Change at Big 3 takes good turn

Manny Lopez

Lopez: Change at Big 3 takes good turn


Standing inside the General Motors Co. design dome here, it’s hard to make sense of the critics’ complaints that the domestic auto companies don’t make relevant products.

At a recent event, Chevys lined the arena from the micro ride Spark to the super muscle Corvette. Some were current models. Others new ones to come. Most satisfied a market need. One or two designed and built to satisfy a government mandate or try and silence activists. Earlier, GM executives made a big pitch for Buick and unveiled a couple of new Cadillacs.

All were worthy of a test drive and particularly by those who constantly blather on about how spectacular the Asian automakers are at delivering good products and how ratty the Americans’ are in the same regard.

Those who continue to push that agenda aren’t paying attention, and as GM and Ford Motor Co. roll out new vehicles that turn heads and sip far less fuel, it’s clear they’re doing it simply because they enjoy the rant.

Big 3 can’t rest on laurels

That’s OK even if it is a bit tiring.

GM, Ford and Chrysler Group LLC executives need that push. They need to be challenged and they need to be reminded that consumers outside of Michigan don’t default to domestic brands. Resting on one’s laurels, as all have found out from years of complacency, only makes it easier for others to catch up and overtake the market.

All three companies (yes, Ford, too) still have a long way to go. They need to continue redesigning their products so they don’t get stale. They need to keep cutting costs so they’re not spending more then they take in, and most importantly they need to win back American consumers.

"We know there’s a long way to go, but you still have to plan long-term strategy and we’re doing that," GM Vice Chairman Tom Stephens told me at the event in Warren.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally was equally as encouraged (though he always is) when I spoke with him on Monday.

"People are really excited about the product," he told me before teeing off at the Paul W. Smith golf tournament for Think Detroit PAL. "We’re on track."

GM shows new flexibility

Evidence of wholesale change in Detroit’s auto universe came Wednesday when GM unplugged its Buick compact crossover plan — including the plug-in version — within days of it getting widely panned by the public, media and analysts who got to see it in its early stages of development.

Seriously, they did.

This is the new GM. Not the one that steadfastly held on to eight brands and multiple overlap products within each. Or the company that insisted that bankruptcy wasn’t an option, until it was the only option.

No matter. They turned a corner, fast.

And if they continue to do so before getting so far involved that they can’t effectively back out, they have a chance.

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