Penske Walks, GM Folds, Saturn Dies

My last two cars were Saturns, including the one I have now. It’s a 1998 SC-2 sports coupe with the loaded package: aluminum wheels, leather steering wheel, dual overhead cams. It doesn’t look like an eleven-year old car, thanks to state-of-the-art body panels that kept it looking great even after being hit and/or whacked on every side of the vehicle.

The last time I was at the dealer (following a friend and fellow Saturn owner for maintenance), the few remaining sales zombies shambled toward me hopefully. Sadly, the current fleet had nothing to offer me; my car’s paid off, looks and runs good, and gets close if not identical mileage to anything Saturn has. Plus, the new fleet lacked features that used to make Saturn stand out, such as the impact resistant body panels they stopped making five years ago.

With my own interior upgrades, there’s really nothing new they could offer, and the sales zombies shambled away. Soon they’ll be standing with the rest of the living dead at the unemployment office when not chasing down a job lead, and that’s just not how I ever thought Saturn, “a different kind of car company,” would go out.

On second thought, plastering a logo on a Pontiac Solstice and calling it the sportiest thing you have to offer wasn’t the smartest idea, either. Face it, GM… you treated Saturn and its customer base like red-headed step children and they all would have been better off without you. There! I feel better now.

GM: The Future is Electric

There’s a lot of people saying that the government/union takeover of General Motors has condemned it to a slow death of regulated cars no one will want to buy at a cost ballooned by antiquated union promises. At the same time, however, there is evidence that the original plan is still moving forward, such as the $25 million US-based battery lab designed for the Chevy Volt and other future electric cars. And there’s a good reason.

The future isn’t green. It’s electric!

Every gadget you own needs power. The trick is in creating that power, but in the end, it’s still a bunch of holes moving backward in a straight line. Biochemical, nuclear, hydro-electric, it doesn’t matter; it all winds up generating a spark that makes things go, from music players to refrigerators.

Cars are no longer tuned up; their on-board computers do that. Think replacing an engine or transmission is expensive? Ask anyone who’s had to replace their ECM (electronic control module) and/or have it “reprogrammed.” The next logical step is to take the engine out and put the batteries in; hybrids are two times too much weight and hardware, but their helping to transition vehicles into the next phase of transportation.

According to Popular Mechanics in year’s past, GM’s ultimate goal is a chassis that contains the batteries, motors, tires, breaking, and steer-by-wire systems that will resemble a platform with wheels. Once designed, any number of “toppers” can be added: sportcar, truck, minivan, or whatever. This design idea of sharing the underbody is already used to save manufacturing costs, but what if you could have three vehicle toppers and only have to buy one “underbody?” Just snap on the vehicle topper you need and off you go!

Not only are batteries becoming more efficient, they’re getting smaller, plus the power requirements for battery-powered devices are also becoming more efficient. In other words, it takes less energy to do the same things and less energy is wasted getting to those things. Eventually, power requirements, technology, safety systems, and convenience will converge at the right price to create the must-have all-electric vehicle for the next century, and it’s really only a matter of when, not if.

And when it does, I’ll buy one. Even if it says “GM.”