Thursday, October 29, 2009

General Motors thinks its products can hang with the best in the world, but many Americans don't agree. It's an issue that can be addressed with several years of carefully-planned marketing and patience.

Or with a schoolyard dare.

Those who know GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz could have predicted how this would turn out.

Lutz, a 77-year old former Marine Corps fighter pilot who delayed his retirement to guide the company's post-bankruptcy marketing efforts and is known for his brash nature, figured a race would do it. USA Today reports that the "septuagenarian marketing chief...will race a handful of high-priced, high-performance rivals at a New York track Thursday to put a fine point on GM's new slogan, ‘May the best car win.'"

The "best car" in this case, the company hopes, is the Cadillac CTS-V sedan. USA Today explains, "Lutz will pilot a Cadillac CTS-V with a 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8 rated 556 horsepower," around the race track at New York's Monticello Motor Club. "GM says it's a showroom stock - unmodified - CTS-V," running a little over $60,000.

One-hundred-twenty people applied to challenge Lutz, and seven were chosen. Los Angeles' Examiner reports, "Of the seven, three are auto journalists," while four are not auto industry professionals, but simply owners of other sport sedans who think they can beat Lutz in his Caddy. Among the vehicles chosen to race are a BMW M3, a BMW M5, and an Audi RS4.

At least one vehicle won't be racing, however. A journalist from the automotive blog Jalopnik accepted the challenge, and planned to show up in a Jaguar XFR on loan from Jaguar . . . until the company pulled the car out of the race. Jalopnik explains, "They're afraid the XFR can't handle the strain. Specifically, the brakes. Without better brake cooling," Jaguar officials, "are concerned the XFR just can't put the necessary laps in." Jalopnik's team, instead, will compete in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

Mercedes-Benz also declined to provide a car for the challenge. USA Today notes, "Mercedes-Benz spokesman Jeff Day says he declined to provide cars because of ‘how heavily the deck is stacked.' GM picked the venue, Lutz has racing experience and M-B is concerned -- as are other makers -- that there's no way to verify GM has not modified the car."

Lutz issued his challenge in an October 13 post on GM's FastLane blog. "If you own a car comparable to the Cadillac CTS-V (a 4-door production stock sport sedan) and you want to match up against me and the Cadillac, you can join us at Monticello," he wrote. "We're going to take away every last excuse people have not to consider our products...In other words, we believe we have achieved our goal of building the world's fastest sedan, but I look forward to putting that theory to the test."

We'll bring final results of the challenge tomorrow, but those who want to keep track during the day can follow the event's official twitter feed all day.

If you're in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year's best cars as well as this month's best car deals.