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The Dude
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Dar Davis: 10 cars that can save Detroit

Last December I wrote in this column my responses to a Flow Chart blog column titled 10 Cars That Sank Detroit written by Rick Newman of U.S. News and World Report. Newman also wrote a similar column where he listed 10 cars that could salvage Detroit. Today I'd like to review his ten salvage choices and again put in my two cents worth.

With the race on by automakers to build and sell as many fuel efficient vehicles as possible, it is not surprising he listed GM's now departed EV-1 electric car as a vehicle that could salvage Detroit. While considered a business failure by many, the $1 billion GM spent on the project was not wasted. According to Newman, and I agree, if electric cars do catch on in the years to come and GM becomes a leader, it was due to lessons learned from the EV-1 flop. The car was a lease-only program to customers in a few western states and Georgia. Production began in 1996 at the GM Craft Center in Lansing and ended in 1999 after only a little over 1,000 vehicles were assembled.

Which leads to salvation vehicle No. 2 - the plug-in, electric Chevy Volt set to be introduced by GM in late 2010. Like the EV-1 electric car, the Volt is propelled by electric motors powered by battery. But there the similarity ends - the Volt will have a gas engine that kicks in once the battery runs down after 40 miles, eliminating the possibility of being stranded without a nearby recharging outlet. Unlike the EV-1 two-seater subcompact, the Volt is a midsize family sedan. Newman predicts the car's anticipated high price tag will slow sales as will buyers' wariness over its new technology. If the Volt does catch on, GM will benefit by gaining badly needed environmental credibility. Not to mention that greater productivity will also lower production cost and increase profits for GM.

Salvage car No. 3, according to Newman (and I wholeheartedly concur) is the upcoming Ford Fiesta subcompact. It's part of a new Ford business plan (called ONE Ford) to build and sell the same vehicles in all of its worldwide markets to save development, research and production costs. The European-sourced, Mexican-built Fiesta will meet the challenge for Domestic Three automakers to recapture small car buyers who have fled to Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. With its crisp styling and mid-30s gas mileage, the Fiesta just might be the car that lifts Ford up off the mat and into an international powerhouse again.

Next up, at No. 4, is the Chevy Cruze. I've seen this car at the auto shows and have read about it in all the buff magazines. On paper it sounds like a great replacement for the not-so-sterling Cobalt. Newman thinks the spirited and welcome Cruze with its small turbocharged engine will add a bit of excitement to the Chevy lineup. Knowing that the Cruze is a product of GM's Daewoo operation in Korea makes me pause. With Hyundai and Kia quality gaining by the day, maybe my worries are groundless.

Newman thinks the Cadillac Escalade, coming in as No. 5 candidate, can salvage Detroit. His rationale is that there is a market for "huge, gaudy SUVs." He admits that while sales are down, the Escalade remains one of GM's most profitable vehicles. He goes on to say that the Escalade, and down-market similar models like the Chevrolet Tahoe still have "great appeal to families with gear to haul, boats to haul and little fear of gas prices."

The Ford F-150 choice by Newman as car No. 6 is a head scratcher. He explains that the F-150 has been a bedrock vehicle for Ford - a perennial best seller and a huge profit maker. I agree, but right now it is selling at about half its usual rate. Newman says that once the economy recovers, contractors and others will start buying the big truck and give Ford a big lift. This is a very weird choice. I think a brand new Ford Ranger would have been more logical choice. It would have a much smaller green footprint than the F-150 and be more in tune with the times. Too bad Ford is still building a Ranger with bones that were created back in the early '80s.

Next on Newman's list, at No. 7, is the Jeep Wrangler. Newman thinks the popular and iconic Wrangler is one of Chrysler's strongest and distinct brands, which is true. He even mentioned that some analysts think Chrysler "should rally around its strongest brand, and maybe even rechristen itself as "Jeep Corp." That said, Wrangler sales are remaining quite strong in the recession.

GMC's Acadia crossover/SUV is No. 8 on Newman's list. Huh? While it is great looking vehicle, alongside its stablemates Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook and Chevy Traverse, I think the Acadia's time as a player in the marketplace may be over. Newman counters my argument by saying that the four GM crossovers make for an ideal minivan substitute and they are needed to compete with the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. They were a hit until the price of gas ran up, then the credit crises exploded.

No. 9 is the upcoming Chevy Camaro, now in production and arriving at Chevy dealers. Newman thinks that with gas prices falling the time could be right for this revived muscle car. I agree. There are a whole lot of buyers out there - both young buyers wanting a V-8 powered, rear-drive muscle car and aging Baby Boomers who once owned (or wanted to own) a Camaro. The rejuvenated 2005 Ford Mustang proved that there's a market for a good-looking muscle car.

The final car on Newman's list is the Chrysler Secret. No, the Auburn Hills folks didn't introduce a new car at the Chicago or New York Auto Shows and you missed the headlines. Newman is simply questioning Chrysler's plan for the future. He isn't sure they have one. Will they offer electric cars as discussed at the Detroit show or sell badly needed small vehicles provided by a Chinese carmaker? Things are changing so fast; Newman back in December didn't know about the Fiat-Chrysler deal that is now apparently in the works if all the stars align.

Actually, what will salvage Detroit is a bunch of eager American buyers overrunning dealers across the country and purchasing cars and trucks. I believe that all of the Domestic Three automakers have good products for sale. Quality is competitive with the competition and the companies offer a wide variety of high mileage and desirable vehicles. The slogan from 1958 has never rung more true: You Auto Buy Now!

Don't miss the Southwest Michigan Car Collectors car show today at the Orchards Mall. Members' vintage and special-interest cars will be on display all day until 6:00 p.m.

Dar Davis is the director of the annual Krasl Concours on the Bluff car show and owner of DavisBarber + Associates LLC, a car purchase consulting firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

Premium Member
2,511 Posts
At 40k the VOLT will only catch on with the Hollywood and Tree Hugger crowd. Unless they permanently hike gas to over $4 per gallon, killing the struggling economy and already struggling middle class, the Volt is the wrong car at the wrong time.
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