This is just what GM needs:
General Motors Corp is recalling nearly 1.5 million Buick, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac mid-sized cars due to a potential leak of engine oil that could cause an engine fire.
The recall applies to the 1997-2003 Buick Regal; 1998-2003 Chevrolet Lumina, Monte Carlo and Impala; 1998-99 Oldsmobile Intrigue; and 1997-2003 Pontiac Grand Prix, GM said in a filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A total of 1,497,516 vehicles, all equipped with a 3.8 liter engine, are involved in the recall.
In somewhat related news, the NY Times is reporting some backlash at the auto shows:
Just a year ago, working as a product presenter at an auto show was a pretty straightforward job. You stood next to a vehicle, you called it a marvel of engineering, style and comfort and then you fielded softball questions like, “What does this baby cost?”
But that was before the bailout. Now that the government has helped General Motors and Chrysler stave off bankruptcy with billions of dollars in loans, these companies are finding somewhat hostile crowds at their exhibits. Which leads to scenes like the one on Friday at the New York auto show, where a blond woman in a tight black dress stood on a rotating platform and pitched the sporty Dodge Circuit, one of five electric cars that Chrysler is developing.
Donald Han, an accountant from Queens, sounded unmoved. “Why now?” he asked the woman, rather curtly, once she had finished her patter. “How come you’ve got to nearly go bankrupt before you come out with a car like this?”
Cause big daddy oil ain’t pay’n the bills no more. So Iss gotta work for ah livin’.
I went to the Cleveland auto show, which is one of the nations largest, and didn’t see anything like that, which is no surprise, I think Cleveland is the second most dependant major city on the auto industry behind Detroit. But it was sad to walk through the Chrysler exhibit knowing that there is a real good chance it will not be back next year.
Given that a lot of the cars involved are 10 years old or more, and the newest are 6ish, I wonder how many of them are actually still on the road.
I also wonder why it took in some cases 12 years to discover this recallable problem. You’d think they’d’ve noticed cars bursting into flame a little quicker than that.
Further quoting the NYT article:
Lee from NC
Even more mind boggling to me is that the only new car Chrysler unveiled (as opposed to the ones "in development, like that electric car) was an SUV.
I know that these things take years to develop and produce, but come on. Yet another SUV? With forward thinking like that, it’s no wonder they’re heading south.
Having worked in the auto industry for 10 years, I’ve asked similar questions, but at the time the answer was always "Building trucks, because that’s what people are buying." I hated to hear it, but it was true.
There’s no doubt that the Big 3 made many mistakes that exacerbated their current troubles, but the situation the auto industry finds itself in is unprecedented. How can any industry adequately prepare itself for a 50% or more drop in demand for it’s products essentially overnight?
This idea that all americans want fuel efficient cars is not supported by the data on what vehicles americans buy.
The F-150 and the Silvarado are 2 of the top 3 sellers YTD .
The Civic and the Corolla are in the top 10 but so is the Dodge Ram.
The Prius is not in the top 20.
Most americans based on the data want at least a midsized vehicle. They don’t seem to want small, cheap, or fuel efficient until gas prices exceed $4/gal.
If we want to change that CAFE is a waste as that penalizes the manufacturers but doesn’t change what is available for purchase.
Maybe a gas tax would be a good idea if the economy were better?
I don’t blame them for building trucks if that was what people are buying, but I do blame them for not having more competitive products in the car, particularly small/economy car, market so that when consumer choices changed they would be able to change their product mix and still be competitive.
As to the 50% drop there is not much you can realistically do to prepare for that.
Especially since the W-body, the Impala in particular, is the only car GM makes that actually is competitive with Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Granted, that’s mostly due to tax subsidized fleet sales but still.
Want to know the real problem? 3.8L V6 with 200 horsepower that gets 17 MPG in the city when I can get a 260 HP 3.5L in an Altima that gets 23 or a 268 HP 3.5L in a Camry that gets 24.
Of course you can get the supercharged version of GM’s L36 V6. It makes as much power as a 2.2 L Honda 4-cylinder and only uses twice as much gas.
I’ll consider a GM truck (with a V8, an engine they have half a clue concerning) but their cars are just garbage.
If I had a Lumina and it caught fire, I’d let it burn. Very possibly the most boring car on the planet.
that to me is the biggest sin of American automobiles. GM interiors = cheap plastic everywhere, bad placement of controls and boring, boring, boring.
I’m all for green autos but I’m skeptical that Americans really want to buy fuel-efficient cars. People SAY they want fuel-efficient cars but when they go buy, they want style and power.
We are addicted to our wasteful ways, and nothing is going to cure us of that short of very expensive gasoline.
Yeah, I saw this story this morning on the elevator ride up to my office. Recalling 1.5 million cars is definitely not going to help GM stay out of bankruptcy.
I believe that observation is better addressed to the recently departed Bush Administration, who helpfully gave us the finest in salmonella-flavored peanut butter, not to mention high quality lead toys from China.
And wouldn’t you know it, we have one of those Buicks.
From the linked story on the problem with 1.5M GM cars…
Ummm, so a little fire is okay, and the fix is to remove some additional plastic fuel for the fire? Great. Think we’ll stay with our German made cars. They don’t slosh oil onto a hot exhaust manifold when braking; they’re anal that way.
GM’s collapse didn’t happen overnight – it’s been dying in slow motion for 40 years. You’d think that a company that was steadily bleeding marketshare would get its act together before it was on the verge of bankruptcy… but if they were that smart, they probably wouldn’t have lost that marketshare to begin with.
One of my first cars was a 1951 MG-TD. The engine leaked oil, sooner or later, no matter how many gaskets I replaced. The manual for the engine referred to this condition as "controlled weepage". The TD never caught fire though.
@zengolf: "The Prius is not in the top 20."
Yeah, thing that might have something to do with the number that are being built? Not that long ago they were selling all they could get in.
Last year, if Toyota were turning out as many Priuses as Ford makes F150s, they probably could have sold them all.
Gas taxes aren’t going to work in the US. The main reason that a large gas tax to encourage consumers to have better habits won’t work is because:
*) Consumers don’t want to have better habits – Americans in general don’t like being told "no"
*) Anyone who campaigns on promises to lower gas prices will be elected and the gas tax will get revoked
There’s also the big elephant that a gas tax hits the working poor the hardest. Especially in the midwest rural areas where you’ve got no public transport and your only vehicle is a 20 year old pickup truck with lousy mileage that you use for both work and personal needs and that costs you more money in the long run but you can’t afford to buy anything else right now. Any gas tax implemented will end up with the Congress voted out at the next election and the gas tax rescinded shortly after that.
Yeah, if you want a "market based" solution to this problem that’s what you’d do – increase the taxes to push up the price and let the market solve the problem. But the "market based" solution is politically toxic in this country, so imposing higher standards is the right way to go. We have to balance that with the fact that American corporations don’t want to spend the money on R&D that Japanese and European corporations do (which is a whole ‘nother argument that boils down to unrealistic expectations from American shareholders and corporate executives as far as what their compensation should be and a lack of a corporate subsidy in American on health care and pensions that Japan and Europe both have for their companies).
@Sarcastro: " I can get a 260 HP 3.5L in an Altima that gets 23 or a 268 HP 3.5L in a Camry that gets 24."
I don’t particularly care about the horsepower a car provides. Paying extra for more horsepower I’ll never need is pretty silly.
In 2001 my company at the time, which made distributed audio systems for homes, met with several circuit board fabrication shops in the Dallas area about making boards for our new product. Most shops wouldn’t give us the time of day, or required large up-front charges or excessive penalties for minor initial material changes. These shops were fully tied to the Telcom industry and wouldn’t bother with our measly 60K unit per year production.
One shop, though, didn’t like having 80% of it’s production going to one Nortel product line, and saw my company as an opportunity to diversify.
Needless to say a year later when the Telcom industry went bust all the other shops started calling us with hat in hand. But we had no need of their services then. And most went out of business soon thereafter.
I don’t fault the automakers for selling as many SUVs they could while the selling was good. If there is a market, sell to it! But they had no long-term outlook and did not prepare a Plan B for when the truck / SUV market would collapse. Any business that operates as if tomorrow’s market will always be the same as today is going to eventually find itself irrelevant and without a viable product.
@NonyNony: "Gas taxes aren’t going to work in the US."
A gas tax-and-rebate would work. Tax the gas, but give the collected money back to the people at a fixed rate (not based on the amount they paid in). People who use less gas will come out ahead. People who waste gas will come out behind. The sting of the tax would be reduced for everyone, but there’d still be incentive to be more efficient.
True. Drive faster!
I love my Jeep (Both my cars have been Jeeps; the first lasted 10 years before I sold it). I really wish someone competent would buy that brand from Chrysler.
I just don’t understand the "one way or the other" thinking in trying to develop more fuel efficient cars. Either they have to be some form of gas (or hydraulic) and electric hybrid or a total electric.
The hybrids are cool I guess, unless you do a lot of highway driving then their advantages start to diminish. Electric cars are cool, but they have a limited range.
Why isn’t there a "hybrid" that just uses a gasoline engine to run a generator for electric engines? I mean railroads have been doing it for decades…a small (in proportion to the vehicle weight) diesel engine runs at it’s most efficient operational RPM to drive a generator, which in turn powers electric engines. No battery waste in the landfills, a lot less fuel use, better range, regenerative braking, etc. Hell, the engine could even run off of cheaper (to refine) kerosene…Or, heavens to mergatroid, clean burning natural gas that I could refill at my own home.
Am I wrong?
"A total of 1,497,516 vehicles, all equipped with a 3.8 liter engine, are involved in the recall."
As part of the recall they need to replace those hogs with 2.5 liter engines.
@RareSanity: The gas motor on a hybrid does only drive a generator, like with a railroad diesel engine.
Railroad engines don’t have batteries though because the diesel engine never shuts off, and the energy generated by the regenerative braking is dissipated as heat and not stored. This is how the traditional railroad engines operate. Maybe the newest engines use batteries for efficiency.
Hybrids, to eek out more energy savings, regularly shut off the engine when its power isn’t needed and captures the energy from braking for future (propulsive or power for accessories) use. Hence hybrids need the batteries.
You’re right, the regenerative braking doesn’t help much if you don’t have batteries, maybe I got a little overzealous. (laffs)
But, I do mean an engine that runs all of the time in the car, no batteries. How much fuel would it take to run and engine not much bigger than a riding lawn mower? I mean of course you put a better muffler on it, but you see what I’m saying.
Most current gasoline generators get between 4-5 hours of runtime on a gallon of gas. If you upped the supply to a standard 15-20 gallon automobile tank, you are talking about 60-100 hours of runtime between fill-ups. If the average American spends about 2.5 hours in their car per day (saw some Arbitron survey somewhere on teh interwebs, can’t find it now), that is between 24 and 40 DAYS between re-filling.
Even if you factor in a possible larger displacement needed for the engine, even Prius owner’s don’t go 3 weeks or more before needing more gas.
I strongly recommend watching the excellent documentary: WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR.
Depressing but enlightening.
It played on British TV recently (coincidentally when French TV was playing SUPERSIZE ME) contributing to the worldwide view that Americans are nefarious or stupid or both.
It’s really a shame AIG and Goldman don’t hold trade shows.
They’ve got to stop naming cars after electricity related terms, it sounds lame.
Well, actually it’s a pretty dumb question, one that could only be asked by somebody who had missed the entire last year’s worth of conversation about the auto industry. One might instead ask why Daimler-Benz stripped what value was left in Chrysler and left it for dead?
Here’s a better question: How many "electric cars" has Toyota come out with so far?
How is GM’s "electric car," the Volt, going to impact their future, sporting a $30k+ price tag? Show of hands: How many think that a $30k electric car on GM showroom floors right now would have changed the fortunes of that company WRT the present economic trainwreck, when nobody is buying any kind of cars right now, including Toyotas?
Further irony: that wonderful, wonderful Dodge Circuit? They didn’t come up with the thing at all — it’s a rebadged Lotus Europa.
Actually Toyota had the Rav4EV in the 90s, which was subsequently crushed like the Ford and GM models.
You guys don’t seem to know much about electric cars, do you?
I’m always surprised at how little interest there is in the newer small diesels coming out of Europe.
Peugeot, Renault, Volkswagon all have excellent diesel vehicles which outperform the Prius in every way, including fuel consumption and cost.
All electric on the other hand is a long term objective waiting for the next generation of battery. When the batteries come, the cars will come. Until then, not so much.
Augh! The ignorance, it burns!
For one thing, please people stop recycling ancient resentments against GM. Their interiors used to suck pretty hard — ten years ago. Bob Lutz was responsible for changing that, so sit down in a recent GM model and see what you think. The newer ones (especially the Malibu) get rave reviews from the car magazines.
And not only are SUVs what people want (no matter what they say), both Ford and GM set about designing more-efficient crossover SUVs years ago. Those new models are now selling. Is a Ford Edge as efficient as a Prius? No. But it’s significantly better than a body-on-frame Explorer, and Americans want big haulage. Same thing with the GMC Acadia: no hybrid, but less thirsty than a Suburban, and you can seat eight people AND tow 4,500lb.
Cars take years to go from drawing board to showroom floor; what they’re selling today was approved in 2005 or 2006. The gas crisis appeared only in 2008 and the recession even later. Nobody in Dearborn could have planned for a 50% drop in sales volume (though Ford did get out in front of the crisis by mortgaging the entire company BEFORE the credit crunch hit).
Chrysler introduced a new Jeep Grand Cherokee because that was the new model they had ready to go. It’s based on the old Mercedes M-Class and is actually a big improvement for what still remains a profitable vehicle for Chrysler. What were they supposed to do after investing all that money in the car — hide it?
GM can make other things. If people are not buying cars, why not stop making cars for awhile? Get Obama to create a plan for a highspeed rail network across the country, and give GM the contract to build it. Maybe once enough people are working the demand for cars will go up again.
Also, it occurred to me that huge corporations like GM are supposed to have politicians in their pockets and can essentially get whatever they want. How pathetic is it that, given anything they could possibly want or need handed to them on a silver platter, these companies are still failing? It’s like a child who could have anything he wants for dinner eating a huge bowl of candy then vomiting all over the house for the rest of the night.
Maybe that’s the problem. Suppose the car companies dissolved from "The Big Three" into smaller pieces that could move more efficiently?
Considering that back in 1918, Milburn made an electric car that went 40mph and got 100 miles on a charge, you’d think we could do better than that by now…
Get Obama to create a plan for a highspeed rail network across the country, and give GM the contract to build it.
Aieee! Considering what GM already did to rail in the US, that’s the worst possible idea ever. Hint: GM is about 90% of the reason that the US currently does not have a high speed rail network, being as a lot of the precursor infrastructure was in place and functioning well (see William Middleton’s The South Shore Line, for example) before GM got the bright idea to start using its position as the US’ single largest freight shipper to arm-twist railroads into buying GM (EMD) locomotives. The EMD diesels at the time were slower, less powerful, more expensive to run, and had shorter operational lifespans than the stuff they replaced, in the main. Same tactic they’ve been using all along — "Chee, nice railroad youse gots here. Be a shame if sometin’ wuz ta happen to it, knowwhuddaimean?"
Also, how come nobody ever mentions that GM got in a lot of financial difficulty by getting GMAC (pre-Cerberus Holdings) mixed up in a fuckload of subprime garbage?
I think a lot of that is inherent in the auto industry.
Why were they crushed?
For the same reason that the technically pleasing Volt will fail in the marketplace? It costs too much.
Even hybrids, which are much less radical, are stuck in a cost benefit corner because of gas price fluctuations and basic value calculations. Look at the Volt just as a car and not as an electric car or as a technical milestone. Would you pay $35k for that car? Given all the other choices at that price point? And given that you can get a better car for $22k?
The electric car is not here because it is not a viable business proposition yet. Period.
Their only problem is that a 36HP Volkswagen bug or a beach bike on a long downhill straight can blow their doors off.
This ‘who woulda thunk the levees would give way’ excuse is getting old.
One word: Toyota. They sell huge SUVs. Made a lot of money doing so when that market was big. They also positioned themselves for a different market years ago with their Pruis.
It’s called strategic planning. It’s what management is fucking supposed to be doing. It’s why they are supposedly worth the millions they get paid.
And speaking of planning for the future, it didn’t take a fucking rocket scientist to figure gas was’t going to stay at a buck and a half a gallon for very long. Nor did it take a tree-hugging radical to imagine a not-very-distant future where hybrid and electric systems might come into their own.
Yup, what Halteclere said.
Again no effort to make themselves relevant. The Big 3 management insulated themselves from buyer feedback. And still are, judging from this.
I can buy a Prius for $25K that gets 45 mpg, or a Honda that costs $7-8K less and still get in the mid-30s in the gas department. Until you can build a hybrid and market it at a price where the B/E ratio over a gas-only engine isn’t somewhere over 250,000 miles, it will continue to be a cute gimmick and little more.
Ditto for all-electrics… why is the limit 35-40 mph and 40 miles in range? I sometimes drive over 250 miles per night and need highway speeds. That’s with lights on (interior as well as exterior), radio on, heat/fan/air conditioning on, wipers on in bad weather, etc.
And, BTW, I saw the accompanying picture of the "auto girl" from the article in question. US auto companies can’t do anything right. Just go to Google images and search "Japan auto girl" (I won’t even bother to mention "race queens")…
this sounds like what i hear parents say about their kids: I try to control them but they ignore me.
slightly OT: yesterday on NPR i heard a story about decreasing auto theft rates. at the end they said that a 92 honda (accord?) was the favorite car to steal. how can a 17 year-old car be the most stolen? i know they last a long time (i had my 91 civic until 2005) but it seems like every one still on the road would have to be stolen.
Anne Elk (Miss)
Just became the proud owner of a 2009 VW Jetta TDI (turbodiesel) at the end of February. So far, I’m averaging about 37 mpg on my "mixed" commute (not really highway, but not really city stop-and-go either – can get up to 55-60 mph in some parts of the drive). It’s almost 40 miles round trip every day – and so far, I’ve only had to fill up every other week. Yay!
However, I wouldn’t have even been aware it existed if we hadn’t gone to the Chicago auto show and seen it there. Up to that point, I was about ready to go with the Subaru Forester (my last car was a Subaru Impreza and I wasn’t too keen to give up the all-wheel drive unless I was going to get a significant improvement in price or mileage with something else.)
As always, Japan just does it better.
The reason we don’t have more diesels in the USA is simple: Americans got burned in the ’80s by shitty diesels (like the GM/Olds V8), and the Big Three are convinced that the volume will never be there.
Europe proves that they’re probably wrong on that. But to complicate the issue further, the EPA (or was it California?) imposed tougher emissions regulations in 2006 that required serious re-engineering. Only the Germans went to the trouble of doing this, and that’s why virtually the only diesels you’ll be able to buy now are from VW or Mercedes.
I remember reading somewhere that this was the major difference between US and Japanese auto makers, and perhaps just general business as well…The US companies almost never plan for the long term, preferring instead to focus on quarterly results that will please the stock markets.
The Japanese, on the other hand, routinely plan for the long term and are willing to forgo short-term results in the market in order to keep their long-range plans on track.
I don’t have any specific examples – this was just something I read a few years back. But I found it interesting and it’s always been in the back of my mind as to whether it was truly an accurate statement or not.
@binzinerator: "Again no effort to make themselves relevant. The Big 3 management insulated themselves from buyer feedback. And still are, judging from this"
The person speaking in the passage you quote is pretty much just a spokesmodel. You might as well complain about Calvin Klein jeans to the mannequin in the window.
Which is not to say that you’re wrong about the big 3 management – just that the person quoted is not someone who can be reasonably expected to know squat about corporate decisions, let alone be involved in them.
@stickler: " But it’s significantly better than a body-on-frame Explorer, and Americans want big haulage."
Many *think* they need big haulage. But oddly enough, when gas prices rise enough, they find they don’t actually need it.
For every person that buys a giant SUV because they genuinely need the carrying/pulling capacity, there’s probably three who buy one but rarely get around to using it because that was part of an imagined lifestyle, not their genuine lifestyle. (They don’t have time to use the camper, they found they couldn’t afford the boat, a few of the kids are old enough to drive and rarely ride in the truck anymore.)
If people did the math, they’d probably find out that buying a smaller car and renting a truck to tow the boat or camper would save money. Maybe the dealers should work up a deal with the rental companies to offer to small car buyers. Buy a Focus and get 25% off on a truck rental from Budget.
@Origuy: "Maybe the dealers should work up a deal with the rental companies to offer to small car buyers. "
I figure the car dealers have enough big SUVs sitting around unsold that they could offer free loaners to customers who bought a small car.