Good American Cars, Unloved and Unbought
Here are some thoughts occasioned by tgriffith’s post on “buying American” and an interesting piece by Keith Naughton (Bloomberg) on some J.D. Power research supporting the idea that car buyers still want products from Japanese brands, not GM or Ford.
The Mercury Sable (You thought it was gone, didn’t you? Nah, it’s just a rebadged ’08 Taurus, née Ford 500) got top marks in quality in the latest Power surveys, and GM cars—the Chevy Impala and Malibu, Pontiac G6, and Cadillac CTS—rank well up there. But U.S. buyers still perceive Toyota and Honda to hold the edge on quality: “Imports held 69 percent of the U.S. car market through May, 4 points more than a year earlier.”
Well, did you think people were going to forget overnight those 25 years of declining quality, product irrelevance, marketing indifference, and management arrogance?
Of course not. The Big Three trained their customers well in diminishing expectations. Now with their reputations and balance sheets shot, the companies have to stop talking and start producing cars that are better than their Japanese, German, and Italian competitors. This will likely take years.
Here are a few things I think need to happen for them to succeed:
- American cars are still mostly ugly and overweight. Look at the new Taurus and tell me you think it’s beautiful—at over two tons. Put some emotion and style into these products—it’s the only way to distinguish them. Our cars have no imagination or passion in them. That’s what’s wrong with the Impala.
- Credibility and good will on the part of some patriots may help seed the market. But professional/technical people are mostly very turned off with Detroit. “Buy American” makes absolutely no sense today. There is no “American,” as tgriffith showed. The global marketplace has been part of the car industry for years, and people must learn to accept that.
- Not only will great products be required, but the Big Three needs some real marketing genius to change attitudes and make it cool to buy American—that is, American-owned firms that produce cars with a unique style and quality—again.
- Toyota got fat; now they’ve put the grandson, Akio Toyoda, in charge to do a makeover. The great principles of lean production that Toyota brought to the world were overlooked in the company’s zeal to follow the U.S. market. Of all the models to follow, GM was the worst they could have chosen.
- All the big companies are going to have to produce smaller, greener vehicles, which means much lower earnings. They will have to find their profits in production and merchandising efficiencies. There is no other way.
Sounds grim, doesn’t it? How many years will it take before you buy your next “American” car?