New York Auto Show: Some Domestic Debuts

April 8th, 2009

gm-puma-segway-outside6It has been one tough year for automakers worldwide, and that’s an understatement. Apparently, they are carrying on bravely in New York, putting the best face on a very shaky situation, showing us a few interesting U.S. cars that may shine their headlights through the gloom.

Let’s take a quick look at the GMC Terrain (GM’s newest crossover utility vehicle), the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) Project.

Called by some a motorized rickshaw, the PUMA is a project of GM and Segway, makers of that stand-up electric-scooter thing we saw last year. Imagine staid old GM partnering with these guys! I doubt I’d want to do 35 mph in this (its top speed), but test drives, we hear, will be available in the fall. With Hummer soon to disappear, this vehicle goes to the antipodes of high-mass, big-impact design. It’s kind of a delightful joke for GM to do this.

2010_gmc_terrainfront_three_quarters_viewOne joke that may bomb is the GMC Terrain, yet another version of the Equinox but with better fuel economy. Four or six cylinders are available. If you buy the four, you’ll get something called Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) technology. “ANC quiets the ride by detecting booming noises in the vehicle and smoothing them out by sending out counteracting sound waves through the audio system’s speakers.”

That is, instead of using technology to cancel the booms and vibrations at their source, these geniuses figured out how to mask them. Guys, what happens if you turn off the sound system? And the grille on this badge-engineered bad boy looks “like a rapper showing off newly purchased gold or silver teeth,” as one blogger (scroll down to GasGuzzler’s comment) put it.

Even in the face of bankruptcy, GM follows its usual practice of rebadging and remarketing the same car with minimal changes in sheet metal. Will U.S. buyers once again fall for this tired gambit? Or will they all Segway into the future?

press-and-fiat-500Ah, but there is good news from Chrysler. Look at this photo of Vice Chairman Jim Press, who drove the Fiat 500 into the show. How did he fit in that car? Does this suggest that Chrysler will impose itself onto Fiat and drive off into the sunset, clutching the wheel to its chest? Now, what kind of rebadging is that?

2010-grand-cherokeeChrysler will show off the new 2011 (yes, that’s right) Jeep Grand Cherokee, which may well prove an important means to its survival. That car has certainly languished over the years. Take it from me, I owned a ’93 5.7-liter V8 that inspired no love. Now the GC has got a new high-performing V6, better fuel economy, better off-road capability, and a smoother ride on the street. It’s far better looking, the interior is much improved, and perhaps the GC’s overpriced, high-maintenance, cheesy-trim days are over. The company needs this car.

Tell us what you think of the GM-Segway project. Does it have a future, or is it just a good public relations stunt?

—jgoods

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  1. | #1

    Anyone else think the GMC Terrain looks like a Jeep Compass? I don’t think that vehicle is going to help them much.
    Speaking of Jeep though… that ’11 GC looks like it could be a winner! the fact that they’re designating it a 2011 though speaks to how badly they want to be perceived as a leader… at least IMHO.

  2. | #2

    I like the new Grand Cherokee a lot. I owned a ’98 and loved it, but I was never a fan of the current generation. This one looks great.

  3. panayoti
    | #3

    I’d like to see a comparo of the Jeep GC and the new Subbie Outback.

  4. Randy
    | #4

    The Puma and Terrain are yet more examples of why GM will lose it’s place forever as the world’s biggest car maker this year.

    Look at Toyota’s brand and model lineup compared to GM’s. Yes, Toyota has a clearly delineated Luxury brand in Lexus (as does GM with Cadillac) and has a sporty youth-oriented brand in Scion, but you should quickly notice that while Toyota matches GM in every class of vehicle, it does not offer rebadged platforms two to five deep as does GM. This means that Toyota saves billions in costs including engineering, validation, manufacturing and marketing compared to GM, but can also dedicate more engineerers to achieve the highest possible quality. This is why Toyota will become Number 1 this year, and why GM will end the year in bankruptcy.

  5. jgoods
    | #5

    @Randy
    Dead on, Randy. Rebadging seems to me a big reason for GM’s decline, but remember there are other factors–including legacy costs, the bloated dealer network, general head-in-the-sand management, and a gross misjudgment of the market over the years. The company has had 100 years to screw up, while the transplants have only been here for, what, maybe 20-30?

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