GM, Ford Seek to Prove Their Future

At most auto shows, car companies try to persuade buyers that they have new vehicles worthy of consideration. At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. had to prove to consumers, Congress and the incoming administration that they have a future worth saving. In their attempt to move from red ink to black, the two companies showed vehicles that relied on their companies’ traditional strengths rather than a supposed high-mileage future.

GM is unabashed in saying that a great deal of its future rides with one of its “core brands,” Cadillac. So it showed a new version of a previous Cadillac crossover model that seems much more on target. The current Cadillac SRX crossover offers good driving dynamics and a handsome interior, but its exterior styling leaves you guessing whether it is an SUV. Now the guessing is over. The upcoming Cadillac SRX revels in its crossover status, and it has a beautiful new body that we think will gain converts in that very hot segment. 

In other segments, Cadillac has scored with its dramatic, cutting-edge styling, and the new SRX takes that path. Nothing subtle about it. Instead, the SRX makes a bold statement, starting with its striking multipiece shield grille combined with its now-emblematic vertical headlamps. And these aren’t just any headlamps. They feature light-pipe technology and adaptive forward lighting. Compared to the theatrics of the front end, the remainder of the SRX’s exterior design is more conventional, but the expected power liftgate has an unexpected adjustable height setting, too.

Inside the new SRX, hand-cut-and-sewn coverings on the instrument panel contribute to a club room feel. Like a phoenix, the navigation screen rises dramatically from the instrument panel when its help is summoned. In the rear, dual entertainment screens are well-integrated into the backs of the front seats. 

The SRX is a Cadillac, but don’t look for a V8 in the engine compartment. Instead, the new crossover will offer a choice of a direct-inject or a turbocharged V6. The new V-6 engine will boost the vehicle’s standard horsepower by 5, while achieving an estimated 10-percent to 15-percent fuel economy improvement.

At the same time GM was beefing up its Cadillac line, Ford was adding oomph to its fabled Mustang. In these trying economic times, not everyone is looking for 540 horsepower, but Ford’s Special Vehicle Team is betting some people are. So it has pulled out the stops to make the upcoming 2010 Shelby GT500 more powerful than ever. The top version of the iconic Mustang will deliver a staggering 510 foot-pounds of torque, while downforce has been increased and drag reduced, meaning it’s a muscle car of muscle cars.

In the interest of sanity, new gearbox enhancements and a new rear axle ratio mean the 2010 Shelby GT500 will provide better highway fuel efficiency, but at the same time, deliver improved acceleration performance. Largely because of the improved transmission, the 2010 model is expected to offer customers improved straight-line acceleration, plus fuel savings when cruising on the highway in the top gears.

This model also offers aggressive new exterior design features with new functional details, such as the hood extractor to remove heat from the engine and a so-called “Gurney Flap" spoiler to tune rear downforce. The lower-drag rear spoiler is raked back aggressively to minimize drag, while the integrated Gurney Flap provides the downforce.

Inside, the Shelby GT500 is high-luxe yet in keeping with the fact that it’s a Mustang. The interior offers genuine materials, such as real leather in all seats, real aluminum on the instrument panel, and Alcantara inserts on the seats and steering wheel. The aluminum finish panels have a dimensional dimpled texture pattern that Ford says is inspired by clutch plates. But the big news is: It’s fast! 

So while the politicians might be saying the domestic carmakers need to build hybrids and electrics to survive, GM and Ford are not turning their backs on their traditional strengths, and that makes good business sense. Whether it plays on the Potomac is another matter.