General Motors has finally done it, but does it really "get" it? The new Oldsmobile Aurora is definitely not your father's Oldsmobile. With its tubular styling, leather seats, multivalve engine, and quiet, solid ride, the Aurora is bound to give the Lexus-Infiniti-BMW-Mercedes luxury bunch a run for the money. Furthermore, it is priced several thousand dollars below the competition.
But before Olds managers finish their champagne, they should remind themselves of one simple fact: The success Olds has had in putting together a team from engineering, design, marketing, and manufacturing to work together from concept to launch is surprising only in the context of fief-ridden GM. This concurrent engineering is old hat to the Japanese. Chrysler has built its comeback on the concept.
Ditto on the self-congratulations for listening to consumers. The Aurora team held focus groups all over the country to find out what people wanted in a luxury automobile before they designed the car. Smart, but again, this is remarkable only in the context of its being so rare inside GM. The auto company has had a long history of ignoring consumer input until the final stages of development, when it is often much too late to make a difference.
The Aurora is GM's first success in internalizing lessons learned from developing Saturn. Now it must race to spread the news throughout its other divisions. Time is running out. The $2,000 price advantage U.S. carmakers now have over their Japanese rivals won't last forever.