May the Best Car WIn
On the way to Milford Proving Grounds for the "May the Best Car Win Challenge", I wondered how worthy this event would be for an amateur guy like me. As a busy father of three young children, just having the chance to drive alone in my new G8 from Warren to Milford was a thrill in itself. I don't get out much. I asked myself, "At the end of the day, what will I have to offer?"
Shortly after I arrived, it became clear that it was the event that was doing the offering. I was there to be educated and equipped. From the beginning remarks during lunch, I felt more and more like this event was a serious effort to instill real world information about product, ours and theirs, to be talked up in social circles. In fact, Bob Lutz presented himself less of a high-ranking CEO and more of a car guy like us. His passion for our product (and anger for other things unspoken here) were a direct reflection of conversations heard among the ranks here at the design level at the Podium. Of course we all want the same thing here at GM, but Bob says it like we would. That is a refreshing, albeit controversial sometimes, change.
As a triplet father with three kids in booster seats, my vehicles must transport my family well. In the triplet community, one of the most popular vehicles is the Honda Pilot. I was eager to compare it with the Traverse so I could help other families into our product. I wanted to be able to say, "For the same money, you can get a much better product with the Traverse!" I drove the Pilot first. The styling was uninspiring both inside and out, but I was impressed with the road manners. It exuded confidence in the driver's seat and felt very smooth. My ride partner did not care for the "old pick-up truck" feeling that the rear seats had, but I was looking at this as a kid hauler with booster seats. The Pilot won't win any awards for pizzazz, but it does what it does very well. As a purpose built vehicle, and for what I was looking for, I came away with little to say negative about it. Also, it got bonus points for the small convex mirror to check on the kids. It was clear why mom's like this vehicle. It works great overall, and has minor details to please.
In comparison, the Traverse did everything the Pilot did as good or better. The styling was a clear advantage inside and out. The ride was smooth as butter while being able to carry more "stuff". It's bigger, more powerful, and actually gets better mileage than the Pilot. So what's not to like? Earlier I mentioned I wanted to say, "For the same price..." The sticker price for both vehicles showed a $7000 difference and straddled the $40,000 mark. I heard the Traverse is the bestselling vehicle in this segment, but will it remain the best when it is a few years old? It is the better vehicle, but time will tell how much people consider it that much better. I think they will.
Now onto the fun factor. I couldn't wait to lay into the Mustang GT. But first, upon sitting in it, those seats... those wonderful seats! After sitting in the 'stang, I wanted its seats in each vehicle I drove. The interior was well done. I enjoyed the throwback look all around and felt they used the dash space perfectly. Looking out the window, the fake cowl gave the view a bulky feel. It wasn't intrusive, but was noticeable at all times. It was made more evident by the amount of weight transfer upon acceleration. This car really rocked, but not in a good way. It felt big and soft when I nailed, and the front end had substantial travel. Maybe that parlayed into the feeling that this car was... slow. I floored it and immediately wondered if we had the wrong car. I asked my ride partner, "Is this the GT?" It was. I then pictured the Mustang coming home from performance school and showing his dad, an aging BOSS from yesteryear, his report card. The Boss peers down over the top edge of the card and asks, "You call yourself a V8?" Maybe I expected more, but I was unimpressed. This car looks fast and stout, but it was slow to get its legs moving, and the suspension felt mushy with throttle, braking, and turning.
The V6 Camaro (yes, the V6 Vs the GT's V8) had much of the opposite effect on me. I felt the interior was great for the driver, but bland on the passenger side. There was lots of space over there and it could use an emblem or something inspiring for the passenger's delight. But this car was stuck to the road, had minimal body roll, and felt every bit as fast as the V8 in the GT. For the price difference, which favors the V6 Camaro, this car is an absolute bargain!
Next comparison: In this corner, the best-in-segment selling, mundane looking, Dumbo-ear-mirrors wearing, with a herky jerky rod-type shift lever sticking out of the dash, premium fuel sucking, Lexus RX 350! With, I must add, a dashboard that looks like it was designed by four different people who never had a meeting. No flow. No style. I wanted out. Oh.. It drove just fine. Whoopee.
And in this corner, the all new, regular fuel-sipping, sweet-styled, superior contented, with larger wheels, impressive dashboard, and road manners you would expect in thee most upscale vehicles is the... Chevy Equinox! You were expecting the SRX? Please, it had to be a fair fight. The SRX is in another class. Our Chevy Equinox competes with the Lexus and, in my opinion, still wins the battle.
I'm trying to wrap this up and skip lots of details, but some things still need to be said. Towards the end of the day, I was picking up some not-so-good surprises. I felt our Silverado fell short of the tough look of the F-150. For the first time since I have had trucks (since '96), I see where we really need to make our next gen truck a grand slam. Is it as good? Yes. Better? In some ways, but that is subjective. Point is, the unbiased consumer will have a hard decision to make. We need to make that decision easier.
The car I wanted to keep driving all the way home? The CTS Wagon! I had to look behind me to see what I was yanking around the pylons because I certainly could not feel the greenhouse. What a fun ride!
There is a lot to read here and I have filled this space enough for now. Suffice to say, I did come away with some lasting impressions. We ARE at least as good as the competition and, in many cases, much better. We just need to keep doing what we're doing and let the consumer take notice. It won't happen overnight, but as ambassadors, we need to help that effort. It should be easy to do because the GM that once built vehicles that people drive... now builds vehicles that drive people!