Back when I first got into cars, I talked my father into buying a 1983 Pontiac 6000 STE instead of a Saab 900 Turbo. The Saab was neat, and he really wanted it. But Detroit had gotten to me with all its flag waving, and the magazines were talking up the Pontiac as a legitimate alternative to the Audi 5000, then the benchmark semi-affordable midsize sedan. Partly to make me happy, my father bought the Pontiac.
It wasn’t as interesting as the Saab, but he was generally satisfied with it for the three years that he owned it. But he bought a Lincoln Mk VII LSC three years later, then a Lexus LS 400 in 1991, and his primary car has been a Lexus ever since.
In 1985 I bought a Pontiac myself, a 2000 Sunbird Turbo convertible. It was a fun car, but proved unreliable, going through an alternator, exhaust manifold, spark plug wires, and automatic transmission (the only one I’ve had) in the first 28,000 miles. The problems weren’t the problem. How the dealer dealt with them was the problem. At one point I gave them a choice: waive a $70 charge I felt should be covered by warranty, or lose me as a customer for a very long time, if not for life. (Turned out to be a very long time rather than for life.)
From that point on I realized that as much as many Americans were pulling for Detroit, Detroit wasn’t going to return the favor. It’s all business in the end.
My father never felt burned by Detroit on reliability, even though the first few Ford Taurus / Mercury Sable wagons my mother has driven since 1986 had a penchant for transmission and head gasket failures. Instead, he hadn’t bought a domestic car for himself since 1986 because how they looked and drove did nothing for him.
Then I took him to test drive the new 2008 Cadillac CTS. No pressure from me on this one, I just show him what’s available and write up a joint evaluation.
He felt that the new CTS drove well enough, though his standards here aren’t the highest. The main thing he disliked about 1990s Cadillacs was torque steer (they were front-wheel-drive the last time he bought a sedan) and a general feeling of float while acclerating. His main concern with the new CTS is the road noise we heard on some roads during the test drive. He’s never been entirely happy with his current Lexus, a GS 400, because of road noise (especially with the replacement tires).
What really sold him on the Cadillac CTS was the styling, both inside and out. And the fact that where he lives hardly anyone buys a Cadillac car–it’s now the outsider brand, like Saab was back in 1983. So, for the first time in a quarter-century he’s ordered a GM car.
He also asked me about the new 2008 Chevrolet Malibu–an advertising photo for the car really caught his eye. So GM seems to be finally getting the styling thing spot on. Will my father be an isolated success, or might striking exterior styling combined with upgraded interiors and decent dynamics win people back?
Of course, the 2008 Cadillac CTS is a new design, and sometimes new designs have teething problems. It’s too soon for even TrueDelta’s methods to provide any insight here. If GM’s new designs do win many people back, I hope that it handles any problems well enough that these people aren’t lost all over again.