This has been a terrible year so far for the auto industry, with the so-called Detroit Three being especially hard hit. (The fact that they’ve slipped from being known as the “big three” is one of the most telling aspects of their slide.)
Chrysler is now in the process of bankruptcy reorganization, and the once-mighty General Motors is likely heading down that road as well. Even the brands that aren’t doing as badly – from Ford to Toyota – are feeling the pain from huge sales slides. 2009 will go down in history as a turning point for car companies, and most of us will remember all the turmoil that has occurred this year, and will likely continue into 2010.
People tend to wonder what went so wrong to cause the fall-off in sales that seemed to happen so quickly. In many ways, there was a “perfect storm” of sorts. A combination of tightening credit, a huge dip in real estate values, and almost everyone worrying about their financial future came all at once. The overall economy was hit hard, and has hit the auto industry especially hard.
Among all the bad news, the question often comes up as to whether the three American car companies have the right product to survive into the future. General Motors has been in the spotlight quite a bit, with a general feeling that the GM that emerges from this crisis will be quite a bit different than the one we used to know. Several of the company’s brands will be sold or discontinued, with Pontiac being the first to officially get the axe.
One part of General Motors that will most definitely survive is Cadillac. The luxury brand is among the strongest ones the company has, and its innovative products will help lead the way to recovery. Yes, a tight money supply hits luxury brands too, but an upscale nameplate is a strong hallmark for any car company.
A great example of what GM is doing right is the Cadillac CTS. This stylish sedan was given a makeover last year, and shows what kind of exemplary cars the company is capable of designing and building. If you were to compare the CTS to competitors from brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, you’d find that this trim Caddy is quite a delight to drive.
From a fit-and-finish perspective, the CTS is absolutely top-notch. Gone are the days when GM vehicles – even Cadillacs – would squeak and rattle when going down the road. Not today. The 2009 CTS is as tight as a drum, with nary a peep out of the chassis or body. There’s also an overall quality feeling, from the first pull of the door handle, to the way the steering wheel feels in your hands.
Cadillac has become the flagship of design at GM, and the CTS’s original angular lines were quite bold when first revealed some seven years ago. For the sedan’s update for ‘09, the chiseled body angles were revised somewhat, and special attention was paid to the interior styling. It’s not too over-the-top, but strikes a nice balance between sharp angles and traditional curves in places like the instrument cluster.
For power, the CTS is ready for the future with a pair of thoroughly modern V6 engines that make smooth power and provide reasonable fuel efficiency. There’s a 3.6 liter engine that comes standard and produces 263 horsepower, and an option direct-injected version that make a very impressing 304. That’s essentially V8 power from a V6.
Yes, there is a V8 available in the CTS, but only in a special model called the CTS-V. That limited-production, take-no-prisoners high performance model is really only a niche vehicle in the Cadillac lineup. While the CTS-V has bragging rights over its rivals from other companies with a staggering 550 horsepower, most people don’t really want or need this one, especially for its near-$60,000 base sticker price.
For the vast majority of drivers, the smooth V6 will serve them well, and is a more intelligent answer for the future with EPA ratings of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway in the direct-injected form. The less powerful V6 actually does a little better on the city cycle at 18 mpg. Either engine would be a fine choice, and most people would probably never know there wasn’t a V8 under the hood if you didn’t tell them.
Being a luxury car, the CTS isn’t what you’d call “cheap.” Base price for a sedan with the lower-power engine is $36,560. Step up the Direct Injection model for two thousand more, or add all wheel drive for another two thousand. Option packages will push the sticker price well past $40,000, but this Caddy is priced right in line with its competitors from Europe and Japan.
Yes, General Motors will survive this financial and economic crisis, one way or another. And yes, GM makes some darn good vehicles. The Cadillac CTS is just one example, and there are others too. (The Chevy Malibu also comes to mind.) If you want to look at the future of GM, just look to the CTS.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz@pacbell.net.