Double Cultural Whammy for GM (Part 2): Will we buy GM’s new cars?

Classic car with tail fins Who will make your next new car? AND, will our fickle American tastes in autos match what GM may start building?

    FIRST—about that next car? Only 14% of the respondents to Newsvines’s ongoing poll say their next car will come from GM. About 24% say Ford. Chrysler attracts a miniscule 3.5%.
    Some Asian company is the hands-down winner, garnering almost a third (32%). The runner up is the whimsical (but also realistic) category, “Are you kidding? I’m driving this jalopy until it falls apart”—which got 18% of votes.
    (These numbers shift as more people take the poll. You can take the Newsvine poll here.)
    This is an unscientific poll. Yet it signals GM’s other cultural problem: Will Americans buy its cars? The “new” GM plans to keep only four brands: GMC, Cadillac, Buick, and Chevrolet. Do these brands appeal to American buyers of the future?
    Yesterday, I introduced the idea that GM is caught in two cultural binds: the need to radically change its own culture and the challenge of getting Americans to buy its cars. (Scroll down to read all our posts this week.)
Powerful sports car     A bigger issue is whether we want the fuel-efficient cars GM may be pushing soon. The government wants these to be high on the “must buy” list, but will that work? Americans are in love with cars, especially faster and bigger cars. How would one get more Americans to buy fuel efficient cars, hybrids, and electric cars?
    Consumer culture is hard to change, but high gas prices change behavior. The high prices Americans paid recently resulted in fewer miles driven, lower speeds, fewer fatalities, and—yes—more purchases of fuel efficient autos.
    Americans enjoy underpriced gas, compared to the $7 to $10 a gallon paid by Europeans. Raising taxes on gas in America would result in more purchases of fuel efficient cars but also two unfortunate consequences. Cab and truck drivers (and others) would suffer. And, the tax on gas is regressive, hurting the poor more than the rich. And, the politicians who approved the gas tax would be voted out of office.

    So how about a luxury tax on fuel-hog autos? Those who buy autos with poor fuel efficiency would pay more at the point of purchase. They would also pay a luxury tax each year they registered their vehicles. A similar system works for boats and yachts – why not for gas guzzlers?

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