Thursday, September 23, 2004

Classic Cadillac

There in front of the Cadillac dealer sat a gleaming example of Cadillac's finest 1954 automobile. Turquoise blue with lots of chrome and every imaginable option. Power windows. Power seats. Power steering wheel. Even air conditioning. It had it all!

But just a few feet away, behind the dealership's plate glass windows, under a black silk sheet patiently sat next year's Cadillac. Within an hour the hundreds of well-dressed potential Cadillac customers inside would put down their champagne glasses, finish the last shrimp on their plates and turn their attention to that black sheet.

The owner of the dealership himself had personaly washed and shined the car that sat underneath that secret-concealing silken veil. For very very few, not even the guy who drove the delivery truck bearing the unseen machine, had seen what Cadillac had to offer for the coming year. The salesmen only knew that it was bigger, better, faster and more opulent than any Caddy that had come before it.

And because one corner of the rear bumper peaked from underneath the shroud, everyone knew it was red.

So the time for unveiling arrived and with a magician's flourish, the boss whipped away the crimson Cadillac's cover to reveal... the 2005 Cadillac STS.

Time machine? Well, sorta. Even though this just happened in Birmingham, AL (and at several other locations across the nation), there really was a 1954 Cadillac sitting outside the local dealership and, like in Cadillac's 50s heyday, there really were people sipping drinks and eating fancy food awaiting the introduction of the object of next year's longing. There was even a jazz duet.

It's 2004. So how does the maker of the Cimarron and the Catera attract crowds of people anxiously awaiting their new model? The shrimp don't hurt, but to engineer a turnaround like this takes cash. Lots of cash.

General Motors wisely saw the writing on the wall several years ago and pumped literally billions of dollars into Cadillac's salvation. From that investment, we got the sport-luxury CTS, the sleek and fast Corvette-based XLR, the SRX and now the yacht-like STS. All of which should go a long way toward erasing the Cimarron from potential buyers' memories.

The secretive unveiling of new models is a great way for Cadillac to resurrect its treasured past. It's a way to connect in the minds of the public Cadillac's V-16 engines and tailfins with today's Art and Science© design theme. Because today's Caddys are more akin to those legendary rides of the '30s, '40s and '50s than they are to the rattle-trap rust buckets of the '70s and '80s.

So I think the General can stop worrying about the state of Cadillac for a while. It seems to have truly made the great "turnaround" GM brass has been promising for decades. Now, I wonder how many billions it will take to turn around Buick. Hmmmm.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Ford 500

I've never heard anyone say, "Ooooh! Vanilla ice cream! My favorite! I'll have two scoops!" Not once. Well, maybe, "Oooh! FREE vanilla ice cream! My favorite!" But that's a little different.

Ford500So I don't expect to see lines of people waiting to buy the Ford 500 expected on lots any day now. There probably won't be a Hot Wheels model made of it. Few potential car buyers will sit around saying to themselves, "I can't wait to trade in my five-year-old Honda Civic for the new 500!"

I do, however, expect to see dealer lots overflowing with modestly priced, well-equipped Ford 500s. I also expect to see moderately-satisfied rental car drivers in 500s. And I can see a day about five years from now when the classified ad reads, "For sale: Ford 500. Low miles, good condition. $4,500 OBO."

It's just not an exciting car. Granted, the Camry, Accord and Civic aren't exciting either. But what they give up in personality, they make up in loyalty. That Civic might be beat to hell, but it'll start every time you ask it to. The Ford? Uh, don't count on it.

So what does Ford offer in the 500 they can't get elsewhere? Well, Autoweek reviewed the car in its Sept. 13, 2004 issue and the best thing they had to say about it was: it has a big trunk. Wow. Big trunk or starts every time? Big trunk or sumptious interior? Big trunk or, uh, phenomenal resale value?

Ford500The Mercury division will get a version, too, called the Montego. It's basically the same car except for gray Woodgrainesque© finish on the dash and a grille that, in my opinion, is a dead ringer for the Mercury Topaz of 1980s infamy. All this can be yours starting at only $25,000.

Now if you were to say, "Hey, want a FREE Ford 500?" I'd go, "Hell, yeah." But at $23,000 for one I say, "No thanks. I'll take double fudge chocolate chip cookie dough please."

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I hate SUVs

How many times have you heard or read that? It seems to be pretty popular in the liberal crowds to hate SUVs. And I'm one of 'em. A liberal who hates SUVs that is, not an SUV.

Why shouldn't I hate them? There seems to be a never-ending list of reasons to dislike their smog-belching, gas slurping, rolling-over, tanker-like carcasses.

So imagine my self-loathing when I had to recommend one of the dinosaur-like big-rigs to a co-worker. That's right. Recommend. Above everything available in the autoworld, I went and told a co-worker she should buy an SUV.

But before you go revoking my Greenpeace membership, let me explain.

She has three kids. She's on a tight budget. She's got a fairly decent commute each day.

Her only requirements were that it have three-row seating, be affordable and drink less than her ex-husband. With those three criteria, all but one vehicle are excluded from our search. That one is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

For about $25-$30,000, this mom can haul her three cuties and their assorted paraphrenelia all over town to the tune of 28 m.p.g. And each cuty will have their own little play area so no one has to put up with, "He's touching me!" for 200 miles.

Add the optional DVD system and no one has to put up with, "Are we there yet?" for 200 miles. She'll still have to put up with, "Mommy, I have to pee," and, "Mommy, I dropped my ice cream." But won't it be good to know the ice cream didn't drop on one of the other two cuties?

So I learned from this that while I truly hate SUVs, sometimes they fill a need no other vehicle can.

You just gotta wonder, though, what need is being filled by that 20-foot long GMC Suburban driven by the 22-year-old single woman who tried to run me over last week.