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GM’s 20/20 vision

 Posted by on February 18, 2009
Feb 182009
 

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

There’s a chart on fueleconomy.gov that’s a graphic illustration of what happened to GM. The chart is a compilation of 2009 hybrid vehicles. It lists 27 hybrid vehicles in descending order from the highest mileage cars to the lowest.

At the top of the chart, perch some of the highest mileage vehicles available, the Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic and the Nissan Altima. The top two clock in at 40 mpg and up. The Altima at 33-35 mpg.

The lowest mileage vehicles reside at the bottom of the chart. And the bottom five are all GM products: The GMC Yukon, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado and Cadillac Escalade.

This isn’t surprising. GM was focused on trucks and SUVs. It’s what they did best. And for quite awhile, America wanted these wheels. Now, everyone from lawmakers to Joe the Neighborhood Critic laments that GM failed to produce better mileage vehicles. Our vision is 20/20.

But what about this apparent tactical error of putting all their initial hybrid technology into large trucks and SUVs? Trucks and SUVs that tend to get 20 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in the city (the four at the bottom of the list) — a 20/20 vision that doesn’t make sense in 2009, and especially not looking ahead to 2020.

Did it not occur to GM that perhaps these gas-guzzlers appealed to people who might not really care whether their luxury vehicles got 16 mpg or 20 mpg? Surely they understood that customers were mainly buying SUVs and big hulking trucks as status symbols (and occasionally to pull their boats or ATVs)? That pouring their gas-saving technology into this class of auto was like dressing up for a phantom ball?

Or were they just sticking to the market segment they knew best, making improvements on top sellers and clinging to high-margin models? Upping the gas mileage of the worst mileage vehicles did achieve a great percentage gain in mpg. But did the customers buy it? Did SUV drivers pay the hybrid upcharge? Not so much, and especially not now. Phantom Ball.

Roland Hwang, vehicles policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, once referred to the Tahoe hybrid as putting lipstick on a pig.

By not building some smaller vehicles with great mileage credentials, sooner and with enthusiasm, as a hedge if nothing else, GM essentially put all its pigs in one basket. And now it suffers.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media