Tuesday, April 10, 2012



GM is in the process of launching the all new 2013 Chevy Impala. As something of a car guy, I am, well, maybe not excited, but interested in the pending unveiling of what, years ago, was the nation’s best selling car. I, like, doubtless most of you, wish GM and Chevy well with this car and anticipate a favorable reception for the car. Given that many SUV drivers, having visited the increasingly wallet straining gas pump far too many times, seem to have come to their senses, but still need plenty of room for their families or just to stretch out in comfort, the large but fuel efficient Impala seems to be in the sweet spot of the market. Further, given the progress Chevy has made with its product line (Let’s not talk about the Volt, which seems, at least at this point, to have been something of a miscalculation, judging from the early sales and reviews.), the new Impala should be one of the better cars in its class.

All that having been said, I was stricken by the 4/4/12 comments of Mark Reuss, head of GM North American operations, regarding the new Impala, as quoted by Reuters:

"You'll get a true family sedan here. We really haven't had a true family sedan since I've been at the company since 1986."


My first impression is that Mr. Reuss’s statement is just plain wrong. The “old” Impala, while clearly not the best car in its class, was certainly competitive, especially at its price point. A friend who knows his cars drives one and loves it. Just a few months ago, in my role as most of my friends’ car advisor, highly recommended the Impala to a friend of a friend who was looking for reasonably priced, reliable, relatively fuel efficient transportation for his family. Even if one doesn’t hold the “old” Impala in as high regard as does yours truly, surely the Chevy Malibu, even the “old” Chevy Malibu in the process of being replaced, was fully competitive in its class, nearly, if not actually, the match of the Accord, Camry, Fusion, and Altima. One could make the argument that the Malibu is not a “family” sedan but rather a mid-sized sedan (See the second last paragraph of this screed.), one supposes, but that would be splitting hairs. And if one goes back to 1986, when Mr. Reuss’s tenure began at GM, one could easily cite several, perhaps many, “true” family sedans at GM: LeSabre, G-6, Bonneville (On a personal note, my ’90 Bonneville SSE, which closely resembled the Batmobile but still would have had plenty of room for a family if we had one at the time, was far and away the best car with an automatic transmission I’ve ever owned.), Intrigue, Aurora, Cutlass, 88, Grand Prix…you get the idea. Some of these were not up to the competition, some were, but all were “true” family sedans. At least that’s what I, who knows a few things about cars, thought.

But now Mr. Reuss, who is in a far better position than yours truly to know, is telling us, essentially, that none of the GM family sedans of the last 26 years was a “true” family sedans. Is he telling us they were false family sedans? Or is he telling us they weren’t good cars? One suspects the latter, or at least a lot of readers would interpret his comments that way.

Several disquieting thoughts come to mind.

First, I don’t remember Mr. Reuss or anyone at the General telling us that GM’s former family sedans were not up to snuff. In fact, the advertising and the public comments of GM executives at the time, a group that included Mr. Reuss, indicated that those cars were fully competitive in their segments, even in those instances when those of us who knew a few things suspected that the GMers were figuratively winking at us when saying so. Now Mr. Reuss tells us, effectively, they were lying all along, that those products were not “true” family sedans. So why are we supposed to believe Mr. Reuss now when he says that GM has, for real this time, produced a “true” family sedan in the Impala? One does not have to be as cynical as yours truly to wonder what will happen when the next Impala comes out. Will Mr. Reuss then tell us that this upcoming version of the Impala was not a “true” family sedan all along?

Second, and perhaps not as important, what are we to make of the new Malibu, by all accounts a terrific car, even better than its predecessor, that can stand toe to toe with the Accords, Camrys, and Fusions of the world? Is this car not a “true” family sedan? Is it not a good car? Is it somehow not a worthy car? One suspects that Mr. Reuss and his colleagues would counter with the contention that the Malibu is not a “family” sedan but, rather, a “mid-sized” sedan, but that is a silly, contorted argument.

I get a sense of déjà vu while composing this post. When Oldsmobile first began the introduction of the truly innovative Aurora in 1994, Automobile Magazine quoted one of the muckety-mucks at Olds (I can’t remember the name; it was a long time ago.) as saying (and again, I can’t quote because of the time) that the Aurora’s was the first Olds platform in years that was worth (in his words) a damn. I wrote to the Automobile asking why we were supposed to believe Olds in this instance; after all, they had told us for years how great their cars were but now were telling us that the platforms that formed the basis of those cars weren’t worth a damn. What, I asked, would they be telling about the Aurora’s platform when it came time for it to be replaced? The magazine printed the letter and the head of Olds called me at home. We had a pleasant, but frank, as they say in politics, conversation. I don’t expect the same response from Mr. Reuss or one of his minions in this case, but, were it to come, the feeling of déjà vu would become downright eerie and the reach of the Pontificator would once again amaze me.

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