The Drive to Survive

The drive to survive Terence Corcoran, Canwest News Service Published: Tuesday, May 05, 2009 http://autos.canada.com:80/news/story.html?id 62541
As General Motors and Chrysler descend into ersatz forms of bankruptcy and
government control, something is missing. A sense of sadness. Nostalgia, maybe. Respect. Two great brand names, a century of corporate achievement producing automobiles - beautiful machines we have all loved and felt passionate about at one time or another in our lives - are now crashing down with hardly a public tear or a sentimental sigh, no expressions of regret. The new official program in America these days is to put down America, and our treatment of the fall of GM and Chrysler fits that program. The purveyors of the new un-Americanism would have us forget and dismiss what the automobile has meant to our culture, on both sides of the border.
Especially since the Second World War, the automobile has been at the heart of our cultures, in fact and myth. They made us fast, glamorous, sexy - from the souped-up Fords of the 1950s, the first Mustang sold to some guy in Michigan in the 1960s, to the Cadillac Escalade sold to his son in 2009. From movies such as American Graffiti to the Beach Boys' hit song Little Deuce Coupe, to the latest Fast and Furious film - cars are us. And while it may not be quite obvious at the moment, the auto industry will continue to be what it has always been.
No matter how hard politicians grind their messages and green activists try, they will not be able to bury the automobile as fast and sexy representations of some part of our culture, of who we are. After almost 100 years of spectacular economic, social, personal, corporate and industrial history dedicated to the production of the most liberating technology known to man, two of the greatest corporate icons in that history are on the brink of destruction. But nobody seems to give a damn. We drove our Chevy to the levy and pushed the thing into the sea. Who cares?
Well, I do. And that's why I'm out on the outskirts of Toronto, at General Motors' famed Oshawa Car Assembly Plant. Here, possibly, is where the U.S. auto industry might go if consumers remain in charge of the future of car making rather than politicians, bureaucrats and car czars wearing green arm bands. I know this will sound crazy, in the midst of government takeovers and green mania, but bear with me while we look inside the Oshawa plant at the old-new ideas that may still be the future of the North American auto market.
Inside the Oshawa plant, the mood is upbeat. As I look out over the production line, members of the Canadian Auto Workers Local 222 are methodically fine-tuning what GM describes as one of the most technologically advanced production systems in the world. Their job is to meet a production target of 440 vehicles a day by the end of May for what seems an unlikely product: An all-new 2010 version of the legendary Chevrolet Camaro, a neo-muscle car with a basic 300-horsepower, 6-cylinder, 3.6-litre engine and dazzlingly aggressive good looks.
The Camaro engines, including an optional V8 6.2 litre that puts out 427 horsepower, are fitted into frames and then merged with brightly coloured bodies - yellow, flash red, deep blue, silver, black and a blinding signature orange - that glide through the assembly like sleek jelly beans. Within a few hours from start to finish in this final production area, the small miracle of modern assembly spits out finished Camaros. Off the line, the new cars are handed over for final quality test drives by workers like Gail Wotten, a 27-year GM veteran who spins the new Camaros over an indoor test track.
"It's a great car," said Ms. Wotten, and I think she means it, even though Camaros are clearly manufactured for men with egos that are either too big or too small, depending on your psychoanalyst. Best of all, Ms Wotten says, is that almost all of the models now coming off the line fill orders from Camaro enthusiasts in the United States, which means most are standard shift high-performance versions. GM at first had trouble finding workers who could handle a standard to drive the new cars around. Gail was one of them. "I love driving a standard," she says. Car enthusiasts are already abuzz, including the National Post's esteemed Motor Mouth columnist, David Booth. The new Camaro, he says, "absolutely kills the domestic competition and almost keeps up with the best of its import competition."
In one sense, the timing could not be better for an all-new Camaro, a legendary bit of automotive fun first launched during the 1960s. The line was killed in 2002. But GM vice-chairman Bob Lutz, a bit of a legend himself, spearheaded development of the all-new fifth-generation Camaro. If you're going to launch a new sports car, what better season than a brand new 2010 spring. And what better year than the year the automobile market cycle is about to climb out of a deep, recessionary trough - like buying stocks at the bottom of the market.
GM says the back-order for the new Camaro is up to 19,000, and there are reports that the waiting time for delivery, depending on the region and model, runs to at least three months. Once it hits peak production of 440 Camaros a day at the end of May, the Oshawa plant will be producing 2,200 a week. Part of the appeal is the price: from $26,000 to $40,000, depending on the model and accoutrements. Fuel economy on the six cylinder models, estimated at 30 miles per gallon in U.S. terms, is another attraction. Ten years ago, that kind of rating would have made it a green car.
Camaro isn't alone in embracing the muscle market. An all-new Mustang has just been launched by Ford. Chrysler relaunched its Challenger muscle car just last year. Nissan just introduced a remodelled version of its famous Z line, the Z370. And Hyundai, the Korean automaker, just began delivering its new sports car version, the Genesis Coupe, a model the auto magazines say is hotter than the Camaro. All this adds up to more new horsepower on the market than the Calgary stampede, and puts the neo-muscle car in contention for the hottest segment of the new market cycle.
But this is 2009, you may be thinking. The future of the car industry isn't in retro refits of ancient muscle-car brands, no matter how high-tech and efficient the new models are. The future is in small, powerless, electric vehicles - green things that might never make it to 60 miles per hour no matter how long you drove it. Even David Booth, writing in yesterday's National Post, went along with the new green line. "Politicians, pundits and consumers alike have been looking for a the reason to save GM. The Chevrolet Volt is it."
The Volt may be the political cover governments need to strong-arm their way into the auto industry in the name of saving the planet from climate change. But it is the Camaro and scores of other cars powered by fossil fuel, with pizzazz and power - and even size - that will determine the future of the auto industry, including GM and Chrysler, in the next five years, even the next decade. As the auto industry climbs out of its current deep rut, as it will, the Camaro will be more a part of the recovery than pipe dreams about Volts and lithium batteries and electricity fill-up locations.
At least that's the way it seems to me, looking at the market, consumers and the great history of the automobile as something more than just a way of getting from A to B. Consumers don't always want cheap, or small, or green. The question is whether politicians, especially the Obama administration, will let the market and consumers determine the future of the automobile. While the media may be currently hung up on the industry's multiple failings, real and imagined, consumers appear to be just as enamored with power and glitz as they've ever been - especially now that fuel prices are back down to what seem like more reasonable levels.
Mr. Lutz, the GM executive who relauched the Camaro this year, is also famous for having described climate warming theories as "a crock of s---." How long Mr. Lutz, also a force behind the development of the Volt, will remain at GM is a matter of industry speculation. He seems even less compliant by nature that Rick Wagoner, the General Motors chief executive who was personally ousted recently by President Barack Obama. Mr. Obama claims he has no intention of micromanaging the auto firms his government is now set to control. Nobody believes it. Signs of micromanagement are already in place. At Chrysler, the company announced that Fiat, the Italian car maker that specializes in small cars and small engines, will be brought in as a shareholder under terms that are based more on political than market objectives. Fiat will have the right to increase its ownerhip stake in Chrysler up to 35% only after it meets certain conditions, including bringing Chrysler's U.S. production platform fuel efficiency rating up to 40 miles per gallon, developing a fuel-efficient Made in USA engine and meeting certain export standards. These are not criteria any corporation would set. These are political ambitions of a government working with green objectives and from the perspective of economic nationalism.
In Italy, Fiat produces what are widely described by the industry as practical cars and, in some cases, fun cars. One such car is the Alfa Romeo MiTo, a sporty number that Fiat is widely expected to begin marketing through its newly acquired Chrysler dealerships. The MiTo looks sporty in a Miata way - nifty but lacking in North American umph. It has not wowed the Brits. In a recent review, The Guardian descibed the MiTo as a "sleek but compact chromium number that comes in the sort of red Germaine Greer had in mind when she once described a colleague's 'f--- me shoes'." Another reviewer, in The Mail, said the MiTo, while a head turner, lacks staying power. "These cars can be like going on a date with a really beautiful girl - if you get the chance, you have to take it, but within five minutes you know it's time to hand the keys back and walk away." The Mail's reviewer said the 155 horsepower version he drove handled well and could be "one of the hottest hatches ever." He said he can't wait for Alfa Romeo to bring in the GTA performance version later this year.
Now we're talking. That's what the car industry has always been about. Performance, style, sex appeal and fun. In fact, despite all the gloomy talk, the anger and the seemingly ugly mood, this 100-year-old industry, and even these two companies, are far from dead and, my bet, far from green. Not a green car in the bunch, really. Instead, they're yellow, red and orange.
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What is a "Standard shift"?
--
Clive

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writes

Non-automatic, double declutch to change down.
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No synchromesh?
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Clive

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The vast majority of our cars here in the UK. have manual boxes, but I've not heard of any in the last 20 years without synchromesh and balk rings on all forward gears
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Same in NA. One of Ford's 60s small 3spd transmissions (2.77") had no synchro on first gear....syncrosmash
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writes

Same in NA. One of Ford's 60s small 3spd transmissions (2.77") had no synchro on first gear....syncrosmash
my 65 Pontiac same thing. With a V8 it was a brute to drive around town. Prob. last year they made it. My friend's 66 had full syncromesh
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Now that's fricken funny. Today's youth.. A three pedal car
writes

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On Tue, 5 May 2009 07:20:53 -0400, "Repairman"

Some kids still want stick. My kid actually converted his '93 Corsica auto to a 5-speed Getrag. PITA getting the right length half shafts. But he finally got it right and drove it for some years. Why? Don't really know. I gave up sticks when I decided that hand felt better around a chick. There's knobs and then there's knobs. Guess I'm not a real "car guy."
--Vic
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What's funny is that repairman doesn't know what a three pedal car is.
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I hope that this stimulus package gives them what they need to come to the table with products of interest and quality.
With freaking politicians involved, I am a bit fearful.
GM has the ability.. Now, it is fourth down and long yardage.. Let's see what they can do.
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