Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Over the past few years, I have made a point of not engaging in any cross-blog debates with anyone with whom I disagree. I don't have the time for it mostly, and it tends to make my head hurt. I rant and rave about various news reports about people doing stupid stuff, but I'm not going to pick on anyone's commentary. You do yours, I'll do mine.

But, I suppose there has to be a first for everything. I was tickled to see General Motor's Bob Lutz recently hop on the blogging bandwagon, and as soon as I found out about it, I added him onto the blogroll. I like Mr. Lutz--he's an actual, knows-his-stuff car guy with the sort of swagger and drive that the industry can use. His tenure at Chrysler was marked by a string of successful product launches and a reformation of the process of quickly bringing desirable products to market.

Ostensibly, the reason GM lured him away was to help them break them out of their continual slow death spiral, banking on his his no-nonsense business sense and ability to get things done. With Lutz filling the post of veep in charge of product design, there have been some tremors at GM indicating things might be turning around, or at least leveling off. There is something akin to actual excitement about their products, with more than lip service being paid to upgrading materials and equipment to once again make "The Mark of Excellence" claim actually mean something. Which is good. GM has needed help ever since the drifting reign of Roger Smith. And let's not forget the fact that Mr. Lutz cares enough to put his thoughts down for everyone to read and pick apart is laudable for the head of any organization, and unprecedented in the auto business.


I got my copy of AutoWeek yesterday, and the back matter, "But Wait, There's More," has a quick blurb from Mr. Lutz at the Los Angeles show this week. The snippet was headlined as "Lutz Loses It," and reads as follows:

At the Los Angeles auto show, GM vice chairman Bob Lutz wouldn’t put up with any criticism of the retro-styled 2006 Chevy HHR. Speaking to a small group of scribes, Lutz said, “I read [a news story] today that is the height of stupidity: ‘GM’s reply to the PT Cruiser, but it comes to the party at least three years late.’ “Who the hell says there is some magic period when you must absolutely introduce a heritage-derived vehicle for one of your brands? “...I swear to God, some of your colleagues just don’t understand this business, which doesn’t prevent their busy fingers from moving over the keyboard. “READ MY LIPS, THE HHR WILL BE SENSATIONALLY SUCCESSFUL. I DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR IT.”

Obviously, it ain't braggin' if you can do it, but what seems so off-kilter is his overt defensiveness over this vehicle.

The HHR (for Heritage High Roof--as stupid a name as can be thought up) is a kinda chubby little trucklet with some of the style of the '48 Suburban, shrunk down to 3/4-scale. In a niche begun by and filled with Chrysler PT Cruisers, it might have some legs when it finally does get to market.


But it doesn't help your case when, in fact, GM IS arriving three years after the PT hit the market, with something that is essentially a boutique vehicle like the Plymouth Prowler was, or the Dodge Viper or the New Beetle is. A style statement, and a style marked by what promises to be a quickly passing fancy for retro design. (see also Chevy SSR)

And frankly, although coming late to the auto style party is a bit like showing up to the Oscar after-party in a pair of MC Hammer shiny parachute pants, no one seems to have said anything about there being a hard and fast magical time limit for proving how out of it your sense of style is. That being the case, I am hopeful Chevy will continue to mine the retro vault and add some nice tailfins to the mud-fence-ugly Impala.

And what's all this corporate-speak, Mr. Lutz? 'A heritage-derived vehicle for one of your brands'? "Heritage-derived"? "Brand"? Sounds like the good, old, sliding into obscurity, brand-managed-to-near-death GM chatter of the late-80s. Heritage? If you just have to invoke it, let me just say that I find it difficult to believe that Billy Mitchell or Zora Arkus-Duntov would have ever uttered that sentence-that's heritage.

As for journalists who don't understand the business, that's probably true. I know I don't understand it. I'm not a journalist, though, nor am I particularly bright. However, I do occasionally buy the products the car industry makes. I am getting an uncomfortable sense that if the HHR doesn't sell well, it will be blamed on ignorant savages like me who just don't appreciate all of its nuances and star-quality, or my slavish devotion to reading biased articles from ignorant journalists. (Same thing was mentioned after the last election, so I am braced for it.)

Anyway, whatever. But, if we must speak of heritage, it's best to remember the near past, so let us set the Wayback Machine to, ohhhh, let's say, LAST YEAR, and gaze in wide-eyed wonder at the tremendously hugely wildly hip successful youthful brand-building (and now mercifully put out of its misery) Pontiac Aztek. Mr. Lutz, you have a big hill to climb, and it's not the press's fault, or consumers. The company has squandered much of its proud past on a series of goofy and/or crappy vehicles.

I hope the HHR sells well. I hope GM continues to arrest its fall. But getting angry and defensive because people have legitimate doubts when you promise Happy Fun Cloud Land is just 'round the corner isn't the best way to convince anyone.

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