Is the future of General Motors its most recognized brand? My gut feeling is yes.
Associated Press is reporting that over 1000 auto dealers are going to be forced to close as a result of GM's restructuring, which will include the elimination of the Pontiac brand, and the possible selling or closing of Saturn, Hummer, and SAAB. Only Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick will remain.
While indeed this is a sign that GM is going to possibly pull itself out of the abyss, I think even more drastic measures need to be taken by the company.
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I have an emotional attachment to the automotive industry because of a life long friend, Mark, who I've known since early elementary school who's family was once in the car business. In particular, during the 1980s and 1990s and up until 2007, they had successful Chevy, Ford, and Dodge dealerships. In the last 10 years, business had waned, and it finally culminated in the closing of their last dealership, one of the most respected and well-known Chevrolet dealerships on Long Island.
Still, both of us can't help look back on old times and remember the glory days of the American auto industry. I still fondly recall my first new GM car I bought from him, a Chevrolet Beretta. I was enormously proud of my S10 Blazer and my Tahoe, which got me through a lot of snowy winters. I also loved the reliability and dependability of the Malibu and the Lumina that I bought from him after I got married, and will always remember the excellent customer service I received from Mark's family and employees. It pains me to say that for the last six years, I've been driving used imported cars rather than buying new vehicles from Mark, since I closed down my own private consulting business and moved into the corporate world -- I couldn't justify the expensive leases anymore.
I spoke to Mark for some time yesterday and we talked a bit about the GM restructuring. Mark and I often disagree on many things, but there was one thing that we both agreed on, which is that GM wasn't taking this restructuring far enough -- that it really should eliminate GMC and Buick, and only have two brands -- Chevrolet and Cadillac. To go even further, I would suggest to GM that they rebrand the entire company Chevrolet Motors.
Why Chevrolet? Because Chevy has always been the bread and butter of GM's revenues, and it has the most visibility in NASCAR auto racing, arguably the most important source of advertising for the company and where much of the automotive research from GM is being applied as a testbed. While it wasn't GM's first brand -- it was Buick when the company was formed in 1903, as the Chevrolet line wasn't acquired and merged into GM until 1918 -- there is no question that if push comes to shove, "Chevy" is the name that personifies the best and most iconic vehicles ever produced by the American auto industry and the brand that made GM the profitable automotive titan it once was.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Chevrolet offers sedans, trucks, vans and SUV's -- the complete spectrum of products that is required to address every segment of the market. With a focus on Chevy, there's no reason for Buick or GMC to exist, strictly for the redundancy of having alternative brandings. In the new economy, General Motors can no longer afford to have separate toolings, separate ad campaigns and separate dealerships for brands of marginal usefulness.
While I would almost go as far to say that Cadillac should also be put out to pasture, as the single luxury line of Chevrolet Motors, it can still probably justify its existence, provided that Chevy can consolidate production lines and chassis and most of the common parts in order to produce premium versions of the sedans and trucks with the Cadillac moniker, and not leave Cadillac cars in stock, reserving them strictly for special orders.
To me, the heartbeat of the American car industry will always be Chevrolet. And if pressed, I think GM executives probably feel the same way. Talk Back and Let Me Know.