Critical Launch of 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is Delayed
By Chris Haak
Over its long history, GM has never really given small cars enough attention, building only as many of them as necessary to help with corporate fuel-economy rules or to at least have an entrant in that particular segment of the market. The small cars that did come from GM were generally half-baked efforts that either were benchmarked to competitors’ current offerings, or cars that were left on the vine past their sell-by date and showed their age.
GM has established a pattern of promoting its small cars as finally turning the corner on quality, performance, handling, economy, and value each time a new generation of cars is released, only for the reality of bottom-of-the-pack comparison test results, falling sales, and a renamed car for its replacement.
When the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt made its debut, the car looked very much like the Cavalier it was replacing. Unfortunately, the Cavalier had become so stale and uncompetitive by the time it reached the end of its last generation, so GM decided that the new car would be called the Cobalt rather than Cavalier. At the time, the Cobalt was positioned as a “premium small car,” but benchmarked to the Volkswagen Jetta that was about to be replaced. While Cobalt sales have been fairly strong, most versions of the car (aside from the former SS/Supercharged and current SS/Turbocharged variants) have not received very favorable reviews. I wasn’t impressed with the Cobalt 1LT that I spent a week with a few years ago.
Now, the Cobalt has reached the end of the line as well. The Cobalt doesn’t have nearly the legacy of bad cars that the Cavalier arguably had, but GM has seen fit to give its replacement yet another new C-word name – the Cruze. The Cruze will be sold around the globe as both a Chevrolet Cruze (in most markets, including North America, Europe, and China) and as a Holden Cruze (in Australia). In South Korea, the same car has a different grille and is called the Daewoo Lacetti Premiere. The Cruze is already on sale in many countries, such as Germany and Australia. In fact, it’s been on the market in one place or another since last year.
Originally, the Cruze was to have been launched in the US in early 2010 as a 2011 model. Presumably, the Cruze was to have a new 1.4 liter turbo direct injection four cylinder as its most fuel-efficient powerplant and, part of the reason for the delay was to retool the Cobalt’s Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant for Cruze production. I’d imagine that GM also intended to get any quality bugs sorted out elsewhere in the world before trying to sell the car in its home country.
Now, word has come out that there will be a delay in the Cruze’s launch. Rather than going on sale in spring 2010, it will now hit the streets in third quarter 2010, still as a 2011 model, but no longer an early 2011 model. According to GM’s official statements, the Cruze’s production delay is to ensure a flawless launch. While the car’s launch does need to be all but perfect, it’s going to be a two year old car design by the time it goes onto the market. And of course, the Cruze’s competitors aren’t sitting idly by while GM dallies about with the car’s launch.
It’s also possible that there is another reason the car’s launch is delayed – or that GM’s statement is not telling the whole story. GM Inside News reported two days ago that the Cruze launch would be delayed before any other sources picked up on it. According to GMI’s sources, the delay was caused by “a supplier issue,” but the site’s source didn’t provide any specifics beyond that. The generic “supplier issues” could easily encompass quality problems – or an anticipated part shortage – that, if not sorted out, could jeopardize the car’s “flawless launch.”
I had the opportunity to sit in a Cruze at this past year’s Detroit Auto Show, and the interior was of similar quality to some of its better competitors, though I’d rate the Mazda3’s interior higher. It’s a huge step up from the Cobalt, though. [Sadly, producing a better car than your old one is not a way to win customers; instead, they have to produce a better car than their competitors.] The Cruze is overall a fairly attractive car to my eyes, aside from the black plastic triangle between the rear door and the C-pillar to make the roofline look more swoopy than it really is. That “trick” doesn’t work with the Chrysler Sebring sedan and it doesn’t work with the Cruze.
The Cruze’s real selling point, though, is supposed to be fuel economy. With the promised 1.4 liter turbo direct injection engine, the Cruze is rumored (mostly by GM “leaks”) to get over 40 miles per gallon on the highway, and possibly as high as 44 miles per gallon with a potential future Cruze XFE package. Assuming the car is priced similarly to the inferior Cobalt and that its performance and economy meet or exceed expectations, GM may do very well with Cruze sales. I strongly believe that the Cruze is GM’s most important car launch in the next several years, and the car’s importance far outstrips the Volt in terms of moving the CAFE needle and filling GM’s coffers (rather than draining them, as the Volt will do for its first few years).
GM needs the Cruze now, not in a year, so it should be moving mountains to get this car into production as soon as possible. As the company’s products improve, customers may start to notice, but until the last of the uncompetitive cars (Cobalt, Lucerne, Impala – I’m looking at you three!) are out of the lineup, perceptions will be hard to shift, and buyers may continue to stay away.
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