Despite the current wailing and gnashing of teeth on Wall Street, there is yet more good news out of Detroit. Turns out at least one of the Big Three U.S. automakers really can make good cars and-surprise! surprise!-when it does, people will actually go out of their way to buy them.
At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, General Motors Corp.’s new Chevrolet Malibu sedan was chosen by a panel of journalists as the car of the year. However, the real verdict had already been passed months earlier by U.S. consumers.
Traditionally relegated to the world of fleet sales, GM completely revamped the Malibu so that it could go head-to-head with the likes of Toyota’s vaunted Camry, and the results have been impressive, to say the least. Since its launch in late 2007, GM has literally been unable to produce the new Malibu fast enough: This despite that fact that the company has added capacity to the plant where it first began assembling the car and has since begun production at a second plant in Michigan.
“We’re still very supply constrained…. We think we will be close to meeting demand sometime in May or June,” says GM vice president for vehicle sales Makr LaNeve, commenting on current production capacity.
If there’s anything odd about all this, it’s that GM actually seems to be have been caught somewhat off guard by its own success. GM vice president of product development Bob Lutz has been quoted by the Associated Press as saying the car has gone “way beyond” expectations. In a tepid acknowledgement of the car’s success, Chevrolet general manager Ed Peper says customers are “getting the message” that the Malibu “can challenge even the most formidable competitors in the midsize segment.”
“Getting the message?” What message? There is no message. There’s just a darn good car out there that consumers are willing to pay $20,000 for because it gives them what they want. Period. This is not about marketing. It’s not about image. It’s about hard work. It’s about quality. It’s about building something consumers have decided they can’t live without.
Kudos to GM and the Big Three in general for having the guts and the intelligence to take the fight right back to their competitors instead of just ceding market share and finding a new way of making money. After years of trying to figure new ways to sell cars, they are back in the business of figuring how to make them.
GM said as part of its turnaround plan that it was going to build cars and trucks that people really wanted. Lo and behold that turns out to be a pretty good business model. Detroit shouldn’t be surprised when its hard work and planning actually pay off. That’s the way a free market works.
Let the money guys on Wall Street play their games. Despite their never-ending efforts to make a quick buck, the greater economy will roll along as best it can-thanks to companies like the Big Three. Ultimately, the U.S. economy is not just about making deals, its about making things, things people want. The good news is that Detroit is once again ready to show the rest of the world how that’s done.