Baseball, apple pie and Emerson Chevrolet

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“Chevy helped build the American middle class in the first place,” said Emerson Chevrolet’s John Emerson. “And,” he added, “they’re in a great position to help rebuild it now. I can’t remember ever being so excited about what is coming from Chevrolet.”

Speaking from a dealership that has been a vital component of the social, economic and cultural fabric of Lewiston-Auburn for more than four decades, such observations are both reassuring and encouraging, and there can be no more authoritative source than Emerson himself. For the arts, education, sports: there has been no more dependable corporate citizen for the past half-century than Emerson Chevrolet. The company and the brands it represents are all about fundamental community values.

“The legendary Chevys of the past – from Corvette, to the iconic Chevy Vans, to big-fin muscle cars, and of course, Chevy trucks – provide a legacy that is challenging and, at the same time, shows us exactly what needs to happen next,” Emerson offered. “The restructuring of General Motors means that the resources and the focus are all in place to help Chevy return to the kind of dominance of the automotive market we all remember.”

While acknowledging that the economy has been tough on the automotive industry in general, and perhaps on General Motors in particular, Emerson anticipates a market rebound that is both need-driven and supported by more realistic credit options. “Consumers have been using this time to pay down their household debt,” he said, “and so many people are better able to buy a car now than they might have been a year or two ago. Plus, there is greater need now than there has been in years as people have held onto older cars longer than they might have liked.”

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The reduction in the number of brands that GM needs to support will be helpful, too, Emerson asserted. “We won’t be competing with ourselves so much anymore.”

More specifically focused resources, vastly improved inventory control and more rigorous financial management will all help restore the brand to prominence, Emerson feels, “but the real key to Chevrolet’s future are all the really innovative, cutting-edge new models that are starting to come into the market. “We haven’t seen that kind of innovation in maybe a generation or more,” he explained.

And while such stalwarts as Chevrolet pick up trucks remain a cornerstone of the brand, the hottest activity is in the crossover-utility market, a series of vehicles that combine the most appealing features of sports utility vehicles, family vans, and the old station wagon concept. Chevy is leading the CUV category with the 2010 Chevy Traverse, ranked by U.S. News and World Report as #1 (of 27 entries) among “Affordable Mid-sized SUVs.” The Traverse is a contender for 2010 Car of the Year, and like its compact cousin, the 2010 Chevy Equinox, the Traverse is available with either front wheel or all wheel drive, and either four or six cylinders.

“The whole new car market will be revolutionized this summer,” said Emerson, “when the Chevy Cruze gets here. I can’t ever remember as much excitement about any single new model.” The 2011 Cruze, a new compact sedan, will be the first truly global car ever designed and built by Chevrolet, and will compete on the ground throughout Europe and Asia, as well as North America. Stylish, peppy and extremely efficient, the Cruze will be considered either a family car — a sedan that will comfortably seat five, in what has been described as “a surprising amount of room, even for big people,” or a performance car with both guts and efficiency.

“It will be about connecting the driver to the car,” Emerson said, with such features as an optional six-speed transmission.

The Cruze will be the first of the next, more fuel-efficient, newly engineered Chevrolets to hit the market, within months, but it will be followed quickly by a whole new generation of completely redesigned, more efficient vehicles. Upcoming releases, likely for the 2011 model year, include the breathtaking Orlando CUV and the eagerly anticipated Chevy Spark mini-car, both of which are expected to average between 35 and 40 miles per gallon. But Chevy will also re-engineer its more familiar models, too, with complete makeovers planned for both the popular Malibu and Impala nameplates: more powerful and roomier, but with efficiencies and gas mileage far in excess of any medium or full sized sedans currently available, regardless of brand.

“We’ve survived the toughest times in the U.S. car industry since World War II,” Emerson said, “and now it’s time to move on. I really believe that the thrill of driving that Chevrolet brought to us originally, is coming back. And coming back, big.”

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