Monday, November 17, 2008

Related Tangentially At Best

Obviously, there is much discussion of the potential bailout of US automakers, with each ideological side picking it's particular bete noir for blame. I am personally in the "crappy car" crowd. I am being assured that this is all in the past and American automakers are churning out excellent cars that everybody loves, but I am not so sure. For instance, Scott assures me that "Cadillac makes as good a car as anyone in the luxury market," but I am not convinced. My sources tell me otherwise.

Moreover, I have just had the (mis)pleasure of driving an American car around for a week and I was not much encouraged by the experience. As mentioned before, my rental car was a Chevy HHR. Not sure what the people at Chevy were thinking exactly when they designed the HHR. One likes to believe that before an automaker spends millions rolling out a new car that years of extensive market research have gone into it and that Chevy identified a huge market that wanted a PT Cruiser, just more expensive. I get the sense, however, that the research put into this car was five guys sitting around a table making pronouncements about what Americans want. In the end, they settled on the tried and true, "Americans want large cars that get slightly better gas mileage than the larger cars they already own, so let's build a 'smallish SUV'" line of thinking that has served them so well.

As for the actual design of the car, I am assuming that monkeys were involved. Monkeys that were unfamiliar with actually driving a car. I won't get much into the handling and all that. I was driving up and down freeways, so it really wasn't much of a factor. I do agree with Car and Driver that overall the ride was mush and you had to pay attention to keeping the car going straight. Keeping the thing going a constant speed also proved a challenge as I would slowly drift up toward 85 without realizing it. I never really found a comfortable position for my foot to rest without it applying too much pressure to the gas. As far as interior styling, hard plastic cannot be beat, so there is no point to be made there. More important, however, we the serious design flaws that were a danger to me and others.

The seat was set very high up. It did not go down. The high seat was combined with a seat that was set at a pretty steep incline, so that in order to sit with your back against the seat, you were leaning pretty far back and forced to sit up straight. Sitting up straight is good, except when the high seat means that you are sitting high enough that you really can't see out of much of the windshield. I literally had to duck down to see traffic lights from more than 300 yards out.

Then there was the issue of the blind spot. Looking over the left shoulder gave me the view of nothing but the interior of the left side of the vehicle. There could have been any number of things rolling next to me on the driver's side, but I would not have known what they were. The passenger side was a little better, but heaven help the bicyclist rolling up on one of these babies.

I am also not a big fan of tinted windows, as I like my review mirror to be functional, but I realize I march out of lock-step with my fellow Americans on that score.

In the end, I wondered if anyone had driven a proto-type of the car before they rolled it out, or if it went from design to production without a pause. I have to assume so, or someone at Chevy might have realized that this car was destined to become another American joke that wasn't going to help anyone sell more cars.

Any American car drivers out there want to make a pitch for American cars that doesn't involve union loyalty?


Jason said...

I am currently driving a rented Impala, and it's crap as well.

wobblie said...

I'll second everything you said about the HHR. It's a fucking monstrosity of a vehicle. I never understood the whole roadster-esque revival in the first place.

I heard on NPR today that the JD Powers' customer satisfaction ratings had Caddies and Mercuries listed just behind Lexus for the top spot. This was cited as "proof" that American cars had improved. The fact that no other automakers were mentioned leads me to believe that the remainder of the Big 3 still lags behind everyone else.

Hell, my friend who's a mechanical engineer and used to work for one of the Big 3 still tells people to buy a freakin' Toyota.

dave3544 said...

Caddies can be awesome cars, but as long as the sales pitch is that they have huge engines and are for rock and rollers, they are limiting themselves to that portion of the market that wants to hang on for much too long. I gotta believe that those with the scratch to drop on a luxury auto are looking for refinement, not Led Zepplin. Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lexus all come to mind.

Anonymous said...

The HHR is a particularly bad rental because the trunk is lined with that same hard plastic, which means that your carefully stuffed, near-the-weight-limit carry-ons go rocketing around the rear of the car every time you start or stop hard.

And ditto the blind spot problems from what is locally known as the "C pillar" on the HHR, the Impala, the Malibu, and a couple of others I could mention but won't.

Of course, there are plenty of union-made cars that are not "American make," whatever the hell that means these days. The UAW has a suggested list of cars that includes a Toyota, a Mazda and a VW (more of those may be made by German union workers, but are not on the UAW site):