the engine will be ahead of the rear axle instead of in front — which, unless you’re talking about old Volkswagens …

… is incompatible with a sedan or a wagon. (As it is I have serious doubts about GM’s ability to pull off a mid-engine drivetrain given GM’s record of sending new technology into the world before it’s ready. Also, why GM, which makes money on every front-engine/rear-drive Corvette it has built for decades, wants to mess with success is a mystery to me.)

If a Corvette is going to happen (and there are numerous reasons already stated that it won’t), it might seem logical for GM to split off the Corvette brand into its own line. It’s one thing for a Chevrolet dealer to sell the current Corvette; it’s another thing entirely for a Chevy dealer to sell two-seat, 2+2, four-door and SUV Corvettes. That would also result in Corvettes being less geographically available, because the number of Corvette dealerships would surely be fewer than the number of Chevy dealerships. And given that GM is a decade removed from culling several of its historic brands — Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Saturn plus Saab and Hummer, which GM purchased — adding a brand seems less likely.

The News adds this:

What do you think a Corvette SUV should look like?

Create your own design and enter The Detroit News design contest. Our team of judges — ex-Corvette chief engineer Tom Wallace, Detroit News auto columnist Henry Payne and Detroit News presentation editor Jamie Hollar — will pick a winner. Top entries will be published in The Detroit News and at detroitnews.com.

Entries can be done in any medium: computer rendering, pencil sketch, watercolor, whatever you prefer. Send a high-resolution copy by email to Henry Payne at hpayne@detroitnews.com.

Deadline for entries is April 17.

If I only had drawing skills.

Truck yeah

This blog has to start with music …

… though it is neither about country music nor the subgenre called “bro-country.” Even though Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” isn’t entirely about pickup trucks, this blog is about the country’s leading selling vehicles.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the year-to-date sales of new U.S. vehicles through September, the traditional (but not so much anymore) start of the new car season:

  1. Ford F-Series, 595,656.
  2. Chevrolet Silverado, 425,556.
  3. Ram pickup, 361,086.
  4. Toyota Camry, 297,453.

(By the way: For whatever reason most of my life I have tied popular music to events in my life, such as family vacations. The first year I was paid to cover sports Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” was on top 40 radio, as was Waukesha’s Bodeans’ “Fadeaway,” while I was driving to Waukesha to cover my first state softball tournament. I think one of them was on while I tried to get a photo of the back of the softball team’s bus while driving on Interstate 94 with, of course, a manual-focus film camera. Don’t attempt that at home; I am a trained professional.)

Like almost everything else, truck ownership sets off, or perhaps more accurately exposes, a cultural divide in this country. I blogged previously about a question posed of Washington-area journalists — how many of them knew a truck owner — and how the questioner got his head practically bitten off by those who didn’t want to answer.

By now you’re probably wondering why I decided to bring this up this week. It has nothing to do with this:

This is a 1995 Chevrolet K-1500, now part of the Presteblog fleet. This style of truck was sold by Chevy and GMC for 13 years, following the previous design that was sold for 15 years.

This is a kind of truck I’ve always wanted for reasons revealed in the next paragraph, though perhaps there was some hypnotic suggestion involved from Max the copilot, because …

This truck includes several features on my list of proper things for vehicles in a combination you cannot buy new today. It has a 350 V-8, an engine that, speaking from past experience, is practically indestructible even if you take less care of it than you should. (The engine design dates back to the original Chevy small-block V-8, first produced in 1955. For a company known for sending technology into the world before it was really ready, GM got the small-block right.) It has real gauges instead of low-battery and low-oil-pressure idiot lights. It has four-wheel drive, though the kind the driver has to turn on and off through shifting a floor shifter. And speaking of shifting, it has the millennial anti-theft device, a five-speed manual transmission.

It is the first Chevrolet we’ve owned in 25 years, after I replaced my 1988 Beretta GT two years after purchase due to simultaneously making car payments and paying repair bills. (“Beretta” is Italian for “lemon” or the French word “merde,” I believe.) Our truck, built in Oshawa, Ont., is a pre-Government Motors Chevy, our first GM product since our blast-to-drive-but-too-small-for-a-baby-seat Pontiac Sunbird GT was retired for a minivan. But neither GM nor Ford nor Fiat Chrysler nor anyone else sells a new gas-V8-powered four-wheel-drive truck with a proper stick shift. (With a clutch that will give me a nice left-leg workout every time I drive it. Driving a truck with a stick is not like driving most cars with a stick.)

The previous owner said he did a lot of work on the truck, so while the outside looks like a 22-year-old truck, the mechanicals appear to have been upgraded (including a three-inch lift kit for previous larger tires), including a replacement transmission. (In our search for this truck, it amazed me how many vehicles were for sale with it-didn’t-come-with-the-vehicle engines and/or transmissions. Then again, I know someone who purchased a demonstrator Buick Regal that ended up with a replacement engine and transmission.) He used his for work; I plan on the same, though I do not intend to take it off road unless, well, you know.

I certainly hope it’s been mechanically improved, lest …

Readers will recall I once mused about what a journalist should drive due to a problem getting a particular photo. Well, here’s the answer to at least the issue of being able to get up high enough — to get on top of the truck’s topper, or stand in the bed, if the local authorities don’t want you getting a particular photo. Add to that a dashcam, public-service-band radio scanner, and 12-volt power inverter, and who needs an office?

Ansel Adams

According to a Facebook meme I saw yesterday, owning a Chevy means “I love America and may own guns.” That could apply to Ford as well, of course. It’s been said that you don’t actually need to own a pickup (or boat), you just need to know someone who has one. I guess we’ll

Our new-to-us truck shows off the emotional attachment some drivers have with their vehicles. The seller asked to start what he called “The Beast.” He had installed a MagnaFlow muffler and dual exhaust on it (thus most likely improving the engine from its 1995 listing of 210 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque), and he wanted to hear the engine and exhaust sound one last time. Driving is a sensory experience.

 

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