Memo to: Mark Reuss, executive vice president, global product development, General Motors
Subject: Upcoming Chevrolet Cruze and Equinox diesels
Dear Mr. Reuss:
By now you have heard that Volkswagen is quitting diesels in the U.S. market. Your plan to appeal to VW’s customers with diesel versions of the Cruze and Equinox is perfectly timed.
I have heard from several of my friends who are selling their cars back to VW that they don’t have a clue what to buy next. Other friends say they may even keep their cars because they like them so much and because they can’t find similar vehicles.
Subaru is often mentioned as a possible replacement, mostly because of all-wheel drive. But Chevy has a real chance to win a large percentage of VW’s loyal core of diesel drivers -- they accounted for roughly 25 percent of VW’s total U.S. sales before the emissions scandal -- with the diesel Cruze and Equinox.
But, as a Cruze owner, I can tell you, you have a lot of work to do if you think VW customers are going to like the Cruze diesel enough to buy it. No gripes with the car’s styling; it’s great. And none with its outstanding features, such as the built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that’s standard in every model.
But simply dumping a diesel engine in the Cruze won’t be nearly enough to convince VW diesel owners to switch to a Chevy diesel. You’ll get their attention with the available six-speed manual transmission -- kudos for offering that -- but you won’t close the deal unless you completely rework the car’s suspension and steering. To win VW buyers, you need to make the Cruze diesel drive like a European car.
If you want VW owners to feel at home in the Cruze diesel, make it handle, brake and steer just like a VW Golf or Jetta. That means the soft suspension and Novocain-injected electric power steering need a complete overhaul. Stiffer springs offering a far more compliant ride and steering that allows the driver to feel the road are absolute musts. The brakes can never have too much bite.
I have not driven the Opel or Vauxhall variants of the Cruze, but I would bet the steering and suspension calibrations and shocks, struts, springs and bushings to improve the Cruze’s handling are already on the shelf in Europe.
And one more thing regarding the Cruze: The manual transmission shifter’s throws are far too long. Shifting gears in the car is like rowing a boat. Let’s get that shifter tighter and more precise. It could also use more of a mechanical feel as it slots into each gear.
The same improvements are needed for the upcoming diesel-powered Equinox. Give it European handling characteristics.
GM has already shown it can hang with the Germans with cars such as the Cadillac CTS-V and ATS-V. The mindset that created those cars should be the template for the diesel versions of the Cruze and Equinox.
The first-generation Cruze diesel was a slow seller, partially because of the way it was marketed. I think you’ll have more success by making the diesel engine in the 2017 Cruze a freestanding option. Please don’t make customers who prefer a diesel engine buy leather seats, sunroofs and other items they may not want or need.
Recently, I got a chance to hear the new “whisper diesel” engine in the 2017 Cruze run. That refined engine could be a little dynamo. The Cruze and Equinox diesels have the potential to bring new customers to Chevrolet. The fuel economy numbers alone should be eye-popping. But that won’t be enough to win VW buyers.
I urge you to test drive a VW Golf diesel and compare its handling and steering characteristics to those of the current Cruze. VW may have blown it with its diesel engines -- and, just to be clear, by “it,” I mean the diesel emissions cheating scandal that cost billions of dollars, a more polluted planet and VW’s global reputation and integrity. But, well, it got the rest of the car right.
The template for success is there. Please follow it.
P.S. Merry Christmas