GM cars: No refund needed - mostly
Most people would be surprised by how good GM's current crop really is, but there are still some weak spots.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- When General Motors announced its new money back guarantee Thursday many people no doubt envisioned the automaker's Detroit headquarters buried under a mountain of returned Chevys and Buicks.
But judging from the latest crop of vehicles, that nightmare probably won't happen.
For the most part, GM has much to be proud of. The company has indeed produced cars that can compete with the rest of the industry, as Bob Lutz said when he unveiled the money-back guarantee.
But to be clear, GM's entire line-up cannot stand up to any carmakers' products anywhere in the world. There are still a few dogs among GM's current offering and even more that are just OK. They pass muster, if you don't compare them too critically to competitors.
But today's trimmed down GM -- consisting of just Chevrolet GMC, Buick and Cadillac -- has a surprising number of genuinely outstanding vehicles that more than bear comparison with the world's best.
Really. We're not kidding.
Simply put: With few exceptions, GM models that were first introduced or substantially redesigned for the 2007 model year or later are outstanding.
Beyond that, the more recently a car was introduced, the better it is.
That's a good sign for things to come. GM has finally learned to compete and it's still improving.
A change for the better. Over the course of a few years, GM's interiors have gone from "Ew!" to "Wow!" Get it in the right colors -- not gray -- and the Chevrolet Malibu's dashboard is lovely to just sit and look at with its broadly arching lines and contrasting upper and lower portions.
The interior on the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is better still. It even glows with a soft blue shade at night, highlighting its contours.
But beyond the merely cosmetic improvement, the biggest surprise is the ride quality, road feel and sound of GM's most recent products.
Good design is relatively easy to pull off. You just have to design and follow through by building it. A smooth, quiet ride that still lets you feel in control is much harder to do and something you'll usually find only on luxury cars.
That's why a car like the Malibu such a shocker. GM has actually managed to package that rich feel and somehow get it into a mass-market family car
Of course, GM does make actual luxury cars, too, like the Cadillac CTS. This car piles performance on top of the that smooth quiet ride. Cruise over to your nearest twisting blacktop and the CTS can dance right up there with similarly-priced BMW's and Mercedes cars while offering more room inside as an added bonus.
It's not hard to find other good GM cars, except maybe on dealer lots. The new Chevrolet Equinox is selling faster than GM can build them. Same for the Camaro and it's a safe bet that the new Buick LaCrosse will be equally tough to get your hands on for a few months to come.
Now all that being said Bob, you've still got some chuck in with that sirloin. That money-back offer is sure to gladden the heart of someone who buys a Chevrolet Aveo5 subcompact -- like driving a Maytag dishwasher but the interior's not as nice -- before looking at the Nissan Versa to see what he could have had for that money.
Cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt and Impala fit into that broad middle ground. They're OK. They're not great, but it's nothing a few thousand dollars won't fix. The Cobalt is not nearly as good as a Honda Civic, which looks nicer, feels more solid and drives better.
But a big fat GM rebate and some dealer discounting on top of that could at least let you feel like you got a decent car considering what you paid for it. Customers who didn't negotiate hard still might want to hit the reset button on that purchase, though.
In reality, a cash-back offer is relatively risk-free even if GM's entire line-up isn't rock solid. Most things we buy today have money-back guarantees and how often do we use them? Especially when it comes to cars, most people are pretty sure they're going to like something before they buy it. It's not like Cobalt buyers don't know the Civic exists.
If this two-month money-back guarantee experiment works for GM, expect others to follow. After all, it only makes sense. If I can return the unused portion of my Oscar Meyer Cheese Dogs, I ought to be able to take back that Aveo.
Are you part of a Detroit-area family with a history of working in the auto industry? If so, Money magazine would like to speak with you for an upcoming personal finance story. Please e-mail details of your story and your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.