April 2001

The General Meets the Snake

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Brand heritage has been the rage with new car makers for some time now. "Bentley Returns to Le Mans" trumpets one ad agency, as the now-VW-owned, once-English company attempts to regain some of the glory it covered itself with sixty years ago. The PT Cruiser is a gangster car for the 21st Century while the new Beetle provides an opportunity for today's youngsters to experience the style of the original Bug, without having to fight a "let's have a flip" swing-axle suspension, an anemic powerplant and interior accommodations for which Spartan would be too kind a word.
By and large, European car makers have been more attentive to their histories than American ones, perhaps because American products tend to be driven more by the perceived market opportunities of the moment. For instance, there is certainly a more direct connection between a Mercedes 220 sedan from the 1950s and a current C-class car than there is between a 1958 Impala and Chevrolet's contemporary offering with the same nameplate.
But that doesn't mean General Motors is insensitive to brand heritage. While in Manhattan last week, viewing the New York Auto Show, I had the opportunity to attend a private dinner with Ron Zarrella, President of General Motors, to informally discuss GM's thoughts on reintroducing Alfa Romeo to the US.