As I write this General Motors has just announced they will be closing their assembly plant in Oshawa in December of 2019. Four more plants will be shut in the US in a move GM says will save money, increase efficiency and focus on a changing market.
That market, noted by GM continues to move away from traditional cars i.e. sedans, to trucks and SUV’s.
As the union representing autoworkers was quick to point out, the love affair with trucks and SUV’s has been going on for years.
It was five years ago when I was covering the Los Angeles Auto Show, that the head of Ford Motor Company said the demand for SUV’s was just in its infancy and would grow with breakneck speed.
Since then the big three automakers have been dropping sedans from their lineups yearly.
GM highlighted shifting consumer taste as part of the reason Oshawa was operating at one third of its capacity and is slated for closure.
Anyone working in the auto industry walks on shifting ground.
Several years ago at the Detroit auto show the late Sergio Marchionne, then head of Fiat Chrysler said there were just too many cars being made, and it was time to amalgamate some of the companies. That idea went nowhere.
In the following years we had “Dieselgate”, which is still playing out in the courts in Germany, as Volkswagen fights massive penalties for manipulating emission tests.
The shunning of diesel vehicles has shifted focus to electric cars, but they are still selling in minute quantities and are held back by their limited range and lack of charging stations.
But GM’s new strategy will throttle up production of EV’s, hybrids and vehicles with more sophisticated self-driving capabilities.
So this in a way, is a long introduction to three cars I drove recently. They each reflect the shifting sands in the auto world.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport
AWD is an SUV with a lot of personality. But I really can’t forget when the Alfa lineup was introduced at the Toronto auto show a couple of years ago by Reid Bigland. He was in charge of the Italian made Alfa Romeo line for Fiat Chrysler and candidly said, “I have no idea how Alfa will sell in North America.”
Well the all wheel drive Stelvio is a blast to drive. If you use the paddle shifters it shifts with a slam, steers like a laser, and makes hay with its 280 horsepower 4-cylinder engine. It is not your cottage road runabout, but feels more closely derived from a sporty sedan-if I can still use that word.
It is an SUV though, with that higher ride, and useful ground clearance. A decent selection of safety features came loaded on my $65, 499 test vehicle, but the sound the lane departure alert makes is ghastly and makes you want to turn it off.
I’d give a thumbs down for visibility, the big side mirrors blocked views when turning and the interior look and feel is middle of the road plain.
With an aggressive body shape and sporty driving personality the Stelvio appeals to a small segment of the market looking for a sliver of excitement mixed with utility.
Those who can afford the breathtakingly pricey $151, 520 Porsche Panamera belong to an exclusive club. Just 676 have been sold this year. It debuted in 2010, and enthusiasts didn’t know how to take this four-door sedan from a company known for its spectacular 911 sports car.
But guess what? It was the Porsche Cayenne, an SUV, that breathed new life into the niche automaker. So a four door sedan for CEO’s and heads of state seems to make some sense.
To my eye, the Panamera has ungainly looks, and driving it, my version was a very fast hybrid model, is satisfying but not really thrilling. The beauty lies in the first class quality of the bits and pieces. The instrument gauges are works of art, leather interior, switches, the soft close doors-they all illustrate the pinnacle of perfect design and function.
And while the Stelvio was as frisky as a racehorse, the Panamera’s solidity felt like you could plough a field with it if the need was to arise.
That brings us to the Subaru Outback 2.5i Premier. At a price as tested of $44, 095 this focused SUV had a smooth ride over the worst roads, a quiet interior, excellent visibility, and many extra safety features built in to the EyeSight package.
The adaptive cruise control worked efficiently, and unlike a few other Subaru models it was not underpowered. Bundled in the safety features was a Lead Vehicle Start Alert. Basically if you were at a stop and doing something stupid like texting it would beep to alert you that the car ahead had moved. Though Subaru says this is not its purpose.
The interior was lovely and well put together. Now Subaru just needs to snazz up the timid exterior body design to have a home run.
All in all a very nice car at a reasonable price and sure to appeal to the eager crowd clamouring for SUV’s.
Meanwhile, it’s time to buckle up. Let’s hope we don’t hear similar announcements from Ford or Chrysler in Ontario, and hope that the 2,500 people losing jobs in Oshawa can find new jobs.