When GM Comes to Town

2011 Chevrolet Volt 2
A sampling of what I did on a Saturday… Photo by Randy Stern

This weekend provided a quandary for the automobile enthusiast. Should one head to Southeastern Michigan, making the pilgrimage to Woodward Avenue for the Dream Cruise? Or, should one live it up on the Monterey Peninsula at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance?

Me? I can't afford either journey.

Yet, opportunity knocked at the right time. My regional media relations contact for General Motors mentioned via e-mail about the Open House events the company are sponsoring at three dealerships in the Twin Cities. He invited me to check it out, provided that I meet with him when they throw the doors open on Saturday morning at one of the events.

I accepted his invitation. And, I'm glad I did.

What GM is currently doing is reaching out to the public to find out what the customer wants these days from their products. It is part of an outreach program that bridges GM's executives and employees from both Detroit and in the various regions in a grassroots effort bringing the company closer to the community.

In a particular metropolitan region, three sites are determined by their brands: Chevrolet, Buick-GMC and Cadillac. In the case of the Twin Cities, GM positioned each Open House in key areas for people to get to: Brooklyn Park for Chevrolet, Bloomington/Edina for Buick-GMC and Roseville for Cadillac.

Customers, owners and enthusiasts attend these Open Houses to talk to the GM staff and learn about the vehicles, the technology and how they can experience GM from pre-sale towards a long-term relationship as an owner. Some attendees are already sold on GM, while others were curious as to what the company can offer them today – and tomorrow.

As an automotive journalist/blogger, the Open Houses became my opportunity to finally meet my media relations contact, discuss some future topics for Victory & Reseda, talk to some of the GM personnel and drive some vehicles. I also wanted to observe how owners and customers interacted with GM and the host dealers as a way to confirm my feelings about the Upper Midwest region and its love for the automobile.

I must say that all of my feelings about GM were confirmed in a single day. More on that as I tell the story…

My first stop was at Luther Brookdale Chevrolet in Brooklyn Park. My media relations contact was with me for the duration of my time there as I sampled two Chevrolets that were not on my list to review. I also talked to a few people from the company on various topics.

Considering it is Chevrolet's 100th Anniversary, I was grateful to see the celebration in full swing. A collection of classic Chevrolets and other GM cars were parked alongside the dealership by various clubs in the area. It was great to see this history on display, as it also served as a reminder of where the brand is going. My drives in the Volt and Camaro SS convertible confirmed these thoughts precisely. Sometimes, it takes a little spark to impress me. These two vehicles certainly did.

My next stop was at Walser Buick-GMC in Bloomington, near Southdale Mall. There, I met other GM staffers to get a deeper feel for Buick's revival and the strengthening of the GMC brand. This also gave me an opportunity to find out more about how GM is improving both the sales and after-sales experience for its customers.

While Open House attendees were shown the forthcoming Buick Regal GS and Verano, I drove a GMC Sierra 1500 crew cab pickup and a Buick Enclave. The impression I got from both brands is the notion that Buick is positioned squarely on the premium market with GMC in tow. Some may question whether GMC would lose its commercial and work-duty business in the process. I highly doubt that will happen.

The day wrapped up at McCarthy Cadillac in Roseville. This year, I have yet to cover GM's ultimate brand on this blog. However, the news from Pebble Beach was encouraging as to the direction the brand will take by the middle of the decade with its magnificent Ciel concept. As with Buick, Cadillac has been taking a new direction in the upper end of the market by honoring the past with a serious set of vehicles for today and tomorrow. I was able to drive the Escalade Platinum and the CTS-V as proper examples of the brand's current position.

At the Cadillac Open House, I also learned how GM has been changing the way they approach design, engineering and production from a global standpoint. Based on my conversations with GM employees, I can assure you that the days of badge engineering at Renaissance Center are long gone. Meanwhile, another executive from Cadillac held a series of conversations with owners and customers finding out what they are looking for in their next vehicle. This is perhaps the ultimate form of engagement for Cadillac – or any automobile entity – to truly guide their path forward through customer-driven product development.

In all, what I experienced at these three dealerships confirmed a dedication to fulfill the changes GM made since 2009. A streamlined company has taken a global approach to ensure GM's future in of all of its markets, including North America.

At every stop I made, one vehicle was brought up prominently in the conversation: The Chevrolet Cruze. Whenever the Cruze is mentioned, I got the sense how much this globally developed compact sedan has truly brighten the prospects for the company's rebound. From the engineering to the finished product, there is a sense of pride and accomplishment the Cruze has given this company. My recent experience with the Cruze confirmed everything these GM employees said about the car.

There was a time when I was worried about GM – the company I was practically born into through generations of loyal vehicle ownership. The end of Oldsmobile was something that troubled me for a long time. There are still friends of mine who continue to mourn the loss of Saturn and Pontiac. This year alone, I experienced a serious seismic shift coming out of Renaissance Center. Not just from the products I reviewed on this blog, but from the company itself.

When GM's Open House events come to your town, whether it is your local GM plant or at a dealership nearby, please attend them. Also, there is a larger metropolitan event called Main Street in Motion where you get to experience practically every vehicle GM makes. That event will be in the Twin Cities at Canterbury Park in Shakopee the weekend of October 14th to the 16th.

There is a final bit of consumer advice to parse out here. When you're in the market for your next vehicle, give GM a chance. You can still check out the competition, but I have a good feeling you'll like what GM is doing these days.

Oh, and about the six vehicles I drove? Stay tuned for the next post…

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