Chevette Part Deux – A Significant Step Toward GM’s New-and-Improved Reputation

My husband regularly romanticizes his first car – a beat up old Chevette – and talks about the day when he’ll get another one and rebuild it in our driveway, or get one for our daughter when she turns 16. (Neither of which will ever happen.)

reputation, GM, Sonic, Chevette

Line worker David Beebe works on a pre-production Chevrolet Sonic at the General Motors Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich., Thursday, May 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The New York Times published a big piece today about GM’s Sonic, “the first subcompact GM has tried to build in its home market since the Chevrolet Chevette, almost 40 years ago…” With the Sonic, GM and the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) are thinking outside the box.

  • The physical space of the plant in Orion Township, Mich. has been reduced by half
  • The plant’s energy bills were reduced by drawing some power from methane gas from neighboring landfills
  • In a groundbreaking labor agreement, the UAW allowed GM to pay 40 percent of its union workers $14 an hour, rather than the full UAW wage of $28 an hour, making producing a subcompact in the US cost-competitive for the first time in decades. (The UAW’s president said the union sees the Sonic as a significant competitive advantage to GMs product lineup.)

The “New GM,” as the company refers to itself, re-launched itself just about two years ago with an eye towards doing business differently, focusing on restructuring, making the company greener, and changing the culture to “cultivate more innovation, swift action, and cutting-edge technology,” in the words of CEO Fritz Henderson.

When GM re-launched, the big question was – could the company live up to the promises it was making; could it rebuild its reputation of being antiquated and out of touch with consumers? The Sonic is an indicator that GM is doing just that.  And, it’s inspiring to see a union and a corporation working together for the greater good of all involved, rather than negotiating against themselves, as is often the case.

I consider myself pretty patriotic. But, in my own humble opinion, the design of American cars is never as cool as European or Japanese cars. I’m hoping the Sonic will be different, and that we may be entering into a new era for American automobiles. Who knows, when our daughter turns 16, maybe she’ll actually be driving some version of the Chevette after all.

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