General Motors executives have been holding late-night emergency meetings this month after learning that GM's share of the U.S. car and light truck market plummeted to 28.6 percent in February.
It was the General's second-worst sales performance in two decades, leaving it only a few percentage points ahead of archrival Ford Motor Co.The Chevrolet Division, GM's largest, issued a "call to arms" to its management team last Saturday to come up with a plan to stem the bleeding, although it's unclear what they can do in the short term. GM and Chevy's main problem is its lack of sufficient new and exciting products and that's not solved overnight.
Take the 1998 Chevrolet Lumina LTZ, this week's test ride. As Chevy's flagship sedan (since the demise of the humongous Caprice) it's a lot of car for the money, both in size and performance, but shoppers are going to find it a bit dowdy alongside, for example, the new Chrysler LHS.
But as a pure value play, Lumina need not apologize to anyone. When it was reintroduced in 1995, it left automotive journalists wondering how Chevy could put all those standard features in a full-size sedan for an entry price of about $18,000.
Buyers got the message and bought a record number of Luminas in 1996, making it one of the top nameplates in the passenger car industry for total U.S. sales.
For 1998, The top-line LTZ version of the Lumina has a base price of $19,745, but several options and delivery charges boosted the bottom line to $22,549.
The options included $200 for cloth bucket seats, $170 for a rear window defogger (this should be standard), $500 for the Sport Performance Package which includes the 3800 Series II V6 engine putting out 200 horsepower (40 more than the standard Lumina motor) and turns what might otherwise be a stodgy sedan into a Z28 wannabe.
"Does this car have a supercharger too?" my 13-year-old daughter asked one morning on the way to school. I had just punched it going up a hill on Creek Road, and as the Chevy leaped forward she was reminded of the supercharged Buick Regal of the week before. The LTZ doesn't have a blower under the hood, but I can understand why she thought it did. It's pretty quick.
Other options on the test car included $93 for a CD player, $305 for a driver's side six-way power seat, $170 for the California emissions package and $816 for the Preferred Equipment Group that includes remote keyless entry, cruise control, dual heater/ air conditioner controls, rear defogger, power trunk release and floor mats. A $550 delivery charge completed the add-ons.
As with the Buick, GM's OnStar system is available as a dealer-installed option that links the car with a 24-hour operation in Michigan. With a phone call, OnStar can unlock your doors if you leave the keys inside. It can honk the horn if you've misplaced it in a parking lot or track the car down via satellite if it's stolen. It can also give you directions on the road or send help in event of a breakdown.
Lumina is a full-size sedan that, unlike a lot of imports that claim to seat five or six adults, will actually do it and keep everyone on speaking terms. It's a five-seater with the buckets and console up front and a six-seater with the bench seat.
The tester had the buckets, as most do, and I found them much more comfortable and supportive than the slippery (and soft) leather chairs in the Buick Regal.
Chevy provides easy maintenance for Lumina buyers with 100,000-mile platinum-tip spark plugs, 150,000-mile engine coolant and automatic transmission fluid that, under normal conditions, lasts the life of the car. The "Bumper to Bumper" warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.
Standard features on the LTZ include daytime running lamps (the high beams are run at reduced intensity whenever the key is on); anti-lock brakes, dual airbags, air conditioning, power door locks, automatic transmission, theft deterrence and slow-dimming "theatre" style interior lighting.
If you need a car that holds five or six grown-ups comfortably but don't like minivans or can't afford a big sport-utility, give the Lumina LTZ a look.