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American Iron
By David Nguyen

This isn't about performance cars specifically, but I rented a Chevy pick up a few months ago to pick up some new furniture and I'd like to share with you my experience with the truck. It will shed some light into the current state of the US auto industry.

As you know, GM and Ford are not doing too well. They have lots of problems ranging from overcapacity, shrinking market share, some labor issues, cost issues, retiree, healthcare and pension issues, and on top of that fewer people want the kinds of vehicles they're building than in the past. Oh, and Ford recently lost out to Toyota as the second biggest selling automobile manufacturer in the US market. Toyota is expected to catch up to The General in the next year or so.

Anyway, I rented this truck and when I climbed in it had less than 700 miles on the odometer. It was virtually brand spanking new. In my opinion American trucks and vans have a certain charm about them. They're kind of like big, friendly reliable dogs always eager to go outdoors. I like them.

This one however, while it got the job done, made me take notice of some quality issues that are probably a big factor in the current troubles I outlined above. To begin with the steering wheel was offcenter by about 20 degrees. Then the door locks were out of whack. When you hit the lock button it would lock half the doors and unlock the other two. Then when you hit the unlock button it would reverse. The only way to lock all th doors was to use the remote. Not only that the interior was still just like I remember GM cars from 15 years ago, chock full of cheap gray plastic. Nothing has visibly changed. Maybe GM is able to buy the parts for the same or less cost these days, but it shows.

Beyond that the transmission didn't shift very smoothly. Maybe it would improve with some additional mileage, but it seemed more symptomatic of development or design shortcomings. Regardless, it wasn't good.

Finally, the ride was uncomfortable and the brakes, while adequate, really struggled with the truck's weight. This thing was h-e-a-v-y. For a vehicle platform that makes up more than half of GM's profit (when there is one) and fuel prices the way they are, the company is going to be in big trouble if people stop buying large trucks for personal use. And indicators are that small cars are taking off (Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, etc).

On the plus side the AC worked very well, the engine had plenty of power, and it was kind of fun to drive in its own way. But is that enough for people to continue to buy them in the numbers they used to? At the end of the day I filled up the tank. It took about $20 of fuel to go 90 miles. There's just no reason why people need to be driving this kind of truck for personal transportation. Drive this for a day and maybe you could be the subject of a Bud Light Real Men of Genius commercial called "Excessive Vehicle Driving Guy".

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Posted October 26, 2006

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