If you find yourself wandering around the Toronto auto show this week or next, try parking your biases, hoary notions and heavyweight predispositions and then answer two questions: Which car company clearly made the most improvement in the last year? And which one is crying out for a re-think?
Improvement? GM has had a terrific 12 months since last year's Toronto show. Yesterday, J.D. Power and Associates released its latest three-year Vehicle Dependability Study and the General was a big winner. GM also aced the latest J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS), ranking highest overall of all the major car companies. Pretty good, I'd say.
Earlier this week, the federal government signalled that it will soon sell its stake in GM. The General has already paid off the United States Government, so the "Government Motors" tag will soon be gone.
Individual products? Consider the Chevrolet Impala, the best sedan Consumer Reports has ever tested. Or the BMW-fighter Cadillac ATS. The Corvette Stingray is the best sports car anywhere, dollar-for-dollar – a super sports car starting for less than $53,000.
Finally, GM started 2014 with an orderly transition in the C-Suite: out went former CEO Dan Akerson, in came former product czarina Mary Barra. Oh, and GM also cued up a dividend. GM has made loads of progress this past year.
But I wonder about Toyota Motor. The world's biggest car company is making more money selling fewer cars worldwide and that's a red flag.
Why? Well, the devalued yen is a big help, but so is Toyota's product strategy which has cost-cutting as its centrepiece. The new Tundra, Highlander and Corolla have shiny and interesting new top hats – styling inside and out – but the expensive bits like power trains have been carried over, essentially untouched. That's how you save money making cars and trucks.
President Akio Toyoda has been pushing for more heart-thumping performance from Toyota's new models, but the engines in remade models remain the same. Note to Toyota: GM did not launch the new 'Vette with last year's V-8.
Take a walk through the stands of Toyota and GM at the Toronto show. Then answer this question: which one impresses you most?
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