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Is GM Taking Long-Term Reliability Seriously?
05/02/2004
GMInsidenews.com

GM deserves serious kudos for getting its build quality right. Few who look at the recent JD Power Initial Quality survey can complain that GM factory workers slap together a sloppy product prone to problems soon after driving off dealers' lots. This should serve to help GM's image in the eyes of people who've never considered buying anything but an Import for the "quality".

But is the Holy Grail of "quality" Initial Quality alone? With the differences between automakers in Initial Quality almost nil recently (Hyundai overtaking Toyota), I see more focus being put on how long vehicles run - if they can make it without major problems to that magic 100,000 mile mark on the odometer.

"The first 90 days are important, but there's more to the ownership story than that," Toyota spokesman Xavier Dominicis said recently.*

Styling, marketing and incentives do work. But long-term reliability is a tool that can be used to boost sales as well, and the final bastion of pride for Toyota and Honda that GM can take away. Problem is, the effects won't be seen immediately. So the short-sighted GM Marketing or Accounting folks might fail to see the benefit of putting more reliable parts in current vehicles that aren't slated for a redesign for another 3 years, or in a vehicle they need to have hit a certain price point.

Some in the auto media are using the advent of GM's initial quality rise to highlight the long-term reliability differences. In order to defend their paradigm of "how things ought to be", they need to focus on how Toyota is still on top. They may have found a chink in GM's otherwise bulletproof strategy of attacking "quality" -- something that will allow them to wax on about how Toyota is still king -- that undying urge for some executives at GM to take short cuts and do things on the cheap. So how is GM failing to attack Long Term reliability effectively?

Example #1: The slow or non-existent migration to the 3500 V6 into vehicles using the previous generation 3.4L. Likely due to things like the need for implementing electronic throttle control or other concerns like those that kept the 3800 supercharged Series III out of the 2004 Impala SS and caused it to get the 3800 supercharged Series II instead, or simple lack of enough 3500's to go around - the 3500 is not "replacing" the 3400 wherever that engine is used. Unless GM pulls a shocker, the 2005 Chevrolet Impala, Buick Rendezvous and others will be offered with the same old 3400 lump that has been used for years. "The 3400 is a great, reliable engine," some would say. Critics have called the 3500 more refined. But beyond the new and old of it, (and as I have made a point of mentioning in the past) GM's own PR literature says it can do better:

"The new 3.5-liter and 3.9-liter high-value V-6 engines are additional displacements being added to GM's overhead-valve V-6 engine family. These new engines offer improved performance and fuel efficiency, and run smoother and quieter than earlier generation V-6 engines. They feature an advanced powertrain control module, improved fuel injection system, as well as a redesigned exhaust manifold and a new catalytic converter which contribute to reduced emissions and improved efficiency and performance characteristics. Improvements in cooling, sealing and the accessory drive system add to the overall quality, reliability and durability."

GM has decided that it will be too "costly" to include and implement this new version of the 3.4L engine in many of the models that have used them thus far. That means the Aztek is stuck with the 3400 until it dies, and the Monte Carlo will keep on chuggin' with the same as well. Is GM merely pushing the "cost" down the line?

Example #2: Keeping old models around that have records of poor reliability despite decades of history on the same platform. Consumer Reports collected a list of "Reliability Risks", and these models were among them: Chevrolet Astro, Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, Chevrolet S-10 V6 4WD. According to CR, "These models' overall reliability was much worse than average in our latest survey."*

GM is "planning" to get rid of these models eventually, but here again, keeping UAW factories open and pumping out dated designs takes priority over long-term reliability.

Problem is, the day GM stops making Blazers is not the day that long-term reliability for Chevrolet will instantly go up.

Not now, but five years from now, the owners of 2004 Astros, and 2005 Equinoxes with the 3.4L engine will have come to their conclusions about GM reliability, and GM Corporate will have to live with the decisions they made way back in 2004 not to implement more reliable technology or to keep hoary old vehicle designs known to be less reliable than recently crafted ones, or engines they admit (when reverse logic is applied) are less reliable.

Meanwhile, GM is adopting a new standard -- "design not to fail" -- to improve overall quality. In addition, a handpicked team of launch experts has been assembled to review each vehicle before production. Every new vehicle, regardless of brand, has to pass through that "knothole" of expertise first to avoid problems, he said.*

Good for "all new" vehicles, perhaps, but not for the old ones that receive few, if any comprehensive redos as the years go by. And one has to wonder where this "handpicked team" was when they green-lighted the use of the old 3.4L engine in the otherwise new 2005 Equinox.

Example #3: Long intervals between redesigns. GM's Minivans, the Astro, the S-10, Buick Regal and more suffer from too-long product cycles. From my perspective, GM simply has too many models across too many brands, and thus is unable to keep up with brands like Toyota or Nissan that have one major brand and a secondary luxury brand which includes some "clone" cars. Instead of ground up redesigns GM has to settle for revamping existing vehicles into vehicles like the new CSVs and the 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix. Noble efforts, perhaps, but not the industry standard for a true "redesign".

Old car designs don't age like fine wine, and changing suppliers and serial numbers on sourced parts does not a "new part" make. GM needs more frequent and responsive updates to keep cars on top of the quality heap - and that includes "percieved quality" where customers equate "new" with "better". Even cosmetic updates are important, and a major reason why consumers flock to cars like the Volkswagen Passat with its modern interior while the high Initial Quality 2003 Chevrolet Malibu with its old-style looks was shrugged off by all but the GM die-hards and rental companies.

GM may be on the road to improvement, but Long Term Reliability needs to be attacked with the same kind of zeal that GM has shown on the Initial Quality front - or 5 years from now Consumer Reports and others will still be singing the praises of Toyota, Honda, and the usual suspects above GM. GM cannot hope to improve while old engines and old platforms linger, or the time between redesigns is double that of the competition.

* Link to CR report: http://www.consumerreports.org/main/detail...D=1007449234825

*Link to JD Power info: http://www.detnews.com/2004/autosinsider/0.../a02-137398.htm

* Link to "design not to fail": http://www.mlive.com/business/fljournal/in...52270192130.xml

 

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I don't know if the use of the word "old" is the proper choice. I mean, with each new design, the vehicle and it's myriad components are becoming more complicated. With complication comes, well, more complication. The old adage goes, "the more parts it has, the more that can go wrong". I see this happening with newer vehicles. Anyone want to work on the new Navigator if the motorized side stepsget out of sync?? Me neither.

The older designs may have flaws, but they tend to be simpler, ie, less costly to repair.

The newer designs are built system upon a system. So if one system fails, it can take another down, and so on. It's like having a popsicle stick or a bunch of toothpicks in your hands. The single popsicle stick can hold less force before snapping than the toothpicks, but once one toothpick goes, the rest are soon to go. I would rather replace one popsicle stick than 10 toothpicks, since the toothpicks together are guaranteed to be more expensive than 1 popsicle stick. Refinement can be had through better designs that need not be substantially more complicated.

I think that this is where GM needs to spend it's R&D dollars, in finding the better and possibly simpler way to design vehicles in order to improve longevity. I think that the replacement parts industry is great, and necessary, but also driving up costs each consecutive year of new vehicles.

Look at the oldest structures around, the pyramids, stonehenge, etc. They are well designed, for the time, but the reason they have lasted so long is the simplicity of thier design, the elegance. If you make the whole structure depend on a 900 dollar electronic ABS module, then chances are they would all be gone today.

I love new technology, but vehicles need to be dependable, and the new stuff coming through needs to have more time spent designing so that they can avoid stupid little problems, like the Malibu front brake crap and the oil cooler line issues with the s10's.
 

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If anything, the one thing GM has had going for quite some time is long term reliability. As old as it is, the 3.8 Buick V6 is a solid engine that just keeps chugging along. I see plenty of the old mid-80's FWD Buicks and Olds with that engine still on the road and going strong. As well as quite a few Cieras and Centurys as well. I think the old Cutlass/Monte/Regal/GP RWD chassis from the late 70's was solid as well. Still tons of those on the road as well and some in pristine condition I might add. Chevy's trucks seem to last a long time as well, and what about all those G1 Saturns that are still on the road with 200K+ on the odometer?
AFAIC, the Japanese have never had the long-term reliability that the American makes do. After a while, they become expensive or impossible to repair. I had a friend with an '87 Nissan Sentra learn that one the hard way! Not to mention, Japanese cars are rusters! Up North, you will find almost no Japanese cars from the 70's or 80's. Why they all rusted away, and the ones you do see have big holes on them! While all the American cars I've mentioned probably required a bit more maintenance than their Japanese counterparts, American cars are usually cheap and easy to repair and thus IMO last longer.

But, I do agree, at least the S-10 and the Blazer need to go, as they both have far superior replacements and the demand for them is almost nil. I can see keeping the Astro, it does have its own cult following and there is a certain demand for them, and it doesn't really overlap anyplace in GM's line. Give it a badly needed update, especially in the interior and give it the 4.2L I-6. They can ditch the "Classic Malibu" as well. I think they've proven their point with the new one, as it seems to be selling well.
 

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And you really have to watch some of the stuff in consumer reports I have detected quite a bias towards imports from them. I also don't think they are really car enthusiasts they are consumer advocates but not car enthusiast. And I agree GM trucks have had the reputation for reliability for years over Ford and Dodge and the 3.8 Liter is reffered to time and time again as one of the most reliable engines out their. Not to mention GM has a reputation for reliability in their transmissions that Ford or DOdge don't have.
 

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Cars are funny things. I have owned many over the years. I currently have 2 1980 Grand Prixs with the 301 motors a 1993 Olds Ciera and a 1982 Regal turbo coupe. Have also owned various cars with 3800's and 3100's. Now I still have the 80 Grand prix SJ with the original 301 with over 160k miles and the thing just won't die. The 3800 blew a piston to chunks in my 97 Olds 88 after the intake leaked coolant with only 47k miles, my 3100 lumina did the same with 82k miles. The Ciera 3300 has 132k and still going strong while the 82 Regal has 147k and is still running well. Now the 301's were notoriuosly weak along with the 231's with there bottom end woes. The point here is that the old engines have outlasted some of the newer designs including the 3800 which has a generally bulletproof reputation. Kinda a strange reversal of known facts here.
 

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GM reliability has been spotty at best. My examples - a 1997 Malibu LS
with faulty headlamp switch replaced, spotty factory paint job, front suspension knuckle replaced, AC control panel replaced, intake manifold gasket replaced -
all before the warranty expired. Then the driver's power window motor, AC
resistor, alternator, and intake manifold gasket (AGAIN). This car had neither initial or long-term reliability and finally died an early death. On the other hand, my 97 GMC Sierra has had zero problems until ~110K mi when the alternator
was replaced and then at ~125K the intake manifold gasket went. My dad's 01
Aurora had its torque converter go at 26K mi, stranding him in another city.
Unfortunately GM has a LONG way to go to improve this image. <_<
 

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You want to talk "Long-Term Reliability?" Ask one of the many Astro owners who have seen them creep close to the 1,000,000 mile mark while working in the heat of the Southwest US. Ask the people that put over 200,000 miles on them before getting a new one just because they wanted a different color. There are ALOT of devoted Astro owners that use them for work, play, and transport. It is an older design, one of the oldest sold in the US, but it is proven and profitable.

The Astro name deserves a quality, classic-looking redesign that will last as long as the first generation. The exterior and most of the interior are great-looking, but updated engineering and materials would make it an instant hit among not only the Astro crowd, but the minivan, custom, and work truck crowds as well.

A question to ask yourselves is this, if GM cars of the '80s were so bad then why the hell do you still see so many out on the road racking up the miles and going beyond expectation? An example of the "beyond expectation" claim is my friend's former car, a 1988 Pontiac Grand Am GT Turbo that was falling apart on the outside, but couldn't be stopped under the hood until it was totalled by a Camaro. The digital odometer had a readout like this, 188,888.8, making it impossible to know how many miles the car had on it because it stopped and couldn't go any farther than the 199,999.9 it had shown for at least a year. ;)
 

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Here are the graphs from JD Power's 2003 Vehicle Dependability Study (Covers 3 years of Reliability)

Cadillac and Buick have excellent long-term reliability... and SAAB, GMC, & Chevrolet were above average.

In the same trend as their IQS scores have continued to rise, I'm expecting GM to rate better this year in the JDP 2004 VDS.

GM was also the only Domestic Automobile Manufacturer to rate "above average" for the 3 year study.




 

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I don't really get why all the GM divisions are so spread out on the graph.
One would assume that with all the platform sharing, rebadging, same design staff, same bonstructions, shared factories, etc.... that all the divisions (especially Buick/Oldsmobile) would rate similarly on the chart. Why such the discrepancy?
Are Buick buyers just less likely to complain?
 

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I don't think they have set any goals in thier long term quality. I mean they have done so much in some places like the 97 Malibu, to the 2003 they continued to improve it's quality till it was 1 of the lowest problems/100 being built and then totally changed it?

But on the other hand 4.8-5.3-6.0L piston slap, 3.1-3.4L Intake leaks, 5.0-5.7L intake leaks, C/K pick-up rear brake pad wear out, All in tank fuel pumps,and many other they seem to ignore.

They do build some very dependable long term auto's and then fall short on some minor, easy to repair problems. They could very easily have world class leading long term quality on all thier products but they seem not to care about striving for that in the hope that when customers are in the market to replace thier vehicle, they will just feel it is a normal wear and tear problem that they had with thier current GM product and will shop GM again.
 

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Originally posted by Ming@May 2 2004, 01:20 PM
Funny thing about the Astro is that it's starting to look almost contemporary again as is. In the mid-90s, it sure looked out of place with its brick styling in a sea of sleek, round cars....but style has evolved since then and we're returning to sharp edges and 90-degree angles.

Maybe GM could take advantage of the styling cycles of the industry (alternating round-square-round-square-etc. every ~5-10 years) to recycle old designs and save money!
 

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hahaha! you're actually not too wrong! i totally see what you're saying too... look at the front end of the astro; it's not THAT far off from the new explorer. simaple, basic styling, with big rectangular headlights and a simple grille. what's old is new again!
 

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Example #1: The slow or non-existent migration to the 3500 V6 into vehicles using the previous generation 3.4L. Likely due to things like the need for implementing electronic throttle control or other concerns like those that kept the 3800 supercharged Series III out of the 2004 Impala SS and caused it to get the 3800 supercharged Series II instead, or simple lack of enough 3500's to go around - the 3500 is not "replacing" the 3400 wherever that engine is used. Unless GM pulls a shocker, the 2005 Chevrolet Impala, Buick Rendezvous and others will be offered with the same old 3400 lump that has been used for years. "The 3400 is a great, reliable engine," some would say. Critics have called the 3500 more refined. But beyond the new and old of it, (and as I have made a point of mentioning in the past) GM's own PR literature says it can do better:

"The new 3.5-liter and 3.9-liter high-value V-6 engines are additional displacements being added to GM's overhead-valve V-6 engine family. These new engines offer improved performance and fuel efficiency, and run smoother and quieter than earlier generation V-6 engines. They feature an advanced powertrain control module, improved fuel injection system, as well as a redesigned exhaust manifold and a new catalytic converter which contribute to reduced emissions and improved efficiency and performance characteristics. Improvements in cooling, sealing and the accessory drive system add to the overall quality, reliability and durability."
The guy in this thread is complaining about stalling with the equnox's 3400: http://www.gminsidenews.com/forum/index.ph...=0&#entry105599
 

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Originally posted by venseattle@May 4 2004, 10:15 AM
Here are the graphs from JD Power's 2003 Vehicle Dependability Study (Covers 3 years of Reliability)
How can KIA be so much worse than Hyundai? Aren't they the same company? Or maybe they just merged recently?
 

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Originally posted by Rex Raider@May 4 2004, 11:37 AM
I don't really get why all the GM divisions are so spread out on the graph.
One would assume that with all the platform sharing, rebadging, same design staff, same bonstructions, shared factories, etc.... that all the divisions (especially Buick/Oldsmobile) would rate similarly on the chart. Why such the discrepancy?
Are Buick buyers just less likely to complain?
Same goes for Mercury and Ford. WTF?
 

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I agree that the term "old" cant really apply when GM updated teh 3.8 and 3.4 as they did with the 3.5 and now 3.9.

The 3.4 now is not the same as 3-4 years ago. The one in the Nox is of the new and improved design. But, IMO, I do agree that the 3.5 should have deffinatly been under the hood of the Nox. If it did, I might have got one over the Maxx. Not even the "techy-ness" of the 5spd, nor the "cool-ness" of the AWD could tempt me away from the Maxx.

I do, as many of us here on GMI agree that keeping around old models is doing more harm then good. Yes, keeping them in production to take up fleet sales, while the new product hits the dealer lots is nice, but the product, as well as the image is still there.

I think that its just a matter of time till GM gets rid of teh 3.4/3.8 with the 3.5/3.9. They both seem to be better as far as performance and refinement, despite the OHV getting a bad rap for sound. IMO, engine sound is good. The 3.5 displays both quite running at idle or crusing, while when one gets on the go-pedal, you can hear it come alive. I think that most of us can live with this "noise".
 

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Originally posted by Ming@May 2 2004, 02:20 PM
Is GM Taking Long-Term Reliability Seriously?
05/02/2004
GMInsidenews

Example #2: Keeping old models around that have records of poor reliability despite decades of history on the same platform. Consumer Reports collected a list of "Reliability Risks", and these models were among them: Chevrolet Astro, Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, Chevrolet S-10 V6 4WD. According to CR, "These models' overall reliability was much worse than average in our latest survey."*

Not now, but five years from now, the owners of 2004 Astros, and 2005 Equinoxes with the 3.4L engine will have come to their conclusions about GM reliability, and GM Corporate will have to live with the decisions they made way back in 2004 not to implement more reliable technology or to keep hoary old vehicle designs known to be less reliable than recently crafted ones, or engines they admit (when reverse logic is applied) are less reliable.


the Astro/Safari is not all that these automotive journalists say it is. I think several of these journalists still look at the Astro as GM's answer to the Caravan, when in actual fact it ceased to be a good comparison a long time ago (if it ever was a comparison). The Astro currently occupies an area of the market that no one else serves, it had the power of mid size pick up (back in 1990) and the seating of a van. It can handle all the stuff you put in to it with ease and lasts a long time.

That being said it is not without it's flaws. Over time the van suffers from a lack of HP increases, it still only has 190, which it has had since 1990. The body style is as good as it could get perhaps a second sliding door should have been added but I'm not upset that they didn't do that. the bottom line as i see it is that if I were to buy a 2004 astro today, I wouldn't be worried about how it performed five years from now, My family has owned 2 so far both still on the road with very few serious problems.
 

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If the Astro can't have good reliability after staying the same for the last 10 years, there is something very wrong. Which is why I would rather get a new CSV, for the money. More horsepower and torque, and sliding doors on both sides.

Consumer Reports collected a list of "Reliability Risks", and these models were among them: Chevrolet Astro, Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, Chevrolet S-10 V6 4WD. According to CR, "These models' overall reliability was much worse than average in our latest survey."*
 

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The 3400 was/is the biggest POS engine I've ever had the displeasure of owning. That thing blew 2 head gaskets under my ownership, as well as having quiet possibley the worst performance of any car I've owned (and I owned a Honda Insight for goshes sake).

But, I believe reliability is also up to the consumer as much as the automaker. With just regular maintenance and an oil change ever 4K miles, my Z28 has held up strong for 228K miles. And I have a car that has been soundly perceived as a "low quality" car. GM reliability is just as good as any other manufacturer IMHO. I wish there was a way to have actual scientific proof on something like this.
 
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