Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sportiness or Reliability?

Have you seen the TV ad, Cadillac ATS vs. the World, for the new Cadillac ATS? The one with the car tearing up roads all over the world? Cadillac's aim is to prove that its new compact is the equal of the world's best.

Writing about the ad in Automotive News, Mike Collias says, "The success of the ATS, Cadillac's first true compact sedan since it introduced the widely panned Cimarron in 1981, is critical to GM's goal of elevating Cadillac into a global luxury player."

I support Cadillac in its quest to become what we used to call world class or what Cadillac itself used to say of itself, "The Symbol of Excellence." I think, no I know, they can do it. I also know it is vitally important to impress and win over the type of buyer who is considering an Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Lexus, or Mercedes. Performance, or at least the perception of performance, is a big issue for them so the new ad makes sense. But to succeed Cadillac needs more than just performance.

Anyone familiar with the Cadillac Cimarron knows it didn't fail just because it lacked performance of any kind. It was a terrible car, nothing more than a gussied up Chevrolet Cavalier. It had no power, handled poorly, and worst of all it wasn't all that reliable. First year sales were okay but just okay. Over 25,000 Cadillac buyers were fooled into buying a substandard car.

Cadillac tried again with the Catera. Introducing the Catera to the US with a stupid "duck" commercial, the Catera bombed from the start.

There were problems with both mechanically. The Cimarron suffered from the same problems as the Cavalier. The Catera wasn't too bad unless you overheated it, in which case the aluminum heads became junk. And based on my own personal knowledge this happened fairly frequently.

None of this should affect your opinion of the ATS. It is a clean sheet of paper, not simply a rebadged Chevy or Opel. All reports are positive.

This isn't just about the ATS. What I am trying to say is that although there is a customer segment that might buy a car because it rivals a BMW, in the end we all want reliable transportation. Getting to 60 mph a tenth of a second faster than the other guy is nice but staying away from the service department of your dealership (no offense to the many excellent service departments) has its place.

I used to argue with an acquaintance about warranties. He'd tell me how great such and such make's warranty was because they'd always fix what broke. I'd argue that I'd prefer having no warranty and a car that doesn't break. Warranties are great but not as good as having your car start and get you where you need to go every single day without drama.

Ford just go kudos for the way they handled the recall of the 2013 Escape (immediately notifying owners of the problem, sending a flatbed to pickup the vehicle, and offering a free rental car). As great as that is it isn't as good as not having to recall the Escape. I'm pretty sure Ford knows this.

I remember an advertising line for Ford service departments from a few years ago telling people they would, "fix it right the first time." For my money they should never have to fix it because it never let you down.

There may be unforeseen potential failures in anything, and in reality there are few failures with cars. A PR guy with AMC years ago said, in responding to AMC's poor reliability record, that their failure rate was very small, only around 1% overall out of the multitude of parts on the vehicle. Was that true? I don't know but I do know that if there are 10,000 parts in a car, and you sell 200,000 units that is still a ton of failures.

So for me, no matter how much I like performance, and I do very much, the biggest selling point any car maker could make would be to guaranty every single car for a minimum of 100,000 miles. Many automakers now do so but there is no reason every single one should not; there is no reason every single car built should not last at least 100,000 miles without a problem (provided of course that it receives routine maintenance).

I am not talking about normal wear and tear - tires, brakes and windshield wipers wear out for example - but your car, regardless of whether it's a top performance model or an appliance to just get you back and forth to work, should never leave you stranded for at least 100,000 miles.

Thankfully most cars today are almost trouble free. One hundred thousand mile warranties are as much a marketing tool as anything; they provide peace of mind. Insiders will tell you that having a 100,000 mile warranty does not cost automakers because the overall the failure rate is minuscule.

So tell me that your "halo" car will do sub-5 second 0-60 mph sprints, tear up a race course faster than a F1 car, and stop as they used to say, "on a dime and give you five cents back." Just promise me it will never, ever let me down and the only time I'll see the inside of your service department during its first 100,000 miles will be when it needs an oil change or other maintenance item.

No comments: