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Posted at 2:35 PM ET, 05/14/2009

GM and Its Dealers: A Future Worth Fostering

By Vince Rinehart

By Harry E. Criswell III

I am proud to be a Chevrolet dealer. I know many East Coast city dwellers believe General Motors is doing "too little, too late" to become a viable, strong company that makes cars for today's consumers. But General Motors was already beginning to emerge as a force to be reckoned with before the economic downturn.

Yes, there were plenty of issues within General Motors, and I have been vocal about trying to get things fixed for years. But despite everything, over the past few years, GM has produced the Chevy Malibu, the 2008 North American Car of the Year; the Cadillac CTS, Motor Trend's 2008 car of the year; and the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, a full-size SUV that was Green Car journal's 2008 Green Car of the Year and that gets as many miles per gallon in city driving as the Toyota Camry does. Now Buick has just been ranked the most reliable brand by J.D. Power, topping even Lexus, while Chevrolet trucks remain the vehicle of choice for those who build America, from electricians to carpenters to plumbers.

If an import manufacturer achieved those results, you'd be saying: "Why can't GM do that?"

GM's future affects not only our national economy but our local one, as well. As the No. 1 GM dealer in the Washington region, Criswell Chevrolet is a major source of government tax revenue. We pay millions in Maryland taxes every year; we also pay payroll taxes, buy insurance and make capital investments to maintain our facilities. At a time when states are slashing educational and social service budgets, local dealerships are a vital resource. Our taxes help pay for new schools, roads and health clinics.

But we are connected to you through more then just our tax revenue. Criswell is a third-generation, family owned-and-operated GM franchise that is deeply entrenched in the local community. We employ more than 150 people at our Chevrolet dealership, and spend over $1 million a year on advertising in local magazines and newspapers, and on radio and TV stations. We have contracts with security companies, technology providers, printing companies - even The Post itself.

We support numerous Little League, school and county sports programs. We support local charities, the Lions Club, rescue squads and police organizations, plus more school dances, ballet recitals and other events then any one person could attend. That is a legacy of GM's history of encouraging and supporting the efforts of dealerships such as ours to do more then just sell vehicles. The Criswell family of dealerships continues, even in these hard times, to provide as much community support as possible, to figure out ways to keep our employees on the payroll and to give back to those who have supported us.

Yet none of that matters if GM doesn't make cars you want to buy. Although I have import stores, too, I urge you to put away your preconceptions and look at the vehicles being built by the GM of today - and tomorrow. Drive a Malibu and compare it to the imports. Take a new eight-passenger Traverse Crossover for a ride and come marvel at the all-new Camaro, a true sports coupe that gets an estimated 29 mpg on the highway. This is just the beginning of the new GM.

With GM's reorganization, the company will be freed from the shackles of the past to reinvent the automobile as we know it with electric plug-in Chevy Volt, set to arrive in late 2010. It will be able to take the data from the test fleet of Hydrogen Chevy Equinoxes that have been in local consumers' hands for the last year and help America to break its fossil fuel habit.

Right now, we are all having tough conversations about the economy. We are all making hard choices. GM's most recent efforts show the ways it is accelerating the reinvention of its business. General Motors is making the difficult but necessary changes to secure its future as a stronger, leaner company, ready to innovate and face the challenges of the global economy.

By Vince Rinehart  | May 14, 2009; 2:35 PM ET
Categories:  economy  
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First, J.D. Power neither examines nor tests the cars it "promotes." It collects opinions from others, but they've never surveyed me or anyone I know. So take their opinion with a handful of salt.

The average American family is 3.19 people so why do you think so many families need a Tahoe or Traverse sized vehicle, "green" or otherwise? Until GM makes "over 30 mpg in the city" its mantra, it won't attract a lot of us away from our long-proven Toyotas and Hondas.

I've driven many GM, Ford and Chrysler sedans. The least offensive was a Chevy Cobalt, which GM is dropping -- go figure. It was adequate; it didn't disappoint. Mileage wasn't great for its size but decent -- 28 mpg combo city/hwy. For the worst vehicle it's a tie between a Sebring and Pontiac G6. Both had passenger seats designed to cripple, horrible gas mileage, and with the G6 dangerously poor visibility forward and back -- the rearview mirror blocked sight to the right front, and I had to duck down to see if anyone/thing was approaching. Good riddance to Pontiac!

My Honda Fit has more comfortable seats for me than any GM, Ford or Chrysler -- even a Cadillac. It suffers from some road noise, but nothing like the new Cadillac Escalade which threatened to liquify my brain after 30 minutes on the highway! Sadly, my noise-canceling headphones were out of reach in the back.

Bottom line, GM is still promoting oversized SUVs, crossovers and trucks instead of sedans. Sooner or later they'll realize that bigger isn't better, just more expensive.

Posted by: TwoEvils | May 14, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

You used to have to buy ad space in the paper for this sort of you blog about it for free. I trust the irony isn't lost on the Post...

Twoevils makes a good point about the questionable quality of accolades that the article cites as proof of GM's rising star. Didn't MotorTrend once name the Mustang II car of the year too?

The big question though is how much taxpayer money should we lavish on a company that has resisted change for the past 20 years (mostly due to trade protectionism that made their trucks very profitable), and is only changing now because the market is forcing it to do so?

We've already poured billions of taxpayer dollars into GM with the only result of delaying a nearly inevitable bankrupty by a few months. That money could have been used for many other worthwhile projects.

So when GM becomes this engine of growth as the article predicts, will it pay us (or our children) back? I have a feeling I shouldn't hold my breath.

And on the Camaro...a beautiful machine, but nice job GM coming to the new pony car game 5 years late. The Mustang is already on its second revision, and will be totally redesigned while the Camaro is still in the original production run.

Posted by: JackTrade | May 14, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I agree that GM and Ford and even Chrysler have built some very good vehicles. But with the high price of gas and the lack of common sense by buyers the American products have fallen in sales. But overproduction has just been one problem. Over pricing of all cars has hurt all auto sales. I have a Ford with over 600k on the original engine and it has had two transmissions and this engine has only had head gaskets. Can many Japanese auto makers make a car like this....NO!. America has become so diverse and the foreigners don't care about anything other than money...thus our car companies are losing sales to people who buy foreign cars because of an anti-American sentimentality. A Honda Fit is a little turd car and anyone who believes that is as quiet as an Escalade is a fool.

Posted by: junglejamm | May 14, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

There's no question cars sold by American companies still suffer from a prejudicial public. I have a 2004 6-cylinder Mustang that makes me feel totally like a racing jock compared with the too-sedate Toyota and Mazda convertibles we test-drove. Then two years later I traded in my Pontiac Montana van for a Chevy Aveo -- paid cash for it, it was so cheap, and I've been laughing all the way to the bank on saved fuel costs ever since. It's a great little car (yeah, I know, it's built in Korea, but it is a GM).

What I don't get is the almost malicious joy some of my fellow Americans express when talking about American car company failures -- like, yeah, they've got a strong union, and I hate unions, so the heck with them.

A union means a strong middle class, and I saw a country without a strong middle class when I visited the Ukraine. All I can tell you is, GIVE ME THE UNIONS anytime!

Posted by: barnesgene | May 14, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Criswell, first, how does Chevy Malibu compare to its foreign rivals overall? Second, GM is forced to downsize and contract, now, but, after the recession, it may very well revert back to its bad habits, least of which is being innovative quickly enough to adopt to the changing market environment. Given it's history, it's truly a big question mark whether and how successful GM's survival would be.

Posted by: TalkingHead1 | May 14, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Watch the dealers who are dropped by GM and Chrysler become Indian or Chinese brand stores. Perhaps Fiat or Eastern European brands will fill the void.
What will become of the inventory of parts these dealerships are stuck with. Will the American Public be responsible for buying up all sorts of dead stock?
Keep those executive bonuses coming.
In many small towns these dealerships are the only game in town. The towns will wither without them.
Very often low volume dealerships survive with a mix of several low volume lines. That is what keeps their repair shop going.
And the town surviving.

Posted by: llawrence9 | May 14, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Nicely written. Here is my problem. I will be in the market for a "small" car. I think the Malibu is a terrific family sedan. The other cars mentioned are, well, plus sized. I expect $4/gallon gas to return and go higher. GM needs to produce the cars for that reality.

Why can't GM produce something to rival the best of the small cars? My first car was a Honda Civic. I bought a used Ford Focus last year and it's a terrific little car. I'm ready to come home. Convince me.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 14, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, Obama canceled the hydrogen fuel cell program just last week. And he needs to close 3000 dealers employing 100+ each (who cost the manufacturers nothing and will therefore save them nothing by closing)in order to limit competition and raise the average selling price to the consumer in order to support his plan to import low quality cars from China and Italy, and providing essentially unlimited support from his subjects to do this, essentially exporting the industrial infrastructure of four midwestern states as he bails out the donor hedge funds.

Posted by: nowanna1 | May 14, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

I have not had a GM vehicle, but I have had 3 Grand Cherokee's. Loved them, but nothing but issues. Dealers were ok at best. I also have 2 Toyota's. Don't like them as much as the Jeep, but never had a problem and the dealers are great.

Posted by: djrhood | May 14, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

I've had Nissans (crude and inefficient) and Toyotas (Pricey and unimpressive) in the past. I have bought from Chrysler since 1995 - the much defamed Neon that time. I have two very good dealers to go to and support from both has been excellent. The cars tend to run for a long time, are powerful, solid and cheap to own. Who says you get what you pay for?

A Honda Fit? If I want half a car I'll buy an Aveo. Actually I'm hopeful that there is a 500 out there waiting for me built to Chrysler standards.

Posted by: rmtaylor2 | May 14, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

I've owned GM cars and have been very successful with them. Currently my wife drive an 02 DeVille which we bought as a highway car when our daughter & family lived an 11 hour drive away. About 15 MPG in the city and 25 on the highway.

Great car in terms of reliability - far better than my son's Toyota Corolla that needed a rebuilt engine after less than 75,000 miles. I still trust the Caddy to drive 500+ miles while my son can't trust his Toyota.

Depending on rebates, tax credits, etc. I plan on buying a new car later this summer. Probable options are Ford, Chevy or Saturn. GM has OnStar which I think is fantastic. I've also been impressed with Saturn because the son-in-law's has gone around 10 years without a problem.

What I am looking for, however, is some very aggressive pricing from the Big 3. They have not done a good job keeping prices down and sticker shock is more than fleeting for most people.

At least until the huge inventories are cleared I believe that the Big 3 should act like any normal retailer and have some major sales. Their mind set is such that there will be unsold '08 cars while 2010 cars are sitting on the show room floor.

Posted by: KHMJr | May 14, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

I recently had power window mechanism fail in a Buick with 15,800 miles. The car is 6 year old, out of warranty. Upon contacting GM's customer assistance unit, I was told that power windows would fail from lack of use. (I swear I am not making this up.) This incident goes to the heart of GM's loss of market share, from 50% to 18%: substandard parts, quality issues, and indifference to its customers. Needless to say, another GM car is not in my future.

Posted by: drlatham22 | May 14, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

When I was 9years old I can remember going to car wash with my dad washing his loud GM truck. I am 36 now and that is the only vehicle that I can remember,and we had plenty of vehicles in my life

Posted by: dewonllawton | May 14, 2009 10:35 PM | Report abuse

My 2007 Fit Sport is averaging 37.86 MPG for two years driving, and is extremely low maintenance. It handles like a go-kart, has plenty of space on the inside, parks anywhere, and is actually a lot of fun to drive. If I found an American car with these attributes I'd buy it, but I don't need a behemoth, domestic or foreign, in order to stroke my ego, or to impress my neighbors.

Posted by: 1logicalthinker | May 15, 2009 1:17 AM | Report abuse

Automaking has never really been about technology, and why would it? We have always wanted our cars to look good, be reliable and be comfortable to drive. It wasn't technology that allowed Toyota and the Asian carmakers to weather this storm relatively well - it was the ease with which they can compete against a group of American automakers burdened by exorbitant labor costs (GM recently quote $125K per year for their uneducated unskilled UAW assembly line workers and broom pushers.
That doesn't count the $20billion (yes, I said billion) that the UAW expects to get from even the bankrupt GM for their "retirees" health benerits. (The non-union GM workers must finance half of their health plans themselves). Only the unionized media and those politicans that have been bought and paid for by the unions (Obama, the entire Dem Party) are adept at dreaming up preposterously stupid reasons for their demise ("bad decisions" a claim which fails to understand the cost structure of Detroit - only big expensive vehicles can hide their exorbitant union labor costs. And those high wages suck up any money for redesign, remodeling, etc. -
Detroit can only remodel a vehicle half as often as their Asian counterparts. Asking the unionized media to determine the problem here is like asking Himmler to
exoplain the problms of the Third reich. You will never (and have never) read anything negative in the media about any of the unions nor even a hint that their preposterous priced fixing wage rates have anything to do with the demise of every single industry they control. The best thing about the newly forming electric car companies is that they are not unionnized and will be able to subcontract all their work, avoiding non-competitive union workers. The problems with Detroit is simply the final chapter of a 50 year story that began when non-union-made foreign products came to our shores, and
prevented any further slide in our standard of living. As long as pols like the brainles fellow now in the WH pretend that unions are beneficial to our country's health, our economy has a bleak future.

Posted by: theBike45 | May 15, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I bought 2 unbelievably nice Chevys from Criswell. I love those Chevys. Everyone stops me to tell me how much they like them. I want to buy the new Corvette ZR1 if Frank can find one to sell me. They take great care of me at Criswell. I am also trying to buy a Ford Raptor R, another unbelievable feat of American Engineering. These are the best in class, better than anything else made in the world. I just hope I can buy one while the companies are still able to make them.

Posted by: billpluscc | May 15, 2009 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the article submitted by Harry Criswell of Criswell Automotive regarding GM vehicles:
I have been driving Chevy brands for 25 years. I presently own a 1973 Tahoe and 1974 Impala. I have never had any problems regarding maintenance. Just the usual service as required by all manufactuers. I believe the Chevy Impala is the best kept secret because I get 37.5 miles to the gallon on the Interstate. The Impala is attractive, comfortable, low maintenance and one of the most fuel efficient cars on the highway today. I should add that GM dealers are courteous, economical and efficient while providing excellant service to their customers. I will always buy American.
tom baker

Posted by: baker2 | May 18, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Correction to my previous comments. Currently driving 2003 Tahoe and 2004 Impala. Not 1973 and 1974.

Posted by: baker2 | May 18, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

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