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gmc van
The General Motors Company escaped certain death in 2009 when government bail outs provided tens of billions of dollars in aid while bankruptcy restructuring allowed the automaker to rid itself of poor performing assets. Gone were four brands: Hummer, Saturn, Saab and Pontiac; a host of manufacturing plants and steep legacy costs which hampered the automaker.
Top Automaker
Today, GM is back and is most likely as of February 2011 the largest automaker in the world, a position the company held for seven decades before being overtaken by Toyota. The GM of 2011 is far different from the one of 2009 and earlier, making more money and enjoying more sales in markets from China t Europe to North America.
GM has traveled far in under two years, but one area where the automaker lags is in public perceptions. Certainly, the “Government Motors” mantle is much smaller now that the company has gone public and reduced government ownership to one-third. Still, until the remaining tens of billions of dollars are repaid, the company will have to shoulder the bail out stigma.
Retail Sales
In February 2011, GM managed to cast off one of its biggest stigmas: fleet sales. For the month, fleet sales rose slightly, but retail sales increased by 70 percent. That increase has allowed GM to claim that it sold more cars directly to customers than Toyota. For many years, Toyota has been the retail sales leader with critics insisting GM has been pushing its own sales up by selling a significant number of its vehicles to fleet operators.
Speaking of sales, Buick remains the fastest growing brand in America. As in China, where the brand is hot, car shoppers have rediscovered the former “bland brand” which has benefited in recent years from several new models including the sporty Regal sedan.
Lingering Perceptions
The perception problems facing GM today have everything to do with its products and quality. In a recent Consumer Reports press release, the consumer service giant lambasted the full-size Chevrolet Impala sedan and Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck, criticizing both vehicles for reliability problems. CR also said that the automaker’s Cadillac and GMC brands need improvement, but they did recognize several Buick and Chevrolet models as being “recommended” buys including the Buick Enclave and the Chevrolet Avalanche. In its annual automaker report card for 2011, GM scored near the bottom, finishing ahead of only Chrysler, BMW and Mercedes-Benz and behind its crosstown rival, Ford.
GM will need to execute well several product launches over the coming year including the Chevrolet Sonic, its subcompact car and the Buick Verano, a compact upscale sedan. The latter is already being criticized for being too much like the Chevrolet Cruze, a perception that could hurt the brand. Given that GM has been taking extra care to make each product launch succeed, the automaker may find a way to differentiate the Verano and assuage its vocal critics.

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