One of the biggest guessing games in Detroit the past couple of weeks has been predicting what consumers will see on dealer lots in a year or two. • This much is certain: You'll see fewer choices. GM has said it plans to drop at least eight vehicles. At Ford, the Ford Taurus X, the midsized sport utility vehicle that used to be the Freestyle, will be discontinued. Also on its last legs is the Sable, Mercury's version of the Ford Taurus sedan. The Sable and the Taurus X will be gone by spring.
Dropping the Taurus X hardly leaves Ford without any SUVs to sell. It still has the Edge, Escape, Expedition, Explorer and the Flex. That sort of points to the problem: Ford's SUVs are not only competing with other brands, but with each other. That has to end for all manufacturers.
In the past two decades, "platform sharing" became Detroit's answer to profitability, and on the surface, it looked like a pretty good idea: Ford, say, would design a new Explorer. To help spread costs, they build the Explorer for Ford, the Mountaineer for Mercury, the Aviator for Lincoln. Building variations of one vehicle is not that expensive, but manufacturers are learning that supporting those vehicles with advertising, marketing and service costs a lot.
In its survival plan, General Motors directs its resources to Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick. Pontiac would become a niche player, sold at Buick/GMC dealers.
Saturn, Saab and Hummer would essentially be left in the cold. Ford seems to be phasing out Mercury, while Chrysler — well, it's anyone's guess. Chrysler has ended negotiations with the Chinese company Chery to build a small car for the United States, but other than that, they don't have much to close or sell, aside from Jeep, perhaps.
Dodge has already pulled the plug on the Viper sports car, unless a buyer for that model can be found. The company has also announced it will close its Newark, Del., factory. While they haven't announced the end of the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen SUVs, those are what the Newark plant builds.
The industry publication Automotive News speculates that GM could discontinue the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks, which would likely mean discontinuation of the Hummer H3, since it is built on the same platform, in the same Shreveport, La., factory. The Chevrolet TrailBlazer SUV and Uplander minivan will definitely disappear.
Also a candidate for the chopping block: the Cadillac XLR sports car. Cadillac will sell fewer than 1,500 XLRs this year, so few are likely to miss it.
So once the bloodletting takes place, what does it mean to consumers? Fewer choices and higher prices: Manufacturers hope they won't have to discount prices and offer big incentives to move merchandise, once there's less of it to move. At least, that's the plan. Detroit has been wrong before.