Skip to comments.10 Cars That [really,really] Damaged GM's Reputation (With Video)
Posted on 11/26/2008 7:02:07 AM PST by yankeedame
GM's current precarious situation didn't come about overnight. There are arguments to be made that various government regulations led to the disaster and that management can't escape much of the blame, and there are plenty who contend it was a series of disastrous union labor contracts that have put the company at risk. But there's one thing everyone agrees on: Over the past few decades GM put some truly terrible products out on the market. Unreliable, uninteresting and flat ugly, these were cars that simply destroyed GM's reputation....
1. 1971-1977 Chevrolet Vega
Legend has it that when Chevrolet Division Manager John DeLorean went to the GM Proving Grounds to get his first look at a prototype of the new 1971 Chevrolet Vega, the front of the car literally fell off onto the ground. But that bad omen didn't keep DeLorean from putting the Vega on the market.
Responding to increased import sales, the Vega showed up at the same time as Ford's similarly ill-fated Pinto. Both were relatively conventional cars by Detroit standards, with their four-cylinder engines in front sending power back to a solid rear axle. In fact, the only innovative thing on the Vega was the all-aluminum block around which its 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine was constructed.
Unfortunately, the art of building aluminum engine blocks was in its infancy back in 1971 and the unlined cylinder walls of Vega engines were scoring almost instantly. That led to lots of oil burned and early death for this engine. Throw in haphazard build quality and sheetmetal that you could practically hear rusting away, and the Vega truly rates as one of GM's great debacles.
But the Vega was actually a sales success. Chevy sold nearly 268,000 during the 1971 model year, over 390,000 during 1972, almost 396,000 during 1973, and over 450,000 during 1974 (sales finally collapsed during the 1975 model year). After all, its mini-Camaro looks were handsome and in an era of fuel shortages it was pretty stingy on gas. Plus, back then there were millions of buyers who insisted on buying only American products. But ultimately that meant there were just that many more people disappointed by the Vega. By the mid-1980s, Vegas were being junked so aggressively that some salvage yards in Southern California had signs up saying they wouldn't accept any more. When even the junkyard won't take a car, that's trouble
2. 1980-1985 X-Cars
It's hard to imagine the hoopla that surrounded the introduction of the all-new 1980 Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Citation, Oldsmobile Omega and Pontiac Phoenix in April of 1979. These four awkwardly proportioned "X-Body" front-drivers directly replaced GM's rear-drive compacts (of which the Chevy Nova was the most prominent) and promised a revolution in how the corporation designed and built cars. Chevy alone sold an incredible 811,540 Citations during that prolonged 1980 model year based on that promise. Unfortunately, the reality was that these four- and six-cylinder cars probably suffered more recalls and endemic problems than any other GM vehicle program.
The problem wasn't so much the basic engineering of the X-Body cars as it was that no one apparently spent any time doing the detailed engineering that determines a car's success. So customers complained of disintegrating transmissions, suspension systems that seemed to wobble on their own mounts, and brakes that would make the whole car shudder every time they were applied. There were so many niggling faults and a seemingly endless series of recalls that sales of the car almost tanked by its third year. Still, through 1985, a few million escaped to the public, souring hundreds of thousands on GM.
3. 1976-1987 Chevrolet Chevette
The Chevrolet Chevette was already outdated when it appeared in 1976. Based on GM's "T" platform, it was a primitive, front-engine, rear-drive subcompact in a small-car world that was busy being revolutionized by front-drive cars such as the Honda Civic and Accord, Volkswagen Rabbit and Ford Fiesta. It was underpowered too, originally being offered with a 1.4-liter Four making 53 hp or a 1.6-liter version of the same engine rated at 70 hp.
Chevrolet saved itself a lot of development time and money by picking up the Chevette design from GM Brazil. The Georgia-built small car was a solid sales success too, selling almost 450,000 units in 1980 alone. But it was always a car that sold strictly on price, with no real virtues of its own. And it was a huge help to Chevrolet in sneaking in under the federally mandated CAFE standards. But it also meant that for 11 years GM didn't bother developing an advanced small car specifically for the American market.
In fact, when it finally came time to replace the Chevette in 1987, what Chevrolet did was create the "Geo" sub-brand and put redecorated Isuzus and Suzukis onto the Chevette's bottom rung on the model ladder. In truth, Chevrolet has never had a homegrown vehicle in this subcompact segment since the Chevette died, and that could be one of the company's greatest missteps of all.
4. 1982-1988 Cadillac Cimarron
There's nothing wrong with the idea of a smaller, more athletic Cadillac. But it was a terrible idea to rebadge the Chevrolet Cavalier and attempt to pawn it off as a true Cadillac.
The compact J-Car program was already well under development at GM by the time Cadillac decided it wanted a version of its own. With little time on its hands and no desire to spend much money, what they came up with was a Cavalier with a different grille, a slightly modified interior and some hydraulic dampers between the body and front subframe. Otherwise, the 1982 Cimarron was powered by the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine as the Cavalier, backed by either a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.
Cadillac tried to sell the Cimarron as a domestic alternative to cars like the BMW 3 Seriesthat was just pathetic. Not surprisingly, practically no one fell for it and the Cimarron never sold well. But to many people, this proved that GM at the time had little regard for the storied and significant Cadillac brand.
5. 1991-1995 Saturns
Saturn was GM's attempt at a do-over. Starting with a fresh plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., and a fresh labor agreement in that location with the UAW, the idea was that GM would create a fresh dealer network that would sell fresh new products in a refreshingly straightforward manner. It didn't quite work out that way.
Actually GM did a rather good job of setting up the plant, dealers and "no haggle" sales schemes - Saturn buyers really did seem to enjoy shopping at and buying from Saturn dealers.
But Saturn's cars were thoroughly mediocre. Built around a steel space-frame with plastic body panels bolted on, there were gaps between the panels big enough to stick a hand through. Yes, the plastic panels were resistant to collision damage, but they discolored and faded quickly, and as they aged, they cracked. Beyond that, the first Saturns had four-cylinder engines that sounded like threshing machines but didn't make a lot of power. These cars were nothing special in either handling or looks, and they were neither particularly space- nor fuel-efficient. At least they weren't unreliable. But Saturn's cars were simply no match for competition from Honda, Toyota, Mazda and a half-dozen others.
So GM, which got so much right when launching Saturn in 1990, blew the opportunity to build a new, loyal customer base by not getting the product right.
6. 2001-2005 Pontiac Aztek
When Pontiac introduced the Aztek crossover vehicle for 2001, it was actually getting a jump on a new market. Unfortunately, however, the Aztek was just about the ugliest thing anyone could remember being unleashed on America's roads since the 1958 Edsel. No, that's not fair the Edsel was way better looking than the Aztek.
Pontiac had shown the Aztek in concept form back in 1999 and, generally speaking, the reviews were excellent. But while engineering the concept vehicle as a production machine, GM took an incredible wrong turn: the corporation decided to base the new Aztek on the existing platform of its front-drive minivans. And because the minivans had certain dimensions that would be expensive to change, the Aztek wound up with some of the most awkward dimensions imaginable. For instance, the minivans' tall firewall and resulting high cowl worked fine on those plain boxes, but left the Aztek appearing tall, narrow and oddly fragile.
Compounding the mistake of was the Aztek's horrid shape, and the whole thing was covered in awful, gray plastic cladding. Hideous.
In its defense, the Aztek was roomy and versatile and had solid, easygoing road manners. But that was nowhere near enough to compete with the Japanese crossovers.
7. 1978-1985 Oldsmobile Diesel V-8s
From the late 1970s and into the early '80s, Oldsmobile sold the most popular car in America: the Cutlass. Olds was on a sales roll; it seemed nothing would be able to stop the division. Then came the Oldsmobile diesels, and stopping is exactly what they did best.
Instead of designing a new series of diesel engines from scratch, GM decided to base its new diesel V8 architecture on the existing gasoline Oldsmobile 5.7-liter V8's. Of course the modifications were extensive in order to handle the 22.5:1 compression ratio of diesel operationmuch stouter iron block, new cylinder heads, reinforced bottom endbut it was still a series of modifications rather than a clean-sheet design. Soon after the 5.7-liter diesel V8 debuted in Oldsmobile full-size 88 and 98 models (during 1978), the engines started tearing themselves apart.
That extreme fragility was despite the fact that the 5.7-liter diesel option cost between $800 and $1000 extra per car and only made a puny 120 hp and a stingy 220 lb-ft of peak torque at 1600 rpm. In short, these engines were awful. But the 4.3-liter version of the diesel V8 was even worserated at only 90 hp, it was somehow even more fragile.
The diesel V8s (and a short-lived diesel V6) were eventually offered throughout most of the Oldsmobile line and spread to the other vehicle divisions as well. And when the engines inevitably blew up, the cars they were in would either head to an early death in a junkyard or have a more reasonable powerplant swapped in.
8. 1981-1984 Cadillac V-8-6-4
There was nothing wrong with the theory behind GM's attempt to turn Cadillac's throttle-body injected 6.0-liter V-8 into an economy engine during the 1981 model year. The technology was called "Modulated Displacement" back then, and the idea was that as engine load decreased, fewer cylinders in the engine would actually be fired to produce power. In other words, at full throttle, the "V-8-6-4" was a V8, as it reached speed it became a V6 and when cruising it was a V4. That was the theory; in reality, most of the time these engines were just broken. Conceptually it's almost identical to what GM is selling today as Active Fuel Management on some V8s.
The old Modulated Displacement system worked by altering the rocker-arm fulcrum so that intake and exhaust valves on particular cylinders were held shut by their springs. Unfortunately the solenoids and primitive electronics that were supposed to make this work rarely worked themselves. And even when the V-8-6-4 was running on all eight cylinders it was only making a laughable 140 hp.
Even though GM abandoned the V-8-6-4 in everything except limousines after just one year, the damage was done. Here was one more half-developed, cynically marketed technology that GM just couldn't make work.
9. 2003-Present Hummer H2
Going strictly on functionality, the Hummer H2 is a capable machine. It's very good off-road, it rides reasonably well on-road, it's plenty powerful enough, can tow a lot, and will hold a few people and a lot of their stuff. And since it's based on the same platform as GM's full-size SUVs, the corporation makes a lot of profit on every one it sells. Function, however, isn't the H2's problem.
The problem with the H2 is that it's proudly politically incorrect in an era when the forces of political correctness are winning. The H2 gets crummy fuel mileage, its looks come straight out of the military at a time while the military is fighting an unpopular war, and it's freaking huge. Some people may actually like peeving off their neighbors by being rebellious in their vehicle choice, but an antisocial image is tougher for a large corporation to pull off.
GM was introducing the H2 (and establishing Hummer dealerships) at just about the same time that Toyota was taking the green-tech high ground with vehicles like the Prius and other hybrids. The H2 came to embody GM's presumed environmental callousness and the environmentalist fringe was vandalizing both Hummer dealerships and random civilian-owned vehicles. But worst of all for GM, when gas crested past $3 a gallon, the H2's sales cratered and they haven't recovered.
The Hummer H2 is a self-inflicted headache GM doesn't need.
10. 1997-1999 EV1
Even today, the two-seat GM EV1 remains one of the best-engineered, best-working pure electric vehicles ever released to the public. With clever engineering throughout its aluminum structure, an incredibly aerodynamic body and a whole bunch of lead-acid batteries, the first-generation EV1 was able to go maybe 75 miles if driven with extreme care. The second-generation EV1 with nickel-metal-hydride batteries upped that range to about 150 miles.
The problem with the EV1 was that it was almost impossible to drive in traffic with anything approaching the ideal technique the car needed to stretch its range. So its real world range was often down around 40 miles and driving it was often a white-knuckle thrill ride as the driver tried to stretch out every last electron to make it to a charging station.
GM built the EV1 to satisfy a mandate from the state of California that 2 percent of a manufacturer's fleet sold there be zero-emissions vehicles (that number would rise to 10 percent by 2003). However, the EV1 and electric vehicles built by other manufacturers finally convinced the California Air Resources Board that the zero-emissions mandates weren't achievable by then-current technology. This led to the cancellation of the mandate.
So GM canceled the EV1, and when the leases on the 1117 it had produced ran out,GM took them back and crushed them. To the committed environmentalists who had leased one, that was completely unacceptable. And suddenly the world was full of conspiracy theories about why GM "killed" the electric car (see the movie clip below). If the Hummer H2 makes GM seem callous toward the environment, the way GM handled the EV1 makes the company seem downright hostile. It's been a public relations nightmare.
However, the experience GM gained by producing the EV1 may pay off in the long run as many lessons learned with that car are being ported over to the new 2011 Chevrolet Volt.
Sometimes even the darkest clouds can have shiny silver linings.
I still see Chevettes around. Heard of many that made 250 plus K miles.
vortices and flow induced cavitation from too high a flow rate is what I think our FRiend was trying to explain.
As for “pegging” the temperature gauge: Steam *IS* rather hotter than water at the best of times, n’est ce pas?
For a small car it had great body lines. Reminded me of a mini Camaro, especially the front clip.
I owned three Saturns and love ‘em (SL & SC models). I never saw any cracks or paint fade. Yeah the engine was cheap but it was a piece a cake to take of. When you wrecked it was easy to fix and the frame kept me safe in couple of bad accidents.
In the later years GM blew it and took over Saturn... and screwed up the philosophy and the car. Now they are simply a “me too” car like all other GM crap. Saturn was real competition if GM let it grow. They were real innovators that did market research, and engineering. My boys now drive my old Saturns and the old ‘92 is still running good with well over 150K miles.
I buy Toyotas, VW’s, Hondas now....and wish I didn’t have to.
The 68 to 72 El Caminos and Chevelles were gorgeous. I hear Chevy updated the Copyright on the Chevelle name. Maybe somethings up after the Camaro relaunch. If they're still in business anyway.
60’s and early early 70’s Novas are in great demand amongst enthusiasts.
Years ago (about 15) I saw like a 61 in a parking lot. What surprised me was how square it was compared to the 70-71 versions. So square, almost like a Rambler or something.
“When GM discontinued the motor, it sold the tooling to Rover and is the basis of the V8’s Rover still uses. “
Um, Rover went bankrupt and closed a number of years ago.
My 83’ Cutlass Cruiser with the 4.3L V-6 was the most trouble free diesel I’ve owned. It was far more reliable than any of my five VW or Audi diesels. The best thing about it was how well it would run on whatever I fed it: pure diesel #1, home heating oil, even a little kerosene now and then. I could fill the tank for less than $6 and drive about 400 miles.
Rover is owned by Indians now.
What on EARTH are you smoking? The H2 is a TERRIBLE car offroad.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaVESDbCLqk (There are some H1s in this one.)
The suspension parts are all undersized, the steering gear is weak, the engine is underpowered for the weight of the vehicle, and the parent Chevy Tahoe is FAR better offroad with the Z71 package than the “offroad oriented” H2 is.
The H2 is a Chevy Tahoe with a body kit and a suspension lift. That’s all.
That is the Land Rover that was once owned by Ford.
The 3800 wasn’t the only V6 they used in the LeSabres and Regals.
And Land Rover doesn’t use the old Buick/Rover V8 any more anyway.
This is my 1990 Nissan Pathfinder SE 4x4. Eighteen years old, still on engine #1 at 245,000 miles, burns no oil, compression still well within allowable spec, gets *better* mileage than the EPA new rating, rides and handles better than any of the competition at the time (it was called "the driver's SUV" when it was new). Parts are *cheaper* than for the equivalent S-Blazer and far more plentifully available. What's that about Japanese vehicles using "throwaway engines" and "costing a lot to fix", again?
I'm in the middle of a transmission swap on another car; I'm putting a GM TH700R4 transmission behind a Jaguar I6 engine. Turns out I needed to get a new stub harness to connect the transmission's locking torque converter wiring to the car and I didn't want to wait the two weeks to get the Weatherpak connector from DelCity, so I went to the nearby GM dealer and bought one. What costs $10 from the suppliers via mail, the GM dealer sold me "below list" for $40!!!!!! WTF?
This is a commonly replaced part on 80s and 90s GM RWD cars, and they've got a 300%-plus markup on this commonly replaced item, just because they KNOW you have to replace it often. Yeah. Thanks. NO.
You don’t want to know what GM wants to replace their American made starters these days...
Erm, nobody in their right mind buys Mitsu machinery. Mitsu is the WORST of the Japanese makers. Most people ignore them when talking about the Japanese.
No longer true. The Nissan Skyline/GT-R is cheaper than an Z06 Vette, and it’s faster anywhere any time.
All Fords and Chevys will soon be made in China and sold in Walmart.
Yet somehow will be of better quality than when the UAW made them....
Ha! I love those ads. I have them all. Peter Stormare is so awesome.
"Vee Dub Engineering in da house, ya."
Mr. Vidbizz drives a Caddy, loves it. He loves a wide ride! The only other cars he’s owned were Towncars (3 of them).
bump for future read
Yep. It looked real good sittin' still.
Which I did a lot of in it due to gas prices and the fact it had a very nice CB radio system that I installed in it. Used to do a lot of what were called "coffee breaks" back in the day. Sittin', drinkin', talking on the CB.
Why should any of us spend money to reward indolence and incompetence?
My brother had one too.
Why would you want to spend much more, by several factors of ten, money rewarding the “Indolence and Incompetence” of Wall Street and the Banks? They could have put up much more resistance to federal demands and defended their positions and prevented a lot of this. Banks and Wall Street do not produce a tangible product, the auto industries do. The economies that have been doing well continue to have value added manufacturing.
But I found that the resale value was significantly higher of the GM (Chevy in my case), the Chevy took the rigors of the work I applied to it better (meaning things didn't not loosen up and rattle as quickly or as much), and particularly in my case, that the back seat in the crew cab was a lot more comfortable, and that the Z71 off-road package was a much better fit for my off road needs than the FX4 package on the Ford.
Having said that, the F-150 is a very good ride and a good value for its price, and the exterior style I tend to think looks a little better asthetically than the Chevy.
I nrented a Pontiac G-6 a few months ago when I was in California. I was pleasantly surprised, but quickly remembered that it took them forty years to put out a reasonably sized car that handles well and can actually move onto an interstate easily. They are too stupid to be saved, IMO.
You shoot down your (weakly) implied argument when you mentioned “value-added” manufacturing. The American car industry is doing just fine, thank you. The segment of it generally focused on Detroit is doing exceptionally poorly, in large measure because of indolence and incompetence. Manufacturers also look for greatest return on their capital investment - otherwise they would be charities. So they manufacture the product wherever they maximize that return. If the you can make something for $3 or make the same thing for $1, both substantially the same and selling for the same price, what would be your choice?
I assume you have a TV, a computer, and various other gadgets and tools. Look at their country of origin. I assume you where clothes. Look at their country of origin. I assume you have one or more motor vehicles. Consider where they are assembled, but also where the constituent bits and pieces came from.
Taking up your comment on “tangible products”, any history of commerce, you may want to check out Braudel’s series, demonstrate conclusively that the development of money and banking were necessary for the development manufacturing and the distribution of the product output. Without money and banking we would still be land-locked peasants.
The Corvette is the finest American made WORLD CLASS CAR available at ANY PRICE - - - - but NOT AT A PREMIUM PRICE.”
It is a great car and at a good price for what it is but the problem is it is in a very tiny segment. The two seat high performance market is not a big market. Where Chevy needs the world-beaters is in mainstream passenger car segments. I don’t even think you can argue that the Corvette gives much luster to the rest of the brands vehicles. Perhaps some people get more excited about a Mercedes C class because of the reputation of the S class but a Corvette does not make people more excited about an Aveo.
“No longer true. The Nissan Skyline/GT-R is cheaper than an Z06 Vette, and its faster anywhere any time.”
Track tests sure have shown that GTR to be a monster.
Sabotaged it how?
All sent to the junk yard with less than 100K miles....(One had 101K.)
Sorry, but my experiences over a lifetime are a bit different.
Sounds like the last time you tried a foreign marque was about 10-20 years ago.
I and my family’s experiences are greatly different. And, from the look of most of these threads, most everyone else’s experience parallels mine, not yours.
I don’t think I’ve had an Asian car that *didn’t* make 200-250K. And my aged Toyota truck that I had a decade ago made it 400K before someone happened to it. :P
The chevys are fairly new and the wife and kid drive them. Neither have cost me anything more then a light bulb or two. The Yukon needed a fuel pump and a water pump at 100K.....and a change of plugs. I plan to drive it til my wheels come off.
The last subaru was a hoot! The A/C unit exploded and blew the hood clear off it while I was doing 70mph. Needless to say that I never bought another. It was similar to the Outback. The Toyota PU rolled on a low speed corner, the rest have stories but those were the best ones.
Oh....I have a old chevy truck that I don't drive much as it has no AC. It is a 1967. It has some bondo but it is still original. No telling how many miles....
Yep.....I do see things a bit different from my perch.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.