General Motors Co. executive Roger Duguay chooses his words carefully as he attempts to respond tactfully.
The question to the executive director of GM's engineering operations is how it feels when he and his people devote careers to engine technological — and then car buyers seem more interested in cupholders.
“In the end, it is what the customer wants,” Duguay diplomatically says at GM's expansive powertrain center in Pontiac, MI.
Americans may love cars. But many consumers just casually care about what's under the hood, even though the engine is the heart of the vehicle.
“There are enthusiasts who express an interest in engines and their performance, but the everyday driver's interest in that is limited,” says dealer George Glassman of Glassman Auto Group in Southfield, MI.
The four brands he represents include Hyundai and Subaru, both of which had engines on the Ward's honor roll this year. He also sells Kias and Saabs.
The Best Engines list represents a trend towards smaller engines. Glassman says more and more customers want those.
“They are not hysterical about fuel economy but they want it,” he says. “Many of them are opting for six cylinders over eight, and four over six. They are fine with the smaller engines.”
Most U.S. consumers don't drill down deep when it comes to engine technology, says dealer Doug Fox of Ann Arbor (MI) Automotive, selling Acura, Kia, Nissan, Hyundai and Mitsubishi.
“European car shoppers are much more interested in engines,” says Fox, a self-described “gear head” and strong admirer of German engineering.
He recalls his days as a salesman at a Mercedes-Benz dealership when he would open the hood and show customers such features as a double firewall.
“Their eyes would glaze over,” Fox says.
Ninety percent of Glassman's customers are looking for reasonably priced, reliable transportation, not speed racers.
“The days of muscle cars and who is the first off the line are pretty much over,” he says.