Bodge Engineering and the International Market for Dogs

Between 1999 and 2002 GM sold the Oldsmobile Alero as the Chevrolet Alero in Europe. Not many found customers: 18 are advertised for sale in Europe compared to 119 Aston Martin DB9s  and 261 Lamborghini Gallardos. From €450 you can share in the American dream.

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The Alero replaced the Oldsmobile Achieva which was a cousin of the last Buick Skylark and the 1990-1998 Cutlass Supreme. We featured the Cutlass a while back. Around this time GM had turned to brandscape to try to distinguish its middle market brands. The Alero and the Intrigue had the job of attracting the custom of US buyers tempted by Japanese marques. As such the Alero was nominally competing for Honda Accord and Toyota Camry sales. Edmunds give the car quite a nice write up: “Olds’ small car story ended on an upbeat note with a stylish and decently designed effort.” I like that description of the car as small. It’s 4.7 metres long and 1.7 metres wide.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass: rippiong off the styling cues of Saturn. Image from Wikipedia.
1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass: ripping off the styling cues of Saturn. Image from Wikipedia.

This car turned up on a rather badly lit day so I had to use some digital magic to bring out the contours. Said digital magic didn’t include colour.

1997 Oldsmobile Achieva. This explains why the Skylark had to have the curved line on the lower body side panels.
1997 Oldsmobile Achieva. This explains why the Skylark had to have the curved line on the lower body side panels. Image: Wikipedia.

I don’t have so very much to say about the car except that it’s a more recent version of the daily driver Buick we had on the pages recently. Two sellers in Denmark praise the car’s quitness and comfort but complain about the mpg and electronic faults.

If you force me, I would say that Oldsmobile’s designers did a good job of capturing the blandness of a Japanese car but without also copying the finer elements that made Hondas and Camrys so pleasant to own and to look at. Personally I find the Achieva a better looking car than this. And relatively, the Cutlass Supreme was a worse looking car. The interior is a study in oval and rounded forms: we are the height of the organic phase in car design with this vehicle.

2000 Chevrole Alero interior: as bland as a 1992 Ford Mondeo interior.
2000 Chevrole Alero interior: as bland as a 1992 Ford Mondeo interior.

Most interesting is that GM thought Europeans would go for this mash-up of American and Japanese. The sales pitch for the American car is always something along the lines of “more car for your money” but I think that this is the equivalent of offering 3 litres of no-name cola for the same price as 1.5 litres of branded cola. Maybe people don’t want so much cola at one time.

And evidently people didn’t want so much Chevrolet Alero which came with a 2.4 four-cylinder and a 3.4 V6 engine, well over the capacity range preferred by most family car buyers. Looking at it another way, what is precisely the point of selling an American take on Japanese cars to the Europeans?

It seems to me this car managed to gather together two or perhaps three unique sales disadvantages into one unpalatable package: Japanese looks, an American nameplate and uneconomical engines. And yet since it looked so unAmerican it was never going to fire the imagination of Europe’s Americophiles.

Look at the position of the model name on the tail. Given that many customers might not even know what Chevrolet was, it is puzzling that the model name takes optical precedence over the brand: the Alero name is top centre while Chevrolet is lower right. To some this could be interpreted as an Alero Chevrolet.

The Alero’s successor was the Chevrolet Evanda.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

3 thoughts on “Bodge Engineering and the International Market for Dogs”

  1. The Alero could also be the successor of the Daewoo Espero – for me the style is japanese style (I always wonder why japanese designers love those oversized rearlights) with korean elements. It is the sort of ordinary global design that is nowhere really popular and easy to forget. Maybe a good car for making a bankrobbery. or if you need a car for your private investigations company…

    The Achieva (never heard of him) seems to be an Opel Omega A with an americanised front. Not so bad – but i find no prrof for my impression.

  2. The Olds Achieva and Buick Skylark and Pontiac something-or-other ran on a front drive platform of unusually fragility. They scored very poorly in the crash tests. The two-door models had famously heavy doors prone to sagging. GM obviously had a difficult time keeping their brand identities apart. Presumably someone in Olds was looking at the Omega A while doodling the Achieva. I quite like the Achieva, crash-unworthiness not withstanding.
    I had forgotten the Daewoo Espero, momentarily. There is a whole cluster of short-lived and unremarkable models from Daewoo/Chevrolet, aren´t there? Next up is the Leganza and the Epica. I must make a list of these also-rans.

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