Two years ago I saw the future Cadillac CTS (entry luxury). I was told this was the final design. I can't say I liked it — very angular, edgy. But we would turn our heads when that baby went by.
This is Flint's Law: A car should be like your girlfriend: Look good and go fast. Okay, call me sexist, but that's a pretty simple rule. So when was the last time you saw a really good-lookingCorp. car, the last time you turned your head when a new GM car went by?
What's strange is thatinvented automobile styling. Yesterday's designs pushed GM to half the market — the long hoods, the big wheel openings; Bill Mitchell (a great GM designer) bragged that the car looked in motion even when it was standing still.
Of course, designs change. “No statue was ever erected to the man or woman who thought it best to leave well enough alone,” said George Walker, the greatMotor Co. designer.
So what went wrong at GM? First, it was “middle-of-the-road” disease. With 50% of the market, GM felt it needed designs that appealed to just about everyone and offended no one: The middle-of-the-road school of design.
Even as GM's share fell, to 45%, to 40%, to 35%, to 30%, it didn't change this approach. I recall a chairman ofsaying to me, “A car has to be desirable, and they don't understand that.”
Robert Lutz, onceCorp. president, used to say that he needed the smallest number of customers, but that they must lust after his car, they must have it.
When GM did try something adventuresome, the designers just couldn't get it right:
That Dustbuster minivan with the long pointy nose.
The bustleback Cadillac Seville. (I liked it, but no one else did).
The Chevy Impala (fat, fat water rat).
The Pontiac Aztek.
Each of these disasters reinforced the middle-of-the-road philosophy. They should have kept trying until they got it right. They didn't.
Interiors were even worse. I honestly felt that the exterior designers and the interior designers never talked to teach other.
The problem is that the leaders of GM just have no taste when it comes to cars, exteriors or interiors. The proof of this is the vehicles themselves. Worse, they don't seem to have car smarts.
Example: Two years ago I saw the future Cadillac CTS (entry luxury). I was told this was the final design. I can't say I liked it — very angular, edgy. But we would turn our heads when that baby went by. And the design said something: “I'm not German, I'm not Japanese. I'm from Detroit, and to hell with you.” Yes, that is what a fighting Cadillac should say.
The other day I saw the CTS again, but this time that edginess wasn't there.
Some said the design was softened.
Some said it was that this model was black and the color took away the edginess.
I can't tell, but if they softened it they made a mistake, and if it was the color, then don't paint any of them black.
But what really irked me was the left stalk off the steering wheel. It was the same old GM stalk: turn signals, headlights, wipers. They are on every GM car. But you don't want that on-every-Chevy stalk on a new Cadillac. The penny pinchers had saved their penny; the car suffers.
GM trucks are doing well. The design of the industry-leading big GM pickup is old, but it's a darn good truck. That's why it sells.
The new Suburban and Tahoe/Yukon are old designs, too, but they are darn good SUVs. That's why they sell.
The coming (this fall) Saturn Vue SUV is very conventional for a new vehicle. The coming (next spring) Pontiac Vibe SUV is much more adventuresome, but maybe the Vibe gets more pizzazz because it's a version of a. The flashier look will distinguish it.
Will GM Design lead the world again?
I don't see why it should.
The people who think the Aztek is good looking still run GM.
There is next to no imagination anywhere. Here's what I mean by imagination: If you want an image car, all GM thinks of is the 2-seat roadster. The coming Cadillac Evoq roadster and the Buick Bengal roadster shown at recent auto shows are examples. But there are 30 such cars in the world now. An imaginative company would think of something new for an image.
The CTS. Yes, it's a nice 4-door sedan, and you need that. But why not bring out two vehicles together? Why not a sports wagon or a convertible so there's an entry luxury “line,” not just a sedan?
Yes, I'd like to turn my head again when a GM car goes by.
Will I ever?
Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.