What will be left of the General Motors lineup in three years?
We're fast-forwarding to 2012 right now, when a slimmer and smarter GM won't have as many duplicate or low-volume models.
While Chevrolet plans to add three new cars by 2011 - the plug-in hybrid Volt, subcompact Spark, and Orlando compact crossover - the loss of a dozen models will likely span much further than Hummer, Saab, Saturn, and Pontiac. In a telephone interview with the Globe, GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said the company doesn't plan to go under 36 models. However, since GM expects a "going concern" notice on its 2008 annual report - the audit world's death sentence - it's very likely more cars will be dropped.
"There could continue to be some shifting in there, depending on the markets," said Wilkinson. "I think the intention is to hit that 36 number. We're trying the skinnying-down of brands without losing a lot of market share."
In its Feb. 17 report to Congress, GM said it would reduce its nameplates by 25 percent in 2012, and shelve three of its brands altogether. Saab is under a three-month review by its stakeholders and Hummer could be sold by the end of March, Wilkinson said. Saturn dealers are still debating what to do past 2011, when the last cars will roll off assembly lines.
Pontiac is reverting to its performance roots, which means that only the Holden-based G8 sedan and Solstice roadster/coupe will remain. Much of the division's languid, rebadged Chevys (and a Toyota) never screamed "driving excitement."
Scared? Happy? Continue on for the full list. (Also, check out Wired's list of American cars that must die.)
Pontiac G5The Cobalt has been an underrated but substantial competitor in the compact class, most notably the 260 horsepower Cobalt SS. Oddly enough, the G5 doesn't share that turbocharged engine (it's on the Solstice GXP), and 150 horsepower is the sole choice on both trims. No wonder the G5 cracked only 13 percent of the Cobalt's 188,000 sales last year.
Pontiac G6Its sister Chevrolet Malibu has moved up from its rental car origins - witness the awards, including an Automobile Magazine All Star, from some of the most discerning critics. Not the G6. Thanks to a stubby trunk and high rear-end, the G6 is a reminder of the Grand Am - not a compliment in 2009. The coupe and convertible models are more appealing bargains and could be very attractive if the GXP versions had Cadillac's stellar 306 horsepower, direct-injection V-6. But that won't happen.
Pontiac G3It's not out yet, but there's no reason GM needs two Aveo hatchbacks, even if the G3's front-end looks a thousand times better. The Daewoo-designed and produced subcompact is noteworthy for its fuel economy, but there's no exclusive sport package to differentiate this mini Pontiac. Like the G8 Sport Truck, it'll be DOA.
Pontiac VibeWhen it's time to sell, Vibe owners kick themselves for not buying the identical Toyota Matrix, because what the vanilla Matrix lacks in styling vigor it more than makes up in resale value. Both cars start around $16,000, but after five years the Vibe has lost 45 percent of its value, the Toyota 30 percent, according to Intellichoice. The Vibe's certainly a better used car, but that's not helping GM.
Pontiac TorrentWilkinson said the Torrent could move instead to GMC, but that division is really suited for larger, more expensive models like the Acadia, Yukon, and Sierra (the Canyon pickup and Envoy, as detailed further, are likely making an exit). There's almost nothing to differentiate the Torrent from the Chevrolet Equinox. Case closed.
Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy/Saab 9-7XThis 7-year-old SUV platform has been stretched across the company like an old piece of gum. Five brands have bitten off a piece, including Buick (Rainer, 2004-2007) and Oldsmobile (Bravada, gone with the brand in 2004). GM has allowed this once-competitive midsize truck to age like the Blazer it replaced in 2002, and there's no signs of an update past 2009. The Chevy and GMC interiors reek of panel gaps and 1990s-style dashboard cutouts, while the Saab version - is anyone really fooled? - makes some attempt to look well-made. One drive and you'll know these models are full-blown SUVs, not the car-based crossovers that return decent mileage and handling.
Chevrolet Avalanche/Cadillac Escalade EXTIntroduced in 2001, the Chevrolet Avalanche wasn't simply a four-door pickup with sporty C-pillar extensions. It offered an industry-first "midgate" that extended the 5-foot cargo bed into the back seat - essentially the first fold-down rear seats on a pickup. But even its niche status couldn't hide last year's sales - a 62 percent drop from the 2003 peak of 93,000 units. The Cadillac pickup - it still sounds crazy to say that - sold 4,700 units last year, 65 percent less than its 2002 high (but it's outlived the Lincoln one-hit-wonder pickups, the Blackwood and Mark LT, considerably). These GM trucks are solid, but in an unfriendly market, Chevrolet is better off investing in its core Silverado customers.
Chevrolet Colorado/GMC CanyonThese aging compact pickups have seen double-digit declines for three consecutive years following a 2005 peak. Unless a second generation is in the works, this 2003 design - with an unrefined five-cylinder engine - will be too costly to keep as two models (the departing Hummer H3 is built on a specially-modified version of this platform).
All of Saturn: Vue, Outlook, Aura, Sky, AstraIn Geneva last year, CEO Rick Wagoner was decidedly optimistic about Saturn: "The fundamental change in Saturn is moving from what had developed into a low price car brand with some neat stuff on the consumer side to a significantly more sophisticated product lineup."
Average revenue per vehicle was up 40 percent over the past several years, thanks to hot imports from GM's Opel/Vauxhall division.
The biggest problem, Wilkinson said, was the lack of "big-volume media" marketing when the Aura sedan launched in 2006. Its Chevrolet Malibu cousin was a hit in 2008, thanks to aggressive (and self-deprecating) campaigns such as "the car you can't ignore."
"Had business stayed good, you could have gradually built enough momentum around Saturn to get it going," he said.
All of Hummer: H2, H3This wasn't much of a surprise, considering that Hummers typically sold in very limited batches. Only the Colorado-based H3 and H3T have pushed sales past 30,000, a big number for a brand that once only offered the civilian-modified H1.
Hummer's brutish, Tonka appearance is both comical and laudable - even those that hate the brand still respect it off-road, where it truly belongs. The brand's average fuel economy, however, is so abysmal and impossible to fix that only wealthy Arab entrepreneurs who revel in big, thirsty, go-anywhere trucks would dare buy it. In today's economy, who else is taking that risk?
All of Saab: 9-3, 9-5, 9-7XUnlike Volvo, which dug into Ford's deep pockets to overhaul the marque's antiquated, stodgy lineup (and also share its own platforms with Ford), Saab has become progressively worse off with GM. Turning the venerable 9-3 five-door hatch, a quirky favorite dating back to 1978, into an Opel-based sedan in 2003 was risky, but at 34,000 units, the car sold rather well in the US.
The 9-5, a replacement for the other five-door premium hatch, the 9000, also enjoyed its fair share. But despite a facelift and rear-end tuck, the 10-year-old car never received a redesign. The result? Sales declines every single year for the last eight years. In 2008, Saab sold about 2,500 examples of the 9-5, an 87 percent drop from 2001.
What's even more sad is the 9-7X, the Chevrolet TrailBlazer with a crudely-grafted Saab fascia. It doesn't even come close to matching the refinement, style, and luxury that the Volvo XC90, BMW X5, and Mercedes M-Class have. The same is true for the 9-3 and 9-5 against their respective competitors. And let's not get started on the short-lived "Saabaru" 9-2X, which was just a pricier Subaru Impreza wagon.
The next Saab owner needs to throw everything out and start over.
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