Performance Vehicles Also Have No Home in Restructured GM Organization
By Chris Haak
Aside from jettisoning Saab, Hummer, Saturn, and 47,000 employees, GM announced that the company has disbanded its High Performance Vehicle Operations unit, which had previously been based at the company’s technical center in Warren, Michigan. The employees previously assigned to the team have been redeployed elsewhere in the organization.
The former team had been responsible for such low-volume, gearhead-adored vehicles as the Cobalt SS, HHR SS, and the Cadillac V-series. According to GM spokesman Vince Muniga, “all high performance products are on indefinite hold.” It turns out that part of GM’s commitment to the US government to prove that it’s changing its ways (as in dramatically reducing its focus on trucks and focusing on “fuel efficient cars and crossovers”) over the next few years, it’s hard for GM to convince its new overlords in the Treasury Department that performance vehicles are good for the environment (they generally are not) and that developing them is a worthwhile use of taxpayer funds – and will help the company to survive (they probably are not).
Sadly, this leaves all but the most optimistic enthusiasts without a lot of hope for exciting products coming from GM over the next several years; the company noted that the High Performance Vehicle Operations unit could potentially be reinstated at some point in the future if the company becomes healthier (and presumably has repaid its government loans).
High-performance cars are being killed off left and right over the past few weeks. With GM’s obscenely large loan request on February 17th, it almost certainly makes financial sense to kill off the unit (while presumably allowing the current products that the group developed to finish their current lifecycles), since Honda is killing the S2000 roadster and leaving the Acura NSX stillborn, while Toyota is killing – or at least delaying – the Lexus LF-A supercar as well. Just as the late 1960s and early 1970s were a golden age of straight line only performance cars, the middle of this decade may indeed turn out to be another golden age of performance vehicles, and like all other bubbles, it was another one bound to burst. Except this time, it wasn’t necessarily insurance companies or emission controls that will end the horsepower wars, but a rather a combination of much-higher CAFE fuel economy standards and a rapidly-deteriorating global economy. Four dollar a gallon gasoline in mid-2008 certainly didn’t help the cause, either.
I found it dreadfully ironic that in a month where two different buff books had cover stories featuring reviews/comparison tests of 600-plus horsepower cars, I’m sitting here writing the obituary of performance cars. I do, however, have a few reasons to even consider being partially optimistic about the prospects for performance cars in the next decade or two:
- Technology might prevail, the same way it allows a 638-horsepower Corvette ZR-1 to get better fuel economy and emit a fraction of the tailpipe emissions of many of the half-baked cars of the 1970s and 80s.
- Gas might remain inexpensive for more than just a few months
- The former High Performance Vehicle Operations unit employees might be able to spread the gospel of high performance and superior products to their new teams
- Ford is re-introducting the nearly-legendary Taurus SHO model, and I haven’t heard any word of Chrysler disbanding its SRT performance division.
For now, though, let’s raise a glass to toast some of the masterpieces that this team has been able to produce at GM over the past few years.
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