GM

Superior Chevrolet, You Really Need to Rethink the Way You Work.

20120714-153403.jpg

Shopping for a car is always a stressful experience. It doesn’t have to be, but when you are spending a large sum of money it tends to be. This is an example of two separate experiences I had today. One good, one bad, both examples of dealership and corporate culture.

The first example involves looking at a Chevy Volt at Superior Chevrolet in Shawnee Kansas. The second looking at a MINI Countryman two blocks down the road at Baron MINI. The experiences are like night and day, with the Chevy experience being one of the worst ever.

I like the Volt. It’s an American car with bright future. It’s green. It is a showcase car for Chevy and one they should be proud of. Currently Chevy is running a killer lease deal on the Volt, and it’s compelling enough for me to burn a Saturday morning trying to test drive one. The thing is though, I walked out of the dealership without ever driving the Volt, and saying I’d never shop at Superior again. Actually most Chevy dealers I’ve been to pull what I’m going to explain in a bit. Before I do, let just say that last Friday I test drove a 2013 Porsche Boxster at Aristocrat Motors, alone, after a quick copy of my license and insurance. That my friends is a huge thing. I do not want a sales person going on my test drive. Neither should you. It doesn’t allow you to relax, be yourself, and really experience the car.

So the Superior visit went like this. Kristy called to make sure they had one we could drive and double check the lease rate. Everything looked OK, but it seemed a bit odd that the receptionist passed her to a sales associate who told us we had to check in with the Sales Manager when we got to Superior. Why would you have to do that? You’ll find out in a bit.

We drove to Superior, pulled in and parked. As soon as we got out of the car, we were pounced on by a sales associate wanting our business. We told him we needed to speak to the sales manager as we had been told to, and he immediately started fishing for details on what we were looking for, what our time frame was, who we had talked to, etc.

In typical fashion, he ushered us to an open office and asked us to wait while he went to look for the manager. A few minutes later he was back, and said the manager would just be a bit and he wanted to get some more info before we began. All we want to do is test drive a car. We aren’t even looking at buying or leasing at this point. We just want to look at it. None of this seems to matter at Chevy though. Before you can test drive they need your phone number, address, credit score, relationship to each other, the options on the car you are interested in, what color you might want it in, your first born, and a sack of gold. Did I mention all we wanted to do was test drive the damn thing to see if we even liked it?

After about 30 minutes of sitting in the office where our sales dude would periodically get up and go talk to the manager down the hall, the sales manager finally arrived. Now this is where it gets really old school. This is not a car for me. It is a car for Kristy. The sales manager directed all his talking to me. Even when I pointed out I’m not buying or leasing the car, she is. Strike One. At this point he informed us that the sales associate would be “taking us” on a test drive and he disappeared down the hall. The sales guy got a set of keys and slipped outside to fetch a Volt, and we sat and waited.

10 minutes later he returned and informed us that all three Volts in stock had dead batteries, so we couldn’t drive one. Strike 2. At this point trying to salvage a test drive, I said it was OK charge one up, we’ll go run some errands and come back later for a test drive. Sensing a loss of sale he said hold on, disappeared into the managers office and came back a few minutes later. The manager said we could drive it even though the battery is dead. ( if you are unfamiliar with the Volt, it’s all electric. The gas engine charges the main battery, but you kind of want to drive it battery only to see how it runs in normal everyday conditions ). We were there so we said OK, only to find out the sales guy was coming along for the test drive. He told us it was Chevy policy, he had to. Strike 3. We walked.

Here is the deal. From the moment we exited our car, the whole experience felt rigged. The sales guy sized us up. He asked me if I was trading my BMW for the volt, he checked out my watch, he captured as much info visually and through the pre-test questions as he could. He relayed it to the sales manager who didn’t give a damn about Kristy, he simply wanted to sell ME a car. The whole experience was a giant fail because Chevy’s corporate dealer culture is steeped in old school methods. We walked out without driving or leasing a car. We drove down the street to Baron MINI, and experienced the complete opposite.

I have purchased a number of cars from Baron, but the experience I am going to describe is exactly like it was the first time I ever went there. We walked in, looked around a bit said we wanted to test drive a MINI Countryman and a Coupe, they photo copied our licenses, and insurance, handed us the keys to the first car and said go have some fun. The sales person didn’t ride along. They didn’t try and gather a bunch of info or ask what our credit score was. They didn’t get my phone number. They simply said take the car for a spin and let us know what you think. It was easy, relaxed, zero pressure, and it worked. Chevy could learn from this.

Out of the last 5 cars I have purchased, only once did the sales person ride along. Two years ago when a Honda sales person pulled this on a test drive, we walked and bought from another Honda dealer. The fact is, the only reason they want to go along on the test drive is to get more information from you that they can use to close the sale. In reality if the product is good enough, and the sales person treats you right, they don’t need to ride along. Like I said earlier, all it really does is make the potential buyer nervous and uncomfortable. The Chevy dealer told us it was “Policy”, for “Insurance reasons”. I’m calling BS on that one. If it is policy, it’s one GM and their dealers need to change.

So where did Superior fail;

They didn’t try to understand their customer
They targeted the wrong buyer assuming it was the man, not the woman
To much pressure from the start
They were overly aggressive
The product didn’t work. How can you sell an electric car with dead batteries?
They let their old school corporate cultural control the sales experience (the world has changed and buyers are to well informed, and don’t like being sold every moment.)
They treated a person interested Ina high tech 21st century car, like the same person buying a Camero
There were to many people involved in the exchange. Why did it take 3 Chevy employees to try and lease one car
They didn’t listen. All we wanted to do was take a test drive.

FutureLAB Interactive Car Windows for GM.

Just in case you missed it, earlier this week all the major news networks announced how GM is back on top as the number 1 automobile manufacturer in the world. Ford is making huge gains, and both companies are being heralded for design innovation and product quality. Hopefully Detroit will do something about the plethora of over sized trucks and SUV’s that clog American roads, by making smaller more stylish cars that appeal to the masses the way the previously mentioned did over the last 20 years. I mean seriously, do you really need a Ford F-250 with a Triton V-10 engine if you don’t work on a farm or haul something daily? Anyway, I digress…

Recently GM, in challenged the FutureLAB at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Israel to make back seat windows interactive for kids. “Windows of Opportunity” project is designed to take advantage emerging technologies, and convert the rear windows of a car into an interactive playground for kids. The students from  FutureLAB worked directly with General Motors Human-Machine Interface Group to explore the possibilities of the future. The result of their research and work is an entertainment center built around applications designed to deliver gaming, social networking, information, and creativity for kids.

It is this kind of exploration, and design development that will help propel GM, and other US car makers forward over the next few years. GM, and Ford having conquered the challenges of fit, finish, and style need something to set themselves apart from European, Japanese, and Korean brands in the future. This kind of technology might just do the trick.

All Hybrid Cars Should Look This Good.

Last night I watched “Who Killed the Electric Car” again. The film is a documentary about the GM EV1, and how GM, the oil companies, and ultimately the government all managed to kill off the car for different reasons. Well today I found this while surfing Geneva Auto show news. I think it’s kind of ironic,based on some of what the movie is about.

Vauxhall (a General Motors Company, they produce the Astra for Saturn) will unveil a dramatic hybrid concept car at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. The Flextreme GT/E uses what Vauxhall calls extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV) technology – the wheels at all times are driven by electricity, but a small gasoline engine/generator provides enough electricity to extend the driving range to more than 300 miles. The Flextreme GT/E also employs what Vauxhall calls active shape shifting. Above 30mph, a vertical panel extends along the body from the air extraction slot behind each rear wheel-arch, guiding high-speed airflow around the rear of the car, reducing the drag co-efficient to just 0.22.

Vauxhall calls the strategy underpinning Flextreme GT/E, ‘e-mobility unlimited’, which will effectively adapt the highly efficient E-REV drive system to vehicles across all market segments. In other words, the Flextreme GT/E concept shows that size really doesn’t matter when it comes to driving a car with zero C02 emissions.

The Exterior Design.

I know this is just a concept, and since Vauxhall is owned by GM, this car willl never look this good if it makes it to production, but I have to say the concept is quite sexy. Sleek and aerodynamic, the Flextreme GT/E achieves a projected drag co-efficient of just 0.22, allowing it to reach an estimated top speed of 125mph-plus while conserving energy and extending the driving range to about 300 miles. Visual features  that stand out include a low, wide stance, wing-shaped lights front and rear, a distinctive nose and grille, ‘floating’ C-pillars and muscular, sculptured bodywork.

The clean design of the frontal styling features a low hood line and an extended nose section, which is clasped by wing-shaped, LED headlights. The headlights are in turn carved into the front wings and across the hood line. The  trapezoidal grill is thin but bold, with the prominent wing-shaped chrome bar carrying a large Vauxhall badge, which doubles as a socket for charging the Flextreme GT/E’s battery pack.

The upper section of the grill is used as a cooling air intake, the lower portion being covered by a translucent panel. The absence of additional air intakes allows a low frontal area to increase aerodynamic efficiency and also enables the Flextreme GT/E to meet future European pedestrian protection requirements.

The sculpted hood, with a Vauxhall-signature central crease line, features narrow longitudinal vents on either side to draw air out of the engine compartment. The muscular wings and wheel-arches sweep back into the side-body creating dramatic fluid lines.

In profile, the Flextreme GT/E is distinguished by innovative, stubbed C-pillars. This floating design allows the window glass to be extended rearwards under the arching roofline, emphasising the flowing lines of the side-body. Vauxhall’s signature blade motif is reinterpreted in a swooping  line from the base of the C-pillar into the lower front wing.

Access to the cabin is enhanced by the adoption of rear-hinged rear doors, an evolution of the FlexDoors concept from the new generation Meriva. To preserve the clean exterior looks, all door handles are replaced by light sensors. These trigger the doors to open when covered by the driver’s or passenger’s hand. To reduce air turbulence, exterior front door mirrors are also absent, replaced by small camera pods in the base of the A-pillars.

At the rear, a strong shoulder line embraces sculpted wheel-arches that further emphasise the Flextreme GT/E’s wide, ground-hugging stance. The coupé look is completed by a steeply raked tailgate, carrying wing-shaped LED light units which echo the form of the front headlamps. And taking a leaf from the Insignia Sports Tourer’s book, the tailgate has a wraparound design for improved trunk access, enhanced by a convex deep glass screen to improve airflow.

The transparency of the fixed glass panel in the center of the roof is adaptive, allowing sunlight to warm the interior in the cold of winter, but darkening for coolness in summer. A duct at the rear edge of the roof is for additional cooling of the battery and electronic components.

Managing drag and saving weight

Integral to the Flextreme GT/E’s dramatic looks is the efficiency of the design execution. The small frontal area, low roof height (54 inches) and a flat, enclosed underbody all enable the car to cleave the air with a minimum of disturbance. A series of measures optimise airflow management.

The 21-inch alloy wheels are relatively narrow, to reduce wind resistance, and are fitted with 195/45, low profile resistance tires. Clear, flush-mounted trim inserts are also used to minimise air turbulence.

The small front intake improves airflow around the nose of the car and the underbody sweeps up, venturi-like, at the rear to further reduce drag. The Flextreme GT/E also explores the potential for active shape shifting.

At speeds above 30mph, a vertical panel extends along the body from the air extraction slot behind each rear wheel-arch. These 13 and 3/4 inch long side spoilers guide high-speed airflow around the rear corners of the car, further reducing the amount of turbulence.

Mass reduction measures for the body include the use of lightweight, carbon fiber outer panels, polycarbonate window glazing and aluminum alloy structural components. Compared with conventional materials, these offer a 40 per cent weight saving which further contributes to reduced energy consumption and an increased driving range.

Under the Hood

The Flextreme GT/E concept also includes the groundbreaking E-REV drive system, already developed for the Vauxhall Ampera. Despite its greater size and a maximum speed of more than 125mph, the Flextreme GT/E is estimated to offer performance similar to that of the Ampera: a battery-powered driving range of up to 40 miles – with zero CO2 tailpipe emissions – and a total range of over 300 miles. Average fuel consumption is estimated at 175mpg, with CO2 emissions of less than .5 oz/pound.

Unlike a traditional hybrid vehicle, the wheels of the Flextreme GT/E are powered at all times by electricity. For typical journeys up to 40 miles, energy is supplied by a T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack located under the floor and rear seat.

The Flextreme GT/E eliminates any possibility of range anxiety through fear of being stranded without power. The small petrol engine/generator is seamlessly engaged to provide electricity whenever the battery’s supply becomes depleted. In this mode, the driving range is extended to more than 300 miles, until the plug-in battery pack can be recharged or the car is refueled.

The motor in the electric drive unit delivers a substantial 370Nm of instant torque, giving lively performance and projected zero to 60mph acceleration in less than eight seconds.

The Flextreme GT/E concept is a logical next step towards Vauxhall’s emerging strategy for the electric/hybrid cars, which will in time include products using battery, extended-range, hybrid and fuel cell technologies (although if you have seen “Who Killed the Electric Car” you know how un-environmentally friendly producing hydrogen for fuel cells is ).