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  • Whale Watching: The Knee-Jerk and Other Theories

Whale Watching: The Knee-Jerk and Other Theories

G. R. Whale
Jun 3, 2010
Vice chairman Robert Lutz, with all due respect to Mark Reuss, is the closest thing GM has to an all-around car-guy executive. And Lutz announced on March 3 that he will retire May 1. Among theories floated was the idea of arising at 04:30 everyday could get old, which doesn't ring true coming from a U.S. Marine, and even if it did, a man who can fly himself to work surely could sleep in occasionally.
My inner pessimist was amused by the timing. A week earlier, GM supported legislation requiring event data recorders in every new vehicle. This was coincident with Toyota EDR questions and society-at-large and the mainstream press's mistaken impressions that EDR are the same "black boxes" as orange flight data recorders on commercial aircraft.
I have to think that Lutz was growing bored with a Board packing in former AT&T personnel and relentless management shuffling. A friend who's dealt with GM vehicles for years, often buying in chunks of tens or hundreds, asked the other day who's in charge at GM and I couldn't give him a good answer. Cadillac dealers told last year to wind down are now being told to stay open, perhaps because Caddy sales dropped like a rock without them. All that hoopla about people being responsible and accountable resonates hollow when they're constantly moved about.
Photo 2/5   |   Bob Lutz
When I began in this business it was three years before I drove a GM test vehicle where everything worked for the duration of the loan. I know they've made huge strides in product, but if the headlines are all about who's running the store (this month) the product remains secondary in mind.
GM and Ford have new emissions-driven heavy-duty pickups this year, and the battle started at the Texas State Fair last year: Ford claimed best load and towing ratings. A few months later, Chevy unveiled the Silverado HD with some impressive tow and load ratings (the highest rear GAWR matches Ram's), but like Ford in Texas GM did not announce power ratings, and then Chevy taunted Dearborn with this line: "It should be noted that, while Ford claimed segment-leading trailering and payload during its recent announcement of the 2011 Super Duty models, no towing ratings were issued."
Flash back 15 years: A GM rep said they'd be first to market with a "four-door" extended-cab pickup and the mildly panicked P.R. director ran to verify "we are gonna be first, right?"
Photo 3/5   |   2011 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 Heavy Duty Front Rolling View
Ford didn't directly respond to Chevy's 2011 tease, they merely introduced their truck.
And whaddya know, the Super Duty matched or bettered the "max" numbers Chevy announced weeks earlier: Top GVWR and conventional towing are the same, but max fifth-wheel, GCWR and payload are bigger at Ford -- without including the F-450 pickup.
GM did win the diesel-power war, the new Duramax rated 397 horsepower/765 pound-feet, a whopping 9 horsepower and 30 pound-feet of torque superior to the 6.7 Power Stroke. For their part, Ram will stress performance at load, no urea, and a choice of transmissions. In other applications, the Cummins 6.7 is rated up to 860 pound-feet, so if Ram had a stronger gearbox...
Photo 4/5   |   2011 Ford F Series Super Duty Front Three Quarter Towing
Both GM's and Ford's HD pickups are now rated to pull 10 tons. I've pulled 10 tons and ridden in a 2011 Super Duty doing it, but I still want more than a pickup to pull that weight
Finally, Toyota is still on the defense from being painted by the same paintbrush "60 Minutes" used on Audi, Consumer Reports used on some Japanese SUVs, and Congress applied to those overloaded, speeding Explorers on Firestone tires.
I've had accelerators get stuck at WOT in many cars -- floormat issues, sticky cables, broken butterfly -- and even in old carbureted cars, and I managed to stop all of them easily. When I heard about the 90-plus-mph San Diego Prius, my first thought was, wow, there's a novel approach to avoid a speeding ticket. In a radio interview, the patrolman didn't say anything about his patrol car touching the Prius until after it had stopped on its own. Then the driver's attorney made comments about the driver not needing money, as reports surfaced about the Prius payments being behind and so on. I had my doubts, but I had insufficient information to know if there was anything wrong with the Prius, and so did everyone else.
In New York, a woman driving a Prius recently serviced by Toyota went down a driveway and crashed, and the car's owner said, "It's not her fault. It's the car." But the authorities' investigation showed the throttle was wide open and the brake pedal untouched.
Photo 5/5   |   2010 Toyota Prius front Three Quarters View
Two decades ago, some Audi drivers said their cars took off with their foot pressed firmly on the brake pedal (and these cars did not have brake or throttle by-wire). The "60 Minutes" segment on it repeated the claims. NHTSA's investigation showed it was driver error. I've heard Prius brakes aren't that strong, but it's not a high-performance car. New or old, 100 horsepower isn't going to run away from a stop with four disc brakes clamping firmly.
Do I know if there's an issue with Toyota's electronic throttle control, that they "hid" some information on it, or that a Prius is more inclined than other cars to have a problem? No, no, and no.
Ford found that, with three million vehicles, it was easy to find a few hundred people who didn't read the owner's manual and drive properly; in my opinion, six people in a car with five seatbelts isn't proper driving. Toyota has sold nearly 45 million vehicles in this country, so, regardless of reliability reputation, some are going to have a problem.
Can you think of anything that has sold 45 millions units--burgers, drugs, spray paint, beverages, whatever -- that hasn't had a problem at some point? And if you answer yes, can you think of one for 45 million units as complex and detailed as a new car?



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