General Motors' continuing manipulation of model years on its big trucks may save a few bucks in CAFE fines, but it confuses customers and places an unfair burden on Chevrolet and GMC dealers who must try to explain the General's behavior.
And it might mess up the introduction of the 'real' 1999 pickup trucks next fall.
But GM is the victim of a goofy CAFE law that builds in its own exceptions and encourages - almost demands - the sort of games GM is playing. It's time for Congress to revisit that law. It was passed in a different era to regulate a different auto industry. Today, vehicle makers will use every last angle - as GM is doing now - to stay within the law and satisfy their customers.
Last January, GM realized it had a CAFE problem so it proclaimed that its 1998 Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon and Chevy/GMC Suburban would henceforth be known as '1999 models.' All that changed was the Vehicle Identification Number. Prices went up $340 to $490, but that's another story.
Now, GM is applying the same tactics to the Chevrolet C/K and GMC Sierra pickups, the corporation's best-selling vehicle line. This month, GM will wave its magic wand and the 1998s will become '1999s.'
Dealers will have to sell them side by side - and the 1997s, if they have any left, aren't much different, either. Three of a kind isn't necessarily a winning hand in this type of poker.
The 'real' 1999 pickups are slated to arrive next fall. GM has been bragging about those all-new vehicles for months. Now, they will be simply (ho-hum) the second in a series of 1999 models.
Chevy dealers will at least have a new name - Silverado - to promote, but they'll still have to explain two sets of 1999s. No such luck for GMC merchants: They'll have the 'old' 1999 Sierra Classic and the 'new' 1999 Sierra. Puzzled prospects may proceed posthaste to the nearest Ford or Dodge showroom.
Come on, GM, who's kidding whom? Just pay the fine. That way, you can give consumers the products they want - without creating a lot of confusion for dealers and customers on the showroom floor.