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http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120370187213886201.html?mod=autos_feature_articles

Article Quote:

Long before scientists started cloning sheep and cows, Detroit was cloning cars. But now, it's not so clear that replication leads to addition when it comes to sales.

The idea that car makers can make money selling consumers the same basic vehicle in different guises has been fundamental to the business since the days of Alfred P. Sloan, the architect of the modern General Motors Corp. Mr. Sloan perfected the idea of the brand ladder -- Chevy at the bottom, Cadillac at the top and Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick in between. Over the years, those middle brands were increasingly stocked with cars that were basically fancier versions of the Chevrolet design.

More recently, just about every auto executive assigned to turnaround a car company has established building more vehicles from "common platforms" as a cornerstone of the strategy to regain profitability.

Implicit in this strategy is a belief that most consumers don't know and don't care whether a car branded as a Ford Fusion is fundamentally the same under the skin as the car sold as the Mercury Milan or the Lincoln MKZ. Instead, consumers are assumed to care only about superficial stuff -- such as the exterior design, or whether a car has leather seats, or a specific branded audio system.

In the late 1970s, GM got sued by customers shocked to discover that their Oldsmobiles had Chevrolet engines under the hoods. Today the notion that there is such a thing as a "Buick" engine specifically for Buicks or a "Chevrolet" engine unique to Chevrolets is quaint. GM uses similar engines across its various brands -- and its rivals do likewise.

Repackaging the same basic hardware to sell at different price points makes a lot of sense on paper. There are many examples of how it works just fine. Toyota, for instance, gets away with selling the basic guts of a V-6 Toyota Camry as both the Toyota Avalon and the Lexus ES 350. Ford seems to be having some success with the Fusion, Milan and MKZ -- referred to in Dearborn as the "triplets."

But in a market with more than 300 different models -- depending on how you count -- fielding two or three or even four of the same basic car can lead to some very thin slices of pie, especially when increasingly well-informed shoppers can figure out in two or three mouse clicks that a Saturn Outlook and a Buick Enclave and a GMC Acadia are just three different styling takes on the same large crossover wagon.

In the case of those GM wagons, consumers have voted in favor of the Buick and GMC designs. The Enclave and Acadia, as of Jan. 31, had inventories of 41 days and 51 days, respectively. The average Enclave is off the dealer lot in just 15 days at an average transaction price of $38,479, according to data from the Power Information Network.

Meanwhile, however, GM is passing up potential Enclave and Acadia sales because the factory that builds those two vehicles has also spent time building Outlooks that sit unsold on dealer lots. As of Jan. 31, 10,690 Saturn Outlooks -- 138 days worth -- were waiting for buyers. GM has offered 0% financing deals and other incentives to get Outlooks moving. When Outlooks do sell, they go out at an average transaction price of $32,824 -- nearly $6,000 less than the Buick Enclave. From December through Feb. 17, just over 19% of the Outlooks sold went out on loans with interest rates under 5% -- reflecting a 0% promotion -- compared to 6.3% of the Enclaves sold. (Average cash rebates for Enclaves and Outlooks were virtually the same, $921 and $922 respectively, according to Power Information Network data.) What will happen when GM rolls out a Chevy version of the same wagon -- expanding the clone family to four -- is anyone's guess.
 

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There are a few ways to look at this.

First, the Enclave wasn't available for sale for the first half of 2007, so Outlook sales weren't taking away from it then. The Acadia, though supplies were somewhat limited in the first few months of 07, are fairly available for the most part. So if someone wants an Acadia, the fact that Outlooks were built aren't hurting their sales, either.

Secondly, according to http://www.saturnoutlookforum.net/index.php?topic=367.0, Outlooks are actually outselling the Acadia 6.7 to 2.7 per month per dealership, respectively. Now that doesn't take into consideration that almost all Saturn dealerships are in larger markets while many GMC dealership are in very small towns, it's still worth noting.

Third, the Enclave has been very well received, once it hit the market. But let's be honest. It's a very bold design that veers in a new direction for GM. There was simply no way to predict the mass appeal that it has had. GM readily admits that they were caught very off guard by its sudden success.

So yes, hindsight being 20/20, you could make the argument that the Outlook's poor sales (by it siblings' standard, at least) may have cut into the more brisk sales of the Enclave, but this was completely unpredictable a year ago. Saturn needed a full size 7/8 passenger vehicle to round out its model offering, and they could not have gotten a better one than the Lambda. I'd also like to point out that, compared to some other true 7/8 passenger CUV competitors, the Outlook didn't do half bad even on its own (which I completely disagree with having to compare as a standalone, since GM cares more about overall Lambda sales, as do I):


Outlook 34,748
CX-925,566
Taurus X18,345
Pacifica53,947
 

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Hey, Admin person: How about cross posting this at Enclave, Acadia and Outlook forums so they get the benefit of this thread? I'm not sure it's appropriate for lowly me to do so. :-[
 
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