General Motors gathered its fleet friends and family together in Palm Springs earlier this year to show off its product and give a glimpse into the future. While the annual event was itself subdued, the mood was more celebratory than it has been in a few years. GM has been profitable since the first quarter of 2010 and last year marked the first full year of profits since 2004. 

You can check out a photo gallery of GM's fleet product preview event here.

As you might expect at a fleet preview, GM reiterated that "fleet business is good business." But the numbers back up the talk: GM's sales to commercial fleets are up 8 percent year over year, while fleet sales represent 25 percent of total U.S. sales. GM pointed out that sales to small businesses were up 30 percent in the first quarter. In terms of the Japan crisis, GM predicts it "will not have a material impact on 2011 performance." GM expects overall fleet sales for the industry to remain steady at 2.5 million vehicles for each of the remaining three quarters of 2011. 

While GM's sales numbers alone will not affect your fleet's bottom line, they play into GM's residual value story. Not only have new and revamped models given GM nameplates a healthy residual value forecast bump moving forward, but the lack of supply in the used car market means that your two- and three-year-old vehicles are worth a lot more than original projections. 

Watch for used supply to get even tighter starting in November, as the market processes the effects of the captive finance companies' pulling out of leasing in 2008. Think about that when making your cycling plans.

More MPG, Less Premium

In terms of other macro conditions, GM is addressing the continuing shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles from many different angles. 

While GM has carved a niche with hybrids for SUVs and trucks (Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Yukon, GMC Sierra and Cadillac Escalade), it has a game changer in its eAssist, or "light electrification" technology. eAssist uses a small lithium-ion battery and a 15-kw motor-generator to provide an electric boost during heavier acceleration, fuel cut off during deceleration, regenerative braking and use of electricity, not gas, when stopped. 

The technology is expected to deliver a full 25 percent more fuel savings, which rivals that of some full hybrids, without the hybrid price premium. That has to be attractive to fleets and total cost of ownership. eAssist comes standard in the 2012 Buick LaCrosse (an estimated 25 mpg city, 37 highway) and optional in the 2012 Buick Regal (25/37), on sale this summer, and will be an option on the 2013 Chevy Malibu (26/38), available in the first quarter of 2012. 

Other fuel economy savings come from wringing everything GM can out of the good old internal combustion engine, with technology such as variable-valve timing, active fuel management and direct injection. In terms of alt-fuels, GM has new LPG offerings on the way. (See below.)

The engine mix is changing too: Last year, 46 percent of GM's sales were of four-cylinder vehicles, up from only 25 percent five years ago. 


A Volt Test Drive

I finally got to drive the extended-range Chevy Volt, after a few passenger ride-a-longs over the past two years. I managed to put pedal to metal to experience the Volt's off-the-line pickup. It had the usual smooth, quick and quiet acceleration found in electric vehicles. There was no torque-y adrenaline rush of power, but that's not the point of the Volt. I was told that the Volt delivers the drive feel of a car with 273-lb foot of torque and a 250 hp v6 engine. We were able to force the switch from the electric to gas engine, which was quiet and seamless. The Volt feels firm on the road and more substantial than other electric vehicles on the market. Not just a "city car," the Volt was designed to put the extended range to good use. 

The Volt comes with other fun tech gadgets, such as a 30 gig hard drive that allows you to pause and rewind live radio, like "DVR for your car." Pretty cool.

The Volt will be available in all 50 states by the end of this year and GM announced this week it will up production of the Volt to 60,000 units next year, an increase from the planned 45,000. Nonetheless, the Volt won't be a mainstream fleet play for several years. 

New Vehicle News

A compendium of stuff and not meant to be a complete list. 

Buick Verano: The Verano is Buick's all-new entry into the compact luxury sedan segment and the brand's further stab at a younger, upwardly mobile audience, on sale in the fourth quarter of 2011. The Verano is expected to get 0-60 mph performance of 8.0 seconds and an estimated 31 mpg on the highway (a 2.0L turbo engine is planned); OnStar smart phone app allows for remote entry and remote gauge readings. 

Chevy Sonic: New subcompact replaces the Aveo, offered as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. Production begins later in 2011. The Sonic has an available 1.4L, 138 hp engine, the same one in the Cruze, but in a much lighter car. GM says the sedan model offers segment-best trunk capacity. Built in the U.S. (!) the Sonic comes with 10 standard air bags. Options include upmarket amenities such as remote start, heated seats and sunroof. Buyers can take advantage of a deal with a vinyl wrapping company for vehicle graphics. 

Chevy Captiva Sport: a variant of the Chevy Captiva Sport small crossover sold in other countries and born of Saturn Vue DNA, the five-seat Captiva Sport will be offered in America as a fleet-only model, allowing to GM to leave the white-hot Equinox to retail for now. The Captiva Sport will begin selling in the fourth quarter of 2011 as a 2012-MY vehicle. 

Propane-powered vans: GM is jumping into factory-direct liquefied petroleum gas (LPG, or propane autogas) offerings on the 2012 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana cutaway 3500 and 4500 vans. The vans will be produced at GM's Wentzville, Mo., plant and transported to Knapheide's nearby facility for fuel storage/delivery system installation, and then on to an upfitter chosen by the customer for body installation. GM will be taking orders for the fourth quarter of this year. (The new LPG offering complements GM's versions of its compressed natural gas vans on the market now.) 

Chevy Malibu: The 2013 Malibu ECO, featuring eAssist technology, will lead the way in early 2012, followed by Malibu LS, LT and LTZ trim level offerings in summer 2012. Expect up to 550 miles of driving range between fill-ups on the ECO. Cool new feature - articulating radio! 

Chevy Impala: The 2012 Chevy Impala will get a new 3.6L V-6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission that delivers more than 300 hp and an expected 30 mpg hwy. 

Chevy Caprice PPV: will get a new 3.6L V-6, which is anticipated to get a 2 mpg boost over previous engine. GM announced that Ford Crown Vic equipment can be easily transferred to the Caprice PPV. 

GMC Terrain: the 2012 Terrain is the first vehicle to get GMC's new tech system IntelliLink, which uses Bluetooth or USB to connect the driver's smartphone to the vehicles' touch-screen display. The system allows smartphone control via voice activation and steering wheel-mounted controls, and streaming stereo audio from Internet radio sources. 

Bits and Pieces

  • GM is bringing back its FleetTrac consolidated billing system, which eliminates out-of-pocket expense for the driver, and non-GM vehicles can be serviced on the same bill. 
  • Look for a Cadillac compact luxury sedan in late 2012 to compete with the likes of the BMW 3-Series. 
  • The Chevy Camaro 45th anniversary edition and the Corvette centennial edition will be out this summer. 
  • Buick is doing away with trim level badges for 2012. Models will no longer receive exterior identification such as CX, CXS and CXL, though models will be sold with different trim packages. 
  • The Cadillac CTS V Black Diamond edition was on display. The paint uses magnesium fluoride to give the coat a diamond-like sparkle. As if the CTV V wasn't bad ass enough.


About the author
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, and Fleet Forward, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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