GM puts a cap in Kappa
With GM shutting down Pontiac and selling off Saturn, it’s no surprise that the company would end production of the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky roadsters. Since the roadsters were the only products produced at GM’s Wilmington, Delaware, factory—and since the company is looking to pare down the number of assembly plants—shuttering that factory is perhaps also an understandable move. But giving up entirely on the Kappa rear-wheel-drive platform, created largely from scratch only a few years ago, seems shortsighted and foolish.
While the Solstice/Sky had their flaws—an abject lack of trunk space due to poor packaging, complicated top operation thanks to the soft top’s flying buttress design, and ultra-cheap interiors with no stowage space—the chassis delivered great handling and the Ecotec four-cylinder engines performed well, the turbo particularly, and returned good fuel economy. The Sky already almost looked like a baby Corvette and easily could have been restyled a bit to sell as a popularly priced and economical junior sports car for Chevrolet.
And this platform could have been used not just for a roadster, but to make additional models as well. Back in 2002, GM showed several promising Kappa-based concepts, including a great-looking coupe (the Saturn Curve) and a sweet little two-door wagon (the Chevy Nomad). The future demands small cars that aren’t just economical, but stylish and unique as well. Premium brands and performance cars will also need to get small, and rear-wheel drive is a hallmark of both; thus a small, rear-wheel-drive platform seems worth having, now more than ever.
At the other end of the size spectrum, GM’s recent decision to give up on the Pontiac G8 (which easily could have been repurposed as a Chevrolet or a Buick) and any further variants of the Camaro’s Zeta rear-wheel-drive architecture is another depressing indicator of the shrinking role of performance cars in General Motors’ future.
One hopeful bit of news came just the other day, however, when GM announced as part of its future product plans a smaller-than-CTS, rear-wheel-drive Cadillac. So, while all future rear-wheel-drive cars are certainly diminished at GM, they’re not entirely dead. But it still seems a shame that GM management’s wildly swinging axes—just like the axes at so many American companies today—have taken out the good as well as the bad.