Dudder: Six Predictions

Two things are guaranteed at the beginning of any year: (1) people make resolutions they promptly break; (2) people make predictions that don’t come to pass.

Two things are guaranteed at the beginning of any year: (1) people make resolutions they promptly break; (2) people make predictions that don’t come to pass. As one who admits to having problems with the resolution thing, I’ve spent my time polishing my crystal ball and offer the following predictions.

Prediction 1: Rear-drive family sedans reappear at GM by decade’s end. This isn’t a prediction as much as a compilation of information from suppliers. They say Pontiac and Buick will drop their current front-drive architecture in favor of rear-drive for their mid-size sedans. Chevy and Saturn will offer only front-drive sedans, but add rear-drive niche models. (Saturn reaches for the Sky with its RWD Kappa-based roadster, while Chevy resurrects the Camaro nameplate.) This gives GM a more balanced portfolio, lets Pontiac build on its performance reputation, gives Buick the (rear) drive it needs to be a credible luxury segment competitor, keeps Chevy’s faithful happy, and bumps the customer image of Saturn upmarket.

Prediction 2: Malaysian car maker Proton gets its 15 minutes of fame, easily 10 minutes more than it deserves, when it finds itself at the center of a tug-of-war between VW and Toyota. VW’s non-equity partnership to build its vehicles in Proton’s underused assembly plants strengthens as VW partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. becomes more independent. Meanwhile, Toyota works to increase its presence in the region and grab Proton’s captive sports car brand, Lotus. With Toyota’s involvement in Formula One, a supercar in the wings, and more daring styling coming at Lexus, tapping the resources of Lotus to improve ride and handling is high on the corporate wish list, as is the Lotus brand. VW, run by Anglophile Bernd Pischetsreider, needs an entry point in the sports car market to move buyers up through Lamborghini and Bugatti, and covets Lotus as a brand that can fill this need while credibly bracketing Porsche.

Prediction 3: American OEMs’ market share continues to drop. Despite endless talk about “authenticity” and “Brand DNA,” Detroit continues to sell cars with little of either via discounted prices and low interest rates. New models flood the market, pricing pressure increases, and a downturn in sales follows as the market becomes sated. Detroit’s definition of “value” as more “stuff” for the same or less money spills over to the truck market, eroding Detroit’s once unassailable market dominance.

Prediction 4: Company executives that overuse buzzwords like “authenticity” and “Brand DNA” are hung in effigy by journalists attending the world’s auto shows, despite an overwhelming desire to do it for real. It’s a savage escalation from the eye rolling and obscene gesture used previously, and is roundly ignored by Marketing, PR, and corporate executives lacking both imagination and language skills.

Prediction 5: Mazda and Volvo take control at Ford. (Sorry, that’s already happened.)

Prediction 6: Automakers involved in the breakaway GPWC (Grand Prix World Championship) get their wish upon Bernie Ecclestone’s passing, and establish a technology-heavy racing series to replace F1. Despite greater profit sharing, company CEOs place ego before cash flow, and each spends his company into bankruptcy. NASCAR fills the vacuum by rushing “European” and “Asian” front and rear decal sets into production. Its “Ferrari” sedan proves popular in Italy.