By Jeremy Cato
Right here in Canada, we are building some of the highest quality cars in the world, a fact not to be overlooked for any used car buyer. In the most recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS), the Oshawa, Ontario-built Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo were shown to come off of an assembly line with the highest quality rating of any auto plant in North and South America.
The Power study reflects owner-reported problems during the first 90 days, so some might dismiss it as merely a snapshot of quality. For a longer-term view, Consumer Reports magazine rates the Impala a recommended buy. Curiously, the magazine does not rate the Impala-based Monte Carlo a recommended buy, although the quality rankings are identical.
In any case, fully 44 per cent of General Motors Corp. products are now recommended buys from Consumer Reports – including the mid-size and highly affordable Chevy Malibu. So it is of little wonder that according to sources, GM is planning a corporate ad campaign to change consumer perception of its vehicle quality. The project is internally dubbed the “road to redemption.”
GM has not officially confirmed the program, which means it has not yet revealed how much it will spend redeeming itself in ads. But according to Competitive Media Reporting, the company spent US$198 million on corporate advertising in 2002. A redemption campaign would be aimed at improving consumer perception of GM’s vehicle quality.
What we know for sure is that vehicle quality plays a crucial role for buyers, says Joseph Ivers, a partner at J.D. Power and Associates. About one-third of new-vehicle buyers say quality in the first 90 days of ownership is important when shopping for a vehicle, and half cite long-term reliability as a major factor in their pick.
Ivers says GM has been systematically improving its initial quality since 1998. “GM has established parity in their initial quality, and a lot of their vehicles far exceed that, especially their passenger cars,” he says. However, GM “lags a bit” in long-term dependability, Ivers adds, although the automaker has made improving dependability a priority.
Certainly it’s true that when it comes to quality perception, GM brands also didn’t fare well in a survey of 113,500 people intending to buy 2003 models, conducted by CNW Marketing/Research. CNW asked them to rank the quality of auto brands, with 10 being the top score. Cadillac did best among GM brands with a score of 8.9, tied for fifth on the list with Porsche, Volvo and Volkswagen. The next best GM brand was Saturn, in ninth place with an 8.3.
With all this in mind, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to dig a bit into the recent quality history of one of GM’s higher-rated products in the latest J.D. Power IQS – that made-in-Canada Monte Carlo.
Since the Monte Carlo last received a makeover for the 2000 model year there have been only a handful of service bulletins. None seems overly serious or terribly out of the ordinary. The few Transport Canada safety recalls cover mostly air bag issues. Point is, there is nothing on the record to send up a big, red flag for the used car buyer. Meanwhile, prices are very attractive.
If you’re shopping note that Chevy has sold two versions of the Monte Carlo: base LS and a performance oriented model called the Monte Carlo SS. Under the hood of the LS is a 3.4-litre V6 rated at 180 horsepower. This is the same engine that does service in GM’s minivans, the Chevy Venture and so on. The SS gets a 200 horsepower 3.8-litre V6 (GM’s famed 3800 Series II V6) that will launch the Monte from 0-100 km/h in under eight seconds. The only transmission is a four-speed automatic that shifts smoothly and avoids much of the hunting in mountain-type driving that plagued older Montes.
The Monte is a very respectable front-wheel-drive two-door cruiser. Sure, it’s no sports car, but it’s quite pleasant to drive and has very good brakes with anti-lock standard. Traction control is part of the basic SS package.
The cockpit is comfortable, if not exactly inspired. Instruments and controls are easy to work and the seats up front are reasonably comfortable. Few cars can boast a real back seat in this class, but the Monte is one of them. Adults can find enough room back, there, although the seating position is a little low.
All in all, the Monte Carlo demonstrates that GM is going down the right road in terms of quality and durability. Whether this two-door is to your taste is another matter, but you shouldn’t be deterred by the reliability story.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.