For as long as I've been covering the car business, I've been among the those who have criticized General Motors for touting the "fabulous future" and never achieving the predicted results – sometimes even falling woefully short. The unkind way to put this is to say GM has a long history of talking a good game.
GM still likes to chat up future models and grand plans. For instance, earlier this year at the Detroit auto show, Mark Reuss, GM's North American president, reminded every reporter within earshot that his company will have turned over its entire product line by mid-2014. And GM's new pickups, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, would rock the competition, he added.
Reporters love bold comments coming from senior executives. What's different these days is something I haven't seen in nearly 30 years: GM is living up to its promises and predictions at an unheard of clip.
For instance, late last week, GM boldly touted the fact that among 2014 model year vehicles, the Chevrolet brand boasts seven with 5-Star overall vehicle scores for safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Chevy has more 2014s wearing 5 Stars than any other brand, including Ford and Toyota combined, GM proudly noted.
The 5-Star winners in the New Car Assessment Program: Chevrolet Sonic, Cruze, Volt, Impala, Traverse, Camaro coupe and Silverado 1500 crew cab.
"Sonic is the first and only car in the subcompact class to receive a 5-Star Overall Score," GM happily announced.
Then there's this about GM's new 2014 pickups: the Chevrolet Silverado 1500's "Excellent" road-test score makes it Consumer Reports' top-rated truck. In the summer, CR's testers also gave Chevy's revamped Impala the top spot overall for all sedans — taking a position held by Japanese and European models for at least the last 20 years. An "Excellent" 95 score put the Impala at the top of CR's "Large Sedan" category and only two vehicles had to date earned a higher test score: the Tesla Model S hatchback and the BMW 135i coupe.
Also in the summer, GM stood atop the 2013 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study or IQS. GM's GMC and Chevrolet brands ranked among the top five of the IQS, which measures the number of owner-reported problems on 2013 cars and light trucks during the first 90 days.
"GM has the best quality of any corporation in the study, the first time it's been on top," David Sargent, Power vice-president of global automotive and the study's author, told Automotive News.
Still, take note that among individual brands, Porsche ranked No. 1, Lexus ranked No. 3 and Infiniti No. 4. GMC was No. 2 and Chevy No. 5. Interestingly, Toyota did not rank in the top five with Lexus and Nissan failed to do the same tag team with Infiniti. Only GM had two brands in the top five. Impressive.
Hopefully, no one at GM is running up a victory banner. For instance, while GM may have won the pickup battle in the latest round of CR tests, the testers pointed out that the second-place Ram 1500 may be an even better daily driver than the Silverado. Indeed, these two finished one-two among pickups, separated by only three points.
"The reality is that you can't go wrong with either one. Both are capable trucks that get decent gas mileage and are as quiet inside as a good luxury car," said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports.
So GM is starting to string together some tangible results, keeping a few promises along the way. Moreover, GM's tale is part of a bigger story coming out of Detroit.
"The Impala's performance is one more indicator of an emerging domestic renaissance," said Fisher in releasing Impala test results. "We've seen a number of redesigned American models – including the Chrysler 300, Ford Escape and Fusion, and Jeep Grand Cherokee – deliver world-class performance in our tests."
Could it be that GM and Detroit as a whole really are doing more than talking a good game?