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General Motors - That was then, this is now

How General Motors Has Improved the Quality of Their Cars
by Courtney Caldwell

57 Corvette
The classic beauty - '57 Corvette

There was a time when cars were really cool -- especially those coming out of General Motors. The 50s became the birthing decade of hot cars and sexy roadsters. Most notably was the Corvette, which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Not too many companies can boast such endurance of a street rod named desire.

Now in its second century, the Corvette Z06 begins the sixth generation of rebirth with not only an audience of original lovers but also a new breed of suitors lined up for the car of their dreams. Some wait with baited breath for the first of the sixth to roll off the factory floor while others are in hot pursuit of something more classic, aged to perfection, rumbling with the sweet sounds of history and a street-wise attitude. It’s worth the wait.

While Corvette is king of its genre it is not alone in its kingdom. The ’55 and ’57 Chevys still hold the hearts of many, a car so in demand today that another zero has been added to its original sticker price. A mere $50,000 or more lets you drive away in a mint-condition classic. The very lucky ones find a ragtop.

As the 50s moved into the 60s more hotties rolled off the GM’s production lines. There was the Chevy Camaro and Impala, Pontiac’s Firebird, and who can forget the rip-roaring GTO, another Pontiac classic which today is not only back from the dead but more desirable than ever. It was truly the muscle car era, a time when hot cars ruled, guys in leather were cool, and music was becoming the universal language among those under 25. Boy, how things change.

Then came the gas wars of the 70s. Big engines and big boxy brutes gave way to little runts that ruled the road. Long lines of 4-cylinder 4-speeds encircled city blocks to fill up on what might be the last gas to be gotten for weeks. The panic had started. Consumers dumped their gas-guzzlers in fear of being stranded by the road or by their wallets. Junkyards gave rise to an infectious domain to menacing rodents and mafia dumplings.

The 80s emerged as an era of big things; big hair, big shoulder pads, and big excess, none of which survived the decade. GM, like many other automakers, entered the era with big cars and poor quality, a reputation that would ultimately lead them down the road to perdition.

That was then, this is now. Today’s GM -- under the leadership of CEO Rick Wagoner and direction of consummate car guy Bob Lutz -- have repaved the path of GM with products that not only ooze quality but also have brought back that hot pizzazz that makes cars more than a mode of transportation. They make you sweat.

For GM, the light at the end of the tunnel is no longer a train. In fact, one might say GM is now on the road to redemption. Owning up to their faults, and learning from their mistakes, they’ve moved on, ready to show the world how it’s done.

At a recent full-line preview of GM products, I expected to find the same-old, same-old. Instead, it was like being retrofitted back to the future. There, glistening in the sunlight were dozens of fine forms and designs that were so emotionally compelling it was difficult to decide where to begin. First instincts were to touch and smell.

04 Cadillac XLR
The newest beauty - 2004 Cadillac XLR

It’s beginning to look like 2004 will become known as the year of roadster rebirth. Cadillac, which has undergone an extreme makeover this past year, is launching the XLR, a two-seater roadster that rivals any sports car made. In fact, it may be in a class of its own. Cadillac also has coming its own crossover version, the SRX, hitting showroom floors soon, which we predict will be huge hit with the upscale consumer crowd seeking to shed a minivan or SUV, especially women. In fact, since the debut of the CTS last year, women and men alike are looking at Cadillac in a whole new way -- it's younger, hipper, sexier. It’s no longer your father’s car.

Chevrolet is not only proudly celebrating the 50th anniversary of its famed Corvette it is about to unleash the Malibu Maxx, one of the most safety conscious cars I’ve ever seen in the mid-size sedan segment ever. Due to launch in early 2004, look for amazing gadgetry such as retractable pedals for the short and tall, a rear sun roof, side-impact air bags which deploy upon any side or roll-over impact, and my personal favorite, OnStar, a must have for any and all kinds of safety and security issues that can happen on the road.

04 GMC Envoy XUV
The functional beauty -
2004 GMC Envoy XUV

GMC has one of the hottest new entries into the SUV market for 2004, the Envoy XUV. Disguised as an SUV this piece of art does all sorts of cool things for those who want it all. With a retractable roof and a power sliding mid-section, the XUV easily transforms into a variation of a pick-up truck only much more elegant. For those who need to haul things long or tall the XUV won’t hinder delivery but will clean up nicely with a washable backend that drains not stains. No muscle required.

Hummer also has something to brag about. The launch of last year’s H2 opened the road to of a whole new breed of SUV lovers. If you liked that just wait until you see the new Hummer SUT -- think Arnold Swarzenegger meets David Hasselhoff at the beach (but minus the slo-mo beach bunnies).

And let’s not forget Buick, the GM line once relegated to the grandparents. Not any more. While Buick has worked to maintain its air of elegance it has met the challenge of its new demographic desires. More suitable for, say, a Harrison Ford than a Henry, the Rainier, Buick’s first entry into the SUV market smells of success for a more sophisticated and mature audience who seek pure comfort, quiet, and style on the open road. It comes standard with a towing package that can haul up to 6700 pounds for those pulling mobile homes, horse trailers, or Harley Heritages.

And of course, there’s Pontiac, the performance player in GM’s house of cars. Look for the coolest of the cool in their 2004 GTO, as well as some design updates, nameplate changes and performance enhancers coming out of Detroit on a family of products known for their power structure and drive. D’eyre da bomb!

04 Corvette Z06
The anniversary beauty - '04 Corvette Z06

There’s more news than one story will permit, so suffice it to say that GM has come back swinging. And while they have not yet won the war on quality they are definitely winning most of what was once a plethora of uphill battles. Quality and design are back. So is performance and power. And even though the war goes on one thing remains certain. GM is leading the charge, as a great General should, by putting the pride back in ‘Made in America.’

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