Kausfiles Special

The Curse of the Opel, cont.

The new Consumer Reports Annual Auto Issue is out, and the big news, I guess, is the improved reliability of Ford’s F-150 pickup, the best-selling vehicle in the country. It’s now almost as reliable as its Toyota competitor. The equivalent General Motors pickup, the Silverado (which is the No. 2 best-seller), does relatively poorly, with 40 percent more defects than average.

But a major off-lead story involves Saturn, the once-revolutionary G.M. subsidiary, and its midsize sedan, the L-series. Back in 1998, you’ll remember–OK, you won’t remember, so I’m reminding you– Slate’s “Chatterbox” speculated that this heavily-advertised new vehicle was really part of a GM plot to kill off Saturn, which was guilty of producing reliable cars that put the rest of GM’s offerings in an embarrassing light. To carry out their fiendish plan, GM executives decreed that the L-series would be built at a tired old plant in Delaware that isn’t covered by the innovative labor agreement prevailing at Saturn’s Spring Hill, Tenn. factory. Worse, they based the L-series on the Opel Vectra. Chatterbox wrote:

To say that the record of Opel-designed cars on American highways has been disappointing would be an understatement. … Chatterbox will be very surprised if GM’s attempt to pass off yet another warmed-over Opel as a reliable, Spring Hill-style Saturn is anything other than a disaster that kills off the Saturn name for good.

Well, the results are in–and they completely bear out this irresponsible prediction. The smaller Tennessee-built Saturn (the S-series) continues to be one of the more reliable cars sold, with about 30 percent fewer defects than average. But the Opel-based Saturn L-series is indeed a disaster–the least reliable family car Consumer Reports rates, with over 40 percent more defects than average. … Maybe Saturn’s forthcoming, long-delayed SUV will save it. If the marque doesn’t completely disappear, it won’t be for lack of trying by GM. …

P.S.: One of the few cars worse than the midsized Saturn is the Cadillac Catera, also based on an Opel design. It rated 150 percent more defects than average–a performance so awful that the black bar representing its awfulness would not fit on Consumer Reports’ charts. … Didn’t Cadillac win some sort of official Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award a few years ago? So how come none of its cars rates better than “worse than average” in the CR reliability rankings? (One model, the Eldorado is unrated, presumably because so few of them are sold that there’s insufficient data on them.) …