As General Motors emerges from bankruptcy, does its very reputation remain bankrupt?
If sales tell the tale, taxpayers are in a forgiving mood. GM's October sales rose 3.5 percent from a year ago, up 13 percent when you take out discontinued brands. Last summer Consumer Reports reported that Honda and Toyota still rule in quality, but GM showed the most improvement.
Here are the opinions of four drivers all living in America's heartland and one Chevy dealer in Indiana. They gave their views on what was once considered the country's greatest brand.
Kristina Branch of New Palestine, Ind., drove a Honda, but wanted a lower car payment. "I've had GM cars in the past, as well as Ford , Honda," she says, "and I've been very pleased with the GM products I've had."
Branch wasn't sure what kind of car to buy, but she tried the Chevy Cruze and liked it. "I thought it was the best value I could find out there, and it served the purpose of cutting the payment like we wanted to."
However, Branch has been unhappy with GM as a business. "It just seems like when everyone else was trying to economize as the economy went bad, they didn't do anything to improve their status."
But she decided to buy American, in part, because it is American. "I really wouldn't like to see GM or Ford or any of the American brands die out," she says. "We've got a lot of American workers invested in those companies."
As for her new Chevy? "It's great. I love it. It makes you feel like you have a much more expensive car than you really have."
The Spurned Lover
Tina Siefert of Fishers, Ind., drives a 2002 Saturn. "It's taken a lot of abuse, and it's been a great car for us." She and her husband also drive a 1997 GMC Sierra.
Even though the couple knows GM cars, they question the brand. "It's real hard for us to say that we would buy another GM because of some of the things the company has done in past years," Siefert says.
For one thing, she loves her Saturn, and Saturn is now gone. "We were very upset with that," adds Siefert, "and it's one of the reasons we don't think we'll ever buy another GM."
That's not all.
"They haven't been able to handle their finances well," Siefert says. "The government had to bail them out, which means we, the taxpayers, had to bail them out."
She also points to GM's past low-quality issues, which she says foreign manufacturers, "even the ones that manufacture cars here," don't seem to have. At the same time, Siefert thinks GM may have turned a corner. "They're making some great cars, they're coming out with the Volt, which is a really interesting kind of vehicle, and something that no one else is doing right now."
It's not enough to change her mind. GM's progress is overshadowed by its past.
"We don't know yet what we're going to buy, but it'll probably not be a GM."
The Potential Convert
Tyler Lipa contributes to a car blog from his home in Elkhart, Ind. He needs a new car. "I'm hoping to buy in the next couple years," he says. Gesturing to his VW Jetta, he laughs, "That has 160,000 miles on it."
Not long ago, he wouldn't have even considered buying a GM vehicle. "It was an older person's brand as well as if you were looking at a truck."
But Lipa started looking at the Chevy Cruze, with its 42 mpg on the highway, and he may give it serious consideration. "GM's image has changed a lot over the past couple years," Lipa says. "They've become a car manufacturer who's able to offer cars that are good quality, instead of just what I used to consider bargain and cheap cars."
Rocky Walls just bought a brand-new Honda Accord and drove it from Indianapolis to DisneyWorld in Orlando. "It's working great for me so far." He briefly considered a GM car when a client he worked for suggested it, but the idea was only fleeting. "We feel like Hondas have a little bit better resale value," he says. "Some of the American cars that I see don't look like they're in as nice a shape."
Walls admits he's no car expert. "I don't even know how to change my oil," he says. So why is he anti-GM? "It's a sentiment I think that has been passed on to me by people that I do think know a lot about vehicles."
His last vehicle was a Honda, and his next vehicle will probably be a Honda, too. "I feel like General Motors is probably a great company, they probably produce great cars, but I feel like Hondas are just better."
Chris Theisen is what you might call Car Salesman 2.0. He's the head of digital communications for Hare Chevrolet in Noblesville, Ind. He's been busy blogging, "Tweeting," and "Facebooking" for the dealership.
"So when I help you online, and you have a good experience, you tell your 1000 friends, instead of telling your 10 friends in Noblesville."
Theisen says October and November have been Hare's two biggest months in terms of unit sales. Why? He credits new models with unique styling which give Chevys a distinctive look separate from other GM brands.
"Chevy's kind of helped pull in people with the product the last couple of years. So instead of you having to go and find them and they'll say, 'I like you, but I don't like your cars.' Now it's, 'I like you AND I like the cars.' "
Theisen says his efforts are focused on reaching the buyers "in the middle," those who are open to the possibility that GM has really changed. "The people that want to drive Hondas and Fords are going to drive Hondas and Fords," he says. "And then, we're always going to have the Chevy people."