Some may recall the excellent ’60s BBC TV series, The Prisoner – starring Patrick McGoohan as Number Six. Well, we now know who Number One is, after all these years.
It’s not GM.
After a catastrophically bad December that saw sales crash 43 percent – 45 percent at Chevrolet, the automaker’s “volume” sales division – Toyota cruised past to become the world’s number-one car company, in terms of total sales.
An interesting thing about that is Toyota doesn’t sell any electric cars – while GM is trying hard not to sell cars that aren’t electric. Cars like the Chevy Bolt – an electric subcompact that costs more than twice as much as a Toyota Corolla and which has an alarming tendency to catch on fire without anything hitting it. And electric SUVs like the GMC Hummer, which costs twice as much as a Toyota 4Runner.
There are hybrid iterations of almost every model of car Toyota sells. Even the Sienna minivan.
Some of these can be plugged in. But – unlike the electric cars GM is trying to sell – none of them have to be plugged in. You are free to drive on battery power but not constrained by the limitations of battery power.
A 2022 Prius Prime can travel about 25 miles on battery power alone. Not as far as the Chevy Bolt can travel (259 miles) but it’s actually much farther since you don’t have to stop after 25 miles . . . or 259 miles. The Prius can go more than 600 miles without stopping. And there’s almost no waiting – maybe five minutes – to get going, again. The Prius is also a family-sized car with twice as much cargo capacity as the subcompact-sized Bolt.
And Chevy wants to sell it to you for several thousand dollars more than Toyota will sell you a Prius for. Without having to worry about parking it far enough from your house to avoid it burning down your house. Because the Prius doesn’t catch on fire, just sitting there.
Toyota has been very reluctant to embrace the electric-only tar baby. And thus, Toyotas sell. Functionally useful vehicles – at affordable prices.
Is it any wonder that the only thing GM that seems to be selling well is nostalgia – for the kinds of cars GM used to make?
Like the ’66 Impala convertible featured in the recent commercial, Holiday Ride. GM meant it to be a heart-strings-tugger, which it was. But not for the reason GM intended. Viewers mourned the death of cars like that ’66 Impala as much as the old man who kept his in the barn as a memento of the past mourned the loss of his wife.
We see glimpses of other GM vehicles GM no longer makes. The unforgettable nose of a ’70 Camaro. A ’57 Bel Air. Even a ’70s pick-up (which didn’t come with a four cylinder engine, as GM installs in its current full-size pick-up). The one forgettable vehicle in view is the new GM vehicle. The whatever-it-is crossover SUV owned by the old man’s daughter. Its presence among the greats only highlights the absence, today, of greats.
There’s the Corvette, of course.
But as great as it is – by the numbers, it’s the most powerful/quickest/fastest/best-handling Corvette ever built – can it summon the emotions one feels when a side-piped ’64 StingRay rumbles by? Will anyone hold onto a 2022 Corvette for half a century – like that old man held on to his ’66 Impala? Or is it just another flashy throw-away whose ephemeral appeal is based almost entirely on the numbers?
It is hard to see how GM increases the number – of sales – when it hasn’t got much to offer and what it does offer is too expensive and too homogenous. There are four GM divisions – Chevy, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Combined, they have a smaller market share (about 17 percent) than Chevy had by itself back in 1970 – when it was selling cars that sold on more than just the numbers.
Toyota has two – the former, plus its luxury division, Lexus.
This means Toyota doesn’t have to try to sell three or four iterations of the same vehicles, slightly altered, cosmetically, as GM continues to try to do.
But the core problem – for GM – is arguably the same-sameness of its appliances. The majority of what it sells – what it is trying to sell – being the same thing everyone else is also trying to sell.
Excepting Camaro and Corvette, that’s all Chevy sells – and Camaro is apparently about to be cancelled (again). There are trucks, of course. But everyone else is selling those, too – and the trucks GM is trying to sell are also losing the not-by-the-numbers intangible things that made people feel something for them, once.
This leaves GM struggling to sell appliances on the numbers, a sterile measure which is more easily matched and which is almost always ephemeral in that it is inevitable the next model year’s appliances will be more “efficient” or powerful or more “tech.”
And when they’re all electric, they’ll be even more the same.
Where does that leave yesterday?
The same place you won’t find tomorrow.
. . .
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