Friday, January 07, 2005

2005 Detroit Auto Show Preview #5 - Chevy HHR

When you first look at pictures of the front end of the Chevrolet HHR, you can not help but think that GM blatantly ripped the design right off of Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. Then you look at pictures of the vehicle’s rear and find that you were mistaken. Apparently, GM must have blatantly ripped off the new Dodge Durango. Five years ago GM, like Ford today, had endured some tough media and consumer accusations of pushing uninspired designs upon its customer base but of late, they had taken some fairly bold steps to silence its critics. The Trailblazer breathed some new life into an already strong SUV segment. The SSR, though a sales flop, got people talking about Chevrolet. The Aztek, though universally reviled for an exterior look that suggested the aesthetic grace of an epileptic water buffalo in the throes of a bad acid trip, was a hit with the demographic Pontiac targeted, with its owners among the most satisfied customers in the North American market. Unfortunately for Aztek sales, Pontiac just grossly over-estimated the size of this demographic. These three vehicles displayed a new willingness to abandon cookie-cutter engineering and by taking on former Chrysler car-czar Bob Lutz, General Motors showed a strong commitment to this new product philosophy. So why they decided to go ahead and release a new car-based retro-themed compact SUV after peak market demand was already tapped by Chrysler’s unchallenged PT Cruiser is a mystery to me. GM says the inspiration for the HHR was the 1949 Chevrolet Suburban but at this point in the game, it does not matter. My bet is that consumers will see Cruiser, and if this vehicle does not offer increased functionality, better performance, and lower prices than the PT, the chances of it meeting Chevrolet’s sales targets of between 80,000 and 100,000 units per year will be akin to those of Donald Rumsfeld sweeping the Palestinian Authority presidential elections in 2005 on a B’nai B’rith party ticket.

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