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Vehicles drive important points

It has recently irritated me to have to be careful when backing out of our driveway not to collide with the car parked in the street opposite from where our driveway ends.

It’s not that the car’s owner has parked his or her car in a way that seriously impedes my exiting since there is still room for me to turn easily onto the street with just a minimum of caution.

What bothers me is that, given the car’s pristine looks, it is probably one of the last cars to roll off the assembly line at GM’s nearby Lordstown Chevrolet Cruze plant.

Thus, the car epitomizes to me GM’s 2019 decision to close the plant, idling 1,500 workers. Some 4,500 had been employed at the plant three years prior to the closing.

One has to wonder why GM would end production of a stylish car which got very good reviews for safety and mileage and would certainly meet the transportation needs of a very large portion of the U.S. population … or for that matter, of the world’s population.

Many other automakers have certainly continued to produce small cars, with some of them probably not of equal quality to the Cruze.

At the same time as the death knell neared for the Lordstown plant, GM was heavily advertising its pickup trucks on TV.

In one inane, imbecilic ad, a couple was shown exchanging pickup truck gifts. The young woman just loved the jet black one, which she hugged. A pickup truck was of course just what she would need for her daily commute, or for shopping and other errands.

Almost no Cruze ads were being run at this same time, as I recall.

It was widely reported, and I do not doubt that this is true, that the profit margin on pickup trucks vastly exceeded what GM made on the Cruze.

Thus, in the name of profit, GM was promoting a vehicle which made less sense, in many respects, as a means of public conveyance over one that admirably met the public’s needs and posed less danger to other drivers and to the worsening of climate change.

GM blamed lagging sales of the Cruze on the shift by consumers toward SUVs and trucks for its decision to close the Lordstown plant. Certainly, the company’s own advertising abetted this shift.

Couldn’t the quality of the Cruze have offset this if coupled with strong marketing efforts? Wouldn’t it have made an exemplary rental car?

The price of gasoline of course influences the public’s vehicle buying decisions. The cheap price of gasoline in the U.S. (now down to less than $2 a gallon at many outlets) would have done comparatively little to steer buyers toward a high mileage car like the Cruze.

In Europe, mileage is very much a factor in the choice of a vehicle. Swedes and Britons pay $5.80 a gallon, with the French and Germans not far behind. The Japanese pay about $4.25 a gallon.

Isn’t a carbon tax well overdue in the U.S.?

GM has sold the former Cruze plant to Lordstown Motors, which plans to make an electric pickup truck, the Endurance, at the facility. The company says it will give preference to former workers at the Cruze plant in its hiring. Some 400 workers are to be hired.

A battery plant for electric vehicles is also to be built by GM on land adjacent to the former Cruze plant. This plant will employ 1,100.

GM was also the second last owner of Saab, which made rather iconic cars in Sweden for 60 years. GM sold Saab to the Dutch maker of supercars, Spyker, in 2010. But Saab’s life ended shortly thereafter when GM blocked the transfer of its technology used in Saabs to Chinese interests which were seeking to buy Saab from Spyker.

Chinese ownership, although hardly laudable, could well have saved Saab except for GM’s stand, which was held up in Michigan courts. Sweden’s other automaker, Volvo, seems to be doing quite well under Chinese ownership. Ford sold Volvo to China’s Geely in 2010.

GM acquired full ownership of SAAB in 2000 after having half ownership since 1989.

I can see the apparent negative influence GM has had on Saab in two cars parked in my driveway.

They are 2001 and 2002 9-5 models, gray and black respectively. Since cars are generally built the year before the model year by which they are known, I assume that my 2001 was built while Saab was still half Swedish-owned, while there is little doubt that the 2002 was made under GM tutelage.

The 2001 is a much more refined car, with European attention to detail quite apparent,

The 2001 has these telling touches, which the 2002 lacks: burled hardwood panels on dashboard and center consul; headlight wipers and washers; ventilated front leather seat containing small fans controlled by dashboard switches; and aluminum wheels of quite complex and eye-catching design.

Both cars do have heated leather front seats, and stitched leather steering wheel covers.

The ride is somewhat improved on the 2002, and the headlights are superior.

But the most apparent difference in the two cars is the condition of their respective bodies.

I bought both cars used some 14 years ago and know from my own ownership and from records passed along with the cars that both have been driven exclusively in the northern U.S. where winter takes its toll on car bodies. Both have been driven about 130,000 miles.

But the body on the 2001 is quite pristine, with hardly a spot of rust. However, the 2002 has gaping holes caused by rust on a rear door and on panels adjacent to both rear doors. It would cost $1,500 to repair this damage, and I have thus far passed on this.

Clearly, the steel used for the 2001 when Saab was still half-owned by Swedish interests was highly superior to that used on the 2002 when GM owned all of Saab.

I believe that both cars, despite their age, would still live up to one of Saab’s mottos: “A Saab will surrender its own life to save yours.”

Motorists who believe in driving their cars as long as the wheels are still turning may well mourn the passing of Saab. In 2006, a Wisconsin traveling salesman donated his 1989 Saab 900 SPG to that state’s automotive museum.

It had been driven 1,001,385 miles on its original engine.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.

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