Who would have thought…

A GM entry in the small-car category that’s in my prospective price range and that I would actually consider buying:

Pontiac Pursuit

It’s big brother is the Chevrolet Cobalt. If you’re wondering – no – chevrolet.ca is not the manufacturer site in Canada and our first clue is the blinking text. No major manufacturer would dare do that on their website.

The Pursuit’s a replacement – not a refresher – of the Pontiac Sunfire and is a Canada only model. Initial reports are positive, with fit & finish receiving favorable comments. That’s a first for GM vehicles in this class. Now the two remaining questions are performance and reliability. GM’s the best NA car maker in reliability, but they’ll have to beat the big boy (*cough*Toyota Corolla*cough*) in order to make a significant dent in this segment. At 16,000 loonies or so, they’re going to have to make a compelling case.

Frankly, it’s about time. GM has been hemmoraging market share in the past few years to both Japanese as well as European car makers. So much so, that they’ve often resorted to steep discounting (up to $6300/vehicle in some cases) in order to move sheet metal. One can imagine the effects of this on their profit margin – especially when compared to Toyota whose own margins are ridiculously fat. It was also a well known fact that the Cavalier and Sunfire were among the least appealing buys in their class, often relying on expensive add-on packages and deep discounting both at the factory and dealership to increase sales. The truth is, reviewers and customers found plenty to dislike about the J-cars.

For the new iteration GM put in a lot of effort into the chassis (Delta platform) and the overall ‘feel’ of the interior. What exactly does that translate to? For one – scratch a lot of grey plastic and uncomfortable seats. Focus on noise, road handling and instrument panels. Spend more attention to the layout of dials and gauges. Don’t try to cover the entire $10,000 – $20,000 range with one car…

They also seem to be targetting the modder’s market. Well, at least that’s my impression of the SC (supercharged) model. Time will tell if that little Ecotec can power the Cobalt against the Japanese models that are the mainstay in that area.

Unfortunately for GM, it takes a long time for customers’ attitudes to shift. If you’ve been burned with the “brand & sell a cookie cutter car” strategy or by GM’s less than stellar quality in the past it’s hard to re-enter the corporate fold. Which is unfortunate considering that present initial quality often exceeds that of ‘premium’ European manufacturers. To add to GM’s woes on the financial side are huge employee pensions (partial result of all that slash & burn in the 80s) and a perennial overcapacity problem. While manufacturers at Honda have moved to a flexible manufacturing model, GM still cranks out a vehicle or two per plant. Less flexibility = less room to respond to market pressures.

I’d really like to see a more competitive marketplace – so here’s hoping that GM got it right this time. I don’t think they can afford another misstep.

Chances of me getting a car sometime soon? Nada.

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