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My impression is that Americans just don’t think much of European design. You might say Mercedes and BMW are successful. They are: But their 530,000 combined sales for cars and trucks, out of a market of almost 17 million, is a limited success.
Care to look at
the failures? Start with Volkswagen and its Golf, popular in
Go to Ford. The Contour and
Mystique were American versions of the European Mondeo. They failed. There is
the Ford Focus, a European-designed small car that started moderately well in
Go to GM. Remember the Cadillac Catera, an Opel with Cadillac badges, imported here? A flop. How about the Saturn LS, a European platform with a plastic skin, a flop and now gone like Cateras and Contour/Mystique. The Saturn Ion was another of those Euro platforms used here. The most successful of the Global/European platform cars sold here is the Chevy Malibu, the fleet special, which even GM executives say is a design bore.
this doesn’t stop executives from thinking the answer to their problems,
particularly at GM, is at the global approach. Whenever you bring up the
failures, they just brush them aside or say they weren’t done well
enough. The idea that Americans really don’t care for the European approach
is beyond their radar.
Here are just a few of my complaints with this mindset. There’s no global exchange here. What GM and Ford want to build are European cars with Euro platforms and European engineering. They just want American badges on them. The design freedom for the American versions is quite limited because they can only work off the Euro platforms.
If this continues, it won’t be long before Americans at GM and Ford won’t be able to design and engineer a car. They’ll just do pickups. Look at General Motors: GM forgot how to do a rear-drive car and had to borrow from GM Australia. No American car platforms get transferred for European production. It’s a one-way street. Yet the American market, and GM and Ford’s share in it, are much larger than the European vehicle market or the GM/Ford shares.
You even see some of this thinking with trucks. When GM wanted a
small pickup, the Chevy Colorado and
Right now that
Now I have said the models never go the other
way. So far that has been true. GM adapted its minivan designs so that the
American-built models could be shipped to
Now they will have another chance to take an
American car. The GM Pontiac Solstice plant will build a version, called the
Opel GT, for GM in
Aura of success?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Opel designs will sell here. The coming Saturn Aura, which is an Opel design, looks good. It could be successful.
But I still say this is a huge market. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to design and build cars for our market profitably, building what our people like, instead of taking a second-best compromise — meaning, the best car we could make out of a car really designed for the European tastes.
Ironically, the one company that seems
to think there is something positive in American design is Chrysler, which has
German ownership. The Chrysler 300, the Dodge Magnum and Charger don’t
borrow styling from
What sounds better?
Frankly, German GM, meaning Opel, has been flopping anyway and is just now trying to turn around. What makes anyone at GM think they can build a better car than we can?
I recall the then-chairman of Ford, standing with me as we looked at the new Contour. He said. “If this doesn’t work we’ll never try it again.” It didn’t work but they haven’t stopped trying to shove Euro designs down our throats.