By on August 21, 2007

us-flag5420.jpgI grew up in a working-class town where “Buy American” ranked just above “Go to church.” Chrysler cured me of my automotive illusions. One day, the engine fell out of my first new car, a ’79 Plymouth Horizon. At 30k miles. The local dealer, the zone office, and then the factory solemnly informed me that my 12/12 warranty was over, so Up Mine. And yet I have family and friends who’ve kept the faith to this day. As The Big 2.8’s fuselage prepares for its final meeting with terra firma, I know it’s wrong to snigger at Detroit’s woes. But I’m laughing to keep from crying.

I’ve got a friend who’s more cerebral than most pickup-truck patriots. He was looking to buy a cute-ute for his bride. I talked up the bulletproof Honda CR-V (then made in Japan), but he opted for a Ford Escape. He didn’t deny my point: the CR-V was by far the better-built vehicle of the two. He just didn’t care.

“To me, it’s the social contract,” he explained. “Joe lives here and he builds cars. I buy Joe’s stuff, Joe buys my stuff, and we both make a decent living.

“This Japanese quality you worship so much doesn’t require any great genius. I lived and worked in Japan for years. We’re talking about people who obsess so much over little details that they work 90 hour weeks opening and closing a door 10,000 times to make sure it never breaks.”

“But isn’t that the American way?” I countered. “Hard work, competition, all that? Aren’t they winning fair and square?” Without hesitation he replied, “I suppose, but would you wanna live that way? Is it so important that our body panels have smaller gaps?”

He understood that our system is based on rewarding excellence, not subsidizing mediocrity. But he also understood the looks his neighbors gave “foreign” cars.

Once upon a time, I bought a new ’92 Maxima. Today, the Max’s body remains tight, the handling responsive. As I navigate the cratered streets of a formerly thriving industrial area, a space that now looks like an “after” portrait of Beirut, I know I’ll hang onto it. I’ll have to– now that the decay of our industrial base has eroded the median national income so badly that my service employer’s clients are ruthlessly squeezing our revenues. Fortunately, my car has plenty of life left in it. But does my country?

Never mind what my Maxima tells you about the Japan mindset and work ethic. What does the failure of American cars to step up to the plate tell you about America? It tells me that we should be indignant. That we should be angry at the men who stole our automotive heritage.

I’m angry at every smug, myopic, greedy Detroit executive and Harvard MBA prof who helped destroy one of the — if not the — world’s best run businesses. I’m angry at all the suits that grabbed for immediate profit, or couldn’t take a risk, or had no vision beyond counting beans, or were just flat-out stupid.

These idiots didn’t just take down their own companies. They’ve grievously wounded their whole country and its future. Why do all these misbegotten car execs-– the so-called leaders who feathered their nests and packed their parachutes while destroying the chicken that laid their golden eggs-– get to enjoy everything our country has to offer while ruining it for hundreds of thousands of working men and women? “Buy American,” they said. No question what was in it for them.

But what if we had? For many of us who dodged that bullet, the prospect is almost unthinkable. Buy that crap? With my money? As mediocre as Detroit iron is today, it was unspeakably worse before the pressure of foreign competition. Can we imagine ourselves still floating off the road on porpoising, rusting, cheesily filigreed 19-foot Impalas? And yet the question still nags me, mute yet immutable. Though we’d have had infinitely crummier automobiles today, would we have had a healthier society?

Whatever. Stick a fork in it. It’s all over bar the shouting.

I recently read an article that said as the Chinese and Indian automobile industries overtake America’s, car design will be inclined more and more to these developing nations’ needs. This makes perfect sense; I doubt we’d like it much if today’s car designers still catered to British tastes.

But it's a bilious irony nonetheless. Our single-minded insistence on buying the best automotive consumer goods available helped lead us to a point where our automotive selections may be limited by our choices. And history suggests we've only begun paying the price. Cheap-labor countries are perfectly capable of handling every stage in the creation of the products we all buy and use.

So this is how it ends. Mahindra and Chery sweep in, while Cerberus and Nardelli pick at our industry's carcass on its way out. I feel just smarmy enough to smirk at the authors of this Armageddon – and just guilty enough to wonder about my role in it.

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119 Comments on “Bye American?...”


  • avatar
    brifol5

    A Phoenix in the ashes? I hope you’re not talking about that late 70s Pontiac Phoenix that pretty much exemplifies Detroits woes. Got to love those X-cars! Sorry the connection was too easy.

  • avatar
    troonbop

    Good stuff, Tony, it’s interesting to step behind the numbers and i appreciated the hint of an optimistic ending.
    As Frank Costanza would say…”rising, like a Phoenix…from Arizona.”

  • avatar
    ilovemangoes

    “Though we’d have had infinitely crummier automobiles today, would we have had a healthier society?”

    This will be for smarter people than me to figure out, but I do often wonder the same thing.

    Good article Tony. As you can see from my comments in today’s suicide watch, the domestics don’t even seem to want my business anymore.

    While I was raised with the “Buy American” philosophy, I think that it’s too late now for the auto industry in NA to turnaround.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    I was up late last night looking at the specs for the 2008 Accord once the embargo broke, comparing them with what is known about the 2008 Malibu. Accord is now a full size car with the interior volume of an Impala or Avalon, with more efficient and clean powertrains with a diesel on the way, and class-leading safety features.

    The Malibu is an Aura with the body of a Phaeton.

    I’ve concluded that Lutz & company have unfortunately brought a knife to a gun fight. Who’s the “dumb, unprepared, anachronistic, and endangered species” now?

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    To see an unnerving preview of the future of the automobile industry, check out the TV section at Target. Look what has happened to the brand “Magnavox”. It is just a name slapped on a generic box made by some other company.

    The fate of this once-proud company and its parallels with the inevitable fate of Chrysler et al. is very distressing to contemplate, to say the least. But it is very, very real.

  • avatar
    GMrefugee

    Yes, the “import” products are all the “best automotive goods available” while the big 3 automakers only produce crap to be bought by losers with mis-placed patriotism.

    “Whatever”

    Better turn the oven back on because the idea that the history and future of the auto industry landscape is that simple is only half-baked.

  • avatar
    powerglide

    Matthew Danda: Magnavox is Dutch. Philips.

    Pretty much the same goes for the “domestic” autos, even those NOT assembled in Mexico.

    A Pontiac Torrent has a Japanese transmission and a Chinese engine.

    A Solstice comes either with a Japanese manual transmission or French automatic.

    As for this “social contract”, trading with “Joe”, well, a lot of Joes happen grow wheat, and sell it to Japan and the rest of the world. I think they should be free to do so.

    Anyway, GM at least never said you should “buy American.” Like Coca-Cola, they’ve always been global:

    Vauxhall, Bedford, Opel, Holden, Isuzu, Daewoo, Saab…

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    It’s ironic but, believe it or not, the most patriotic thing anyone can do is buy the best car on the market. Even if it’s is built is Vladivostok and is made of old Soviet tank parts buy the best car on the market. That way, it’ll make domestic manufacturers make cars to compete with these cars and make domestic manufacturers leaner and more efficient. That’s the theory, anyway!

    The reality is a lot scarier. Because these companies are run by MBA’s and paper managers, they are more concerned about what OTHER people can do for the company and less concerned about what they, themselves, can do. Couple that with the fact they’ve all got golden parachutes which are bankruptcy proof, for them, there’s no sense of urgency, because they know everything will be all right….for them! The Big 2.8 need a CEO like Carlos Ghosn, to accept responsibility and state something like “If we’re not profitable in 3 years’ time, I’ll resign.”. A real leader.

    Also, whenever a foreign company starts kicking their arse, they’ll start bleating to congress about putting up tariffs against these products (another great American invention, selective capitalism. Remember the steel tariffs?). It’s no coincidence that the soul, passion and fighting spirit left the American auto industry when the accountants starting taking over.

    If the big 2.8 carry on like this, they’re toast. Dead as a dodo. And you know what? Only part of me will be sad. I will be sad for the part of the American auto industry which gave us the Ford GT40, the Mustang and the Corvette. These cars show what the American auto industry can do, when they don’t have an MBA for a CEO…..

  • avatar

    What is really The American Way?

    I remember watching Monday Night Raw on one occasion and a little-known wrestler named Tiger Ali Singh (son of Tiger Jeet Singh) commented that, “The American Way is putting Arab Oil in Japanese cars.”

    The truth hurts, sometimes.

  • avatar
    mikey

    So starlightmica you have the stats to compare a Malibu to the Accord?The Accord has the interior volume of an Impala?
    Your source and actual numbers of those stats would make interesting reading.I want to read about the more efficient and cleaner power trains, and the class leading safety features.
    I don’t think GM The number 1 car maker in the world [last 1/4]has released or sold a Malibu yet.Its OK to use the Impala specs/stats to back up your post though.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Matthew Danda-A car is a more complicated device than a television. I could start a TV company today. Open an office, come up with a name, and then hire a Chinese company to build the actual product. There are several virtual TV manufacturers exactly like this who don’t own any factories and never have.

    You can’t do that with a car. For one thing, Chinese cars suck. Any car maker that has product that doesn’t suck isn’t willing for Joe Schmoe to rebrand thier vehicles in this manner.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    Being the idjit that I was, I put 30 years into buying US automotive products, and got continually slapped on all four cheeks for my trouble.

    Finally, after a disastrously bad used Lincoln, a disastrously bad Cavalier (1997) bought new (warrantee = toilet paper) and then a diastrously bad (Mexican made) Neon (1999), I gave up and “took a chance” with a Hyundai Sonata.

    We’re on our 2nd Sonata, and we have our first Toyota (Prius) which is going up for sale so I can buy a new (Prius).

    Badge engineered products from someone else with US badges won’t have any appeal to me. Ever.

    But I have to agree wholeheartedly that the elite executive types who continually take credit when things go slightly right, are fully responsible and should take the fall for what they’ve done over 30-50 years to DESTROY the US auto industry.

    We’re going to join the UK in not really having a domestic auto industry, sooner than many thing, as a guess.

    The silver lining in the dark cloud is that the Brits now have the best cars they’ve ever had available to them; these cars are actually somewhat more affordable than they used to be; the employment of British men and women in building and exporting cars is still there.

    It’s just that the brands on the bonnet are no longer Riley, Wolseley, Austin, Rover, MG, Rootes, Bond, Reliant, etc.

    Now, they’re Nissan, Toyota, etc.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    mikey:
    http://corporate.honda.com/press/list.aspx
    or
    http://www.vtec.net/articles/view-article?article_id=702483

    2008 Accord is L194″ x W 72.7″ x H58.1″ with 106cu ft interior space. Trunk is still smaller at 14cf than Impala (105cf + 19cf), I recall you build that car so you know the rest. I don’t know the 08 Malibu’s specs, figure they’re somewhere between Aura and Impala.

    EPA ratings: I4(177 or 190hp)/5AT 21/31, V6(268hp w/VCM)/5AT 19/29, V6/6MT 17/25 (coupe), most powertrain combos are PZEV.

    Safety: standard front/side curtain/dual chamber thorax and pelvis airbags (remember why IIHS flunked the BMW 5 series?), ESC, active head restraints.

    On sale date: 4 weeks

  • avatar
    confused1096

    Good, well thought out, article. I hope American car makers can turn things around. There are two Ford plants in Louisville. Those closing up would be catastrophic for the local economy.

    I was raised to ‘buy American’ but after three POS vehicles in a row I bought my first Nissan. The difference between that ’87 Sentra and the Celebrity (blown engine…at 115K miles) it replaced were embarrassingly bad. This kind of comparison contiues well into the ’90s. Even my mother owns a Toyota now…

    American products have gotten better. My last three vehicles have been Fords and they’ve given exemplary service. I’m just afraid that it may be a case of too little, too late. 30 years of practicing highway robbery on your customers isn’t something that can be corrected quickly.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Starlight,
    Thanks for the figures on the ’08 Accord. I think you may be right — I had been hoping the new ‘Bu would be Best in Class, but the bar has obviously been raised yet again by Honda.

  • avatar
    joekawasaki

    The biggest problem for Detroit, is they aren’t car guys anymore. These companies wer started by people that have motor oil in thier veins, people that lived and breathed the automobile! These people have Died, retired, or just got sick to thier stomach and ran screaming! It’s like those I don’t want to run around yelling the sky is falling, but those chunks have been coming down my entire life! I want to buy cars from people that truly care about the product! KatiePuckrik had it right sayng “It’s ironic but, believe it or not, the most patriotic thing anyone can do is buy the best car on the market. Even if it’s is built is Vladivostok and is made of old Soviet tank parts buy the best car on the market. That way, it’ll make domestic manufacturers make cars to compete with these cars and make domestic manufacturers leaner and more efficient” The unfortunate thing is that might have worked in the 70′s but we are thirty years too late to plug the hole in the sinking ship!

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I notice there’s been a lot of MBA-bashing lately. Apparently, people educated in business (masters in fact!) are to blame for the decline of the American car industry.

    Just for my own edification, could anyone explain why MIT’s business school, one of the best in the world, is called “Sloan”?

  • avatar
    RyanK02

    America is the greatest country in the world. You can argue that statement if you want, but, IMO, you would fail.
    That being said, it has been a long time since Americans have been the underdog in just about any category. If you look at American history, our ancestors did the most remarkable things when competing as the underdog.
    I am not so pessimistic about the failure of the American auto industry. Should the Big 3 fall flat on their faces, it still won’t be the end. You will still have a core die-hards that will only buy American cars, which someone will jump in to fill that niche. Maybe someone that isn’t burdened with MBAs and a hugely powerful union.
    Until then, I will probably find my next car waiting for me in some forgotten barn. Check out Hot Rod magazines segment on “Commuter Rods”. Getting mid to upper 20mpg may make Prius (and the like, I am not just picking on them) gag, but you just recycled 4500lbs of steel.

  • avatar
    RyanK02

    Prius owners..rather, sorry for the mistake.

  • avatar
    slateslate

    to quote a prior comment: “Anyway, GM at least never said you should “buy American.” Like Coca-Cola, they’ve always been global:”

    Chevy = American Revolution/This our truck, this is our country
    Saturn = Rethink American
    Cadillac = Life Liberty The Pursuit
    Buick = Recommended by nine of out ten old whities

    Hypocritically, GM hides behind the flag on TV ads while it builds in Oshawa, Mexico, Australia and China.

    Talk about cognitive dissonance.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Excellent article Tony!

    There are two Ford plants in Louisville. Those closing up would be catastrophic for the local economy.
    My cousin works at the Ford truck plant in Louisville for the last 20 years, I think he still works there I haven’t talked to him in years. His mom, my aunt, has been driving Ford as long as he’s worked there, she just bought a Subaru Forrester because she couldn’t deal with Ford quality anymore.
    It’s somewhat ironic how the Patriotic buying of the last 20 years helped put them where they are today, they were never forced to change because people just kept buying there junk.

  • avatar
    NN

    Tony–fantastic job. I think you accurately describe a lot of the fears that many of us have. I am one of those guys, too…I drive American, although I don’t influence others on my quasi-political views of car buying. What do I do for a living??? Well, I import stuff from China, naturally. I’ll buy (and sell) Chinese electronics and cheap manufactured goods, but I’ve lived there and seen first hand how they live to make stuff the way they do, and it doesn’t look good to me. Whenever something can be found to still be made in the USA; I’ll still pay a premium for it.

    There are people left in Detroit who can make a good car. I hope those people are working on the Chevy Volt project…maybe that’s your Phoenix, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    One thing is for sure…if one of the big 2.8 had the balls to produce something revolutionary–like the Volt–I think Americans would line up to buy them.

  • avatar
    fredowings

    Like GM Ford and Chrysler in the ’60s, Caterpillar was starting to lose market share to the Japanese firm Komatsu. In fact they were doing major damage to Cat. So what did Cat do? They redesigned their products to world class standards, renegotiated union contracts, and opened new plants in the South. The result: Cat regained its dominance and never looked back. Meanwhile back in Detroit, the Big 2.8 are so far down the drain, it’s too late to call a plumber.

  • avatar

    Excellent piece.
    I just bought a Mazda 6 sportwagon built in Michigan. That’s as close as I’ll go…

  • avatar
    tech98

    Just for my own edification, could anyone explain why MIT’s business school, one of the best in the world, is called “Sloan”?

    Alfred P. Sloan’s grubby philosophy is part of GM’s problem: “We make profits, not cars”.

    The Manichean MBA culture at the Big 2.x reduces everything to accounting spreadsheets; it’s how you end up with corner-cutting mediocre fleetmobiles that sit and sit on dealer lots.

  • avatar
    TheNatural

    It has become American to hate American, tell me how weird that is?

    The auto industry is now a global industry. Most main stream car marquees have plants set up in America. They hire American workers and learn to respect the American dollar.

    I worked for Dell for many years. When we started, all customer service and sales were in America. However, people started complaining about high cost of computers and there came a point when computers needed to be priced for everyone. In order to still turn a little profit, sales and customer support shifted over seas. Next thing you know people are complaining about phone messengers with accents.

    If you are going to hope or even don’t mind seeing the downfall of GM, Ford and Chrysler, don’t be surprised when things change. If you now have to deal with “accents”. No one needs to feel forced into buying American, but at least consider it. Why should the Big 3 pump money into product development when you won’t even look at the cars? Why not cater to rental fleets and the bad credit, low money customers who have no other choice. Middle class American’s need to show the Big 3 that if they build it, you will come.

    You can’t beat a dog over and over, then expect him to eat when you extend your arm out with food.

  • avatar
    GUBBA12762

    I work @ a Chevy dealership in the service dept. GM should be ashamed of the garbage they sell. I make my living off of fixing thier garbage. Thanks to all of you who still buy American. By the way, I drive an Accord.

  • avatar
    Buick61

    American cars aren’t the disaster some seem to wish they are.

    To wit, the 2008 Cadillac CTS is a no excuses American branded, American built car. The same is true for the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Cadillac SRX, Saturn Outlook, Jeep Wrangler, Chevrolet Corvette and even the Ford Taurus.

    Of course there’s plenty more than that (GMT 900 SUVs and the (albeit Canadian built) LX Chryslers), but they just go to show that not every American car has a better Japanese alternative.

    I’m an American first, and a car enthusiast second. In the past, that may have meant that I would be doing a disservice to the latter to appease the former–that’s no longer true, and hasn’t been true for much of this decade.

  • avatar
    tulsa_97sr5

    TheNatural wrote:
    You can’t beat a dog over and over, then expect him to eat when you extend your arm out with food.

    I think you are directing this towards us consumers, but I think it’s more apt to say this to the US automakers. As a consumer I feel completely entitled to starve the big 2.8 of my cash till I’m satisfied I won’t get burned. Personally it’ll take a lot more than a few years of promising JD Power surveys till I’m convinced.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    TheNatural, it’s not about hating American. In fact, the opposite.

    It’s all American, in fact, to go with what is a good product. It’s called the freedom to choose.

    We don’t live in stalinist East Germany or Russia where hopeful car buyers paid $25,000 equivalent for what could be had in the UK for $3000 (a Lada or a Wartburg). Not to mention the fact that we don’t have to pay up front (the entire cost of the car), wait 5 to 10 years and then not even get a color choice! Ain’t communism great? NOT.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    Well, I do want to say one thing. All car companies have bean counters. The question is, why do those in detroit allow cost cutting to equal a poor quality vehicle. There is forgivable cost cutting and that which the 2.8 do.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Glenn126 is right
    This corperate welfare has got to end in this country. Buy the best car in the market and FORCE them to change or die. I can’t afford to support them and I shouldn’t be forced to.

    I buy products/services from companies I want to support because: they are HONEST hard working groups of people, that care about there employees and clients, strive to be the best at what they do and are not driven by greed.

    Which one of the Big 3 fits in there? Why should I support a company that is based on greed and mistrust. I have values too and I have no interest in supporting that no matter how many people they employ or revenue they bring into this country.
    Things really need to change in this country and by excepting the crap you do nothing to change it. You just keep the cycle going.

  • avatar
    TaxedAndConfused

    1. Make cars people want.
    2. Make them well.
    3. If in doubt over anything see rules 1 & 2.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    Why dont we all face facts and admit that GM, Ford, and Chysler have always built and sold subpar products to the American public.
    For the cosuming public to come to the realization that GM, Ford, and Chysler cars were poorly built they needed to experience the products from some outside competition.

    Before the 1960s and the influx of foreign made cars, the big three simply competed against each other all adhearing to the same piss-poor standards. Domestic automobile were built to serve a customer base that was flush with cash flow and could afford to indulge themselves on a new oversized, overstuffed, chome laden “parade float” every few years.
    In all fairness the big 3 built cars to satisfy this business/ culture model. Indeed it was a model that produced cars that lacked value, real and preceived.
    Foreign cars from the likes of VW and Toyota during the 1960s had the profound effect of changing the automotive culture in the USA more than the fact that they might have been better built. VW and Toyota introduced the average American Joe to the idea that a car is not a disposable fashion statment like a pair of sneakers but can be built to be last and actually be taken seriously.
    Once cars like the VW Bettle, Volvo 140/240, Toyota Corona, BMW 2002, Honda Civic, etc. started to arrive in the USA Americans began to open their eyes to cars based and built around solid engineering, driving dynamics, and utility. These cars would have gained marketshare in the USA regardless if they were built better than domestics or not.
    Lets not forget about such brands as Alfa Romeo, Fiat, MG, Peugoet, Opel, etc. In addition to the major foriegn players that are still around today these companies also played a major role in changing Americans tastes in autos. Remember Detroit had NOTHING to compete with these type of cars during this era.
    As I have mentioned before American cars from the 1950s to 1970s can be considered nothing but glorified parade floats. Just about all domestic cars were built using the same already obsolete formula of simply attaching a overwourght design study to the same ole crappy frame, live axle, and inefficent OHV engine. By the 1970 the dimensions and proportions of the average domestic automobile were unattractive at best.
    By the mid 1970s the domestics were being outclasses by smaller, lighter FWD cars that had MORE interior room and better performance than the average 4000 to 5000lb domestic. Honesty cars like the MB 450sel, Honda Accord, and Saab 99 were making the domestics look and feel hopelessly old fashion.
    Look, we can wax nostalgic all we want about the good ole days of domestic automobile dominance, but it is important to keep everything in prospective. It was NOT just the issue of quality that killed the US auto industry. The matter of product can not be overlooked.

  • avatar
    AGR

    Excellent article with a thought provoking perspective.

    The automotive industry powered North America to prosperity after WWII, and created a viable middle class. Its all at least 1 generation ago, and its not coming back.

    Are people in the Automotive Business or the Career Business? Do they make corporate or personal decisions?

    A generation ago it was too easy for the domestics to make serious money, and it started going downhill on the guise of conserving profits.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Thanks for the stats/ specs.Not a whole lot of difference Eh?The Malibu is gonna give the ugly ass Camry a run for its money.Maybe not beat it,but its gonna be a reminder that the American car companys are still here.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    Our forefathers may have dumped British tea into Boston Harbor, but they then turned to importing coffee instead. There’s nothing American about coddling an incompetent industry that serves customers poorly. That “social contract” doesn’t apply to me.

    And frankly I can think of few things more antithetical to the American ideals of freedom and opportunity than a labor union, which exists to shut out other people from job opportunities in order to coopt excess money for the favored few who are in the club, and so to grab an unfair share from consumers.

    In any case, I think the what the US auto industry needs is entirely new companies to come into existence, not affiliated with the Big 3. Because I don’t think Detroit can be saved.

  • avatar
    Orian

    The reason the big 3 and many other companies get taken out to the slaughter house so often by competition is because they don’t sweat over the little details like the Japanese do. Many American (and other countries) companies are of the attitude that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it or better yet the old it’s good enough attitude.

    All successful companies, especially in manufacturing, have obsessed over details, including the little things like panel gaps and opening and closing a door 10,000 times to make sure it never fails. I can count a few domestic autos that could have used that kind of attention on their doors over the years.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    My European colleage currently drives a nearly new rental Dodge Avenger.

    On the window is a sticker declaring the car to have been “Assembled with Pride” by the UAW workers at the Sterling Heights assembly plant.

    Giving the car’s design quality a once-over, it’s hard to see why anybody would want to buy American. However, I remember the Magnum and 300C as feeling much more substantial in the way of quality.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Gee, can I get a Malibu with a manual tranny, and a high-output, yet efficient 4-banger?
    Oh, and make it a Sport Coupe…
    (I didn’t think so).
    That new Accord Coupe is one schweet ride, I wish that Detroit could come close.

  • avatar
    Buick61

    whatdoiknow1:

    You talk about nostalgia’s role in making the domestics seem like good cars in retrospect, yet you completely fail to discuss how truly awful the first Japanese cars were, when they came to this country in the 1950s.

    The Japanese cars didn’t just show up all awesome and game-changing and eye opening as you seem to depict. They were underpowered, unreliable, noisy, undersized, weirdly designed, poorly styled, junk boxes. The American cars were superior in nearly every way. It took them a decade of benchmarking and revisions and improvising to come out with a decent product.

    They sold because they happened to be on the market when the first Oil Crisis hit. That was lucky for them.

    You have a fond recollection for the first Civic. Sure, mechanically the car may have been a peach to own, but the Honda sure didn’t know the first thing about rust prevention, as those cars were highly prone to being eaten alive by rusticles.

    People act like GM, Ford, and Chrysler didn’t have anyone pushing them to make better cars until the imports burst onto the scene in the ’50s and ’60s with such superior products. That’s riotous. They had each other to do battle with. Competition is competition, regardless of the country of origin. The American made car was in a constant state of improvement. A car from 1935 was better than its 1930 counter part. A typical car from 1955 was better than its 1950 antecedant. The industry wasn’t stagnant before the Japanese and Germans started shipping cars over, and it hasn’t been stagnant since. (Ok, maybe for a couple years in the ’70s, and I don’t know what was going on in 1988, but it wasn’t pretty.)

    So, it would seem, you can wax nostalgic both ways.

  • avatar
    50merc

    “…opening and closing a door 10,000 times to make sure it never fails” Golly, that brings back memories. Like going to a dealer to see the then-new Vega–and having the door handle come off in my hand when I tried to get in the car. And the new ’69 Impala my mother in law bought. She got it home OK, but the next morning when she opened the door it fell on the ground!

    But every source says quality has improved a lot since then. GUBBA12762 said “I work @ a Chevy dealership in the service dept. GM should be ashamed of the garbage they sell. I make my living off of fixing their garbage.” Can you give use some specific examples of “garbage”?

    Is it longevity (durability) that’s the problem? My Ford minivan’s transmission blew up at 60,500 miles. The repair shop (and independent, not a Ford dealer) showed me where it failed. There’s a shaft that takes the power from the torque converter. It looks awfully lightweight to me; just a thin metal tube with stamped recesses instead of gear-like cogs. The shop owner said “manufacturers don’t want their stuff to last; they make their profits selling repair parts.” If that’s the case, Detroit will get little sympathy.

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    Tony,

    Thank you for the great editorial.

    The first thing that I thought about after reading it was how wrong your friend was about small details. Sure, we all have more to worry about in life then body panel gaps. But, as the saying goes, it all boils down to the details. If Americans don’t sweat the details when they build cars, or make clothes, or shoes, or TVs, or computers, or even when we decide when to start a war, then we will suffer the consequences.

    If we don’t sweat the details, our bridges will fall down, our airplanes will crash, our food and medicines will poison us, our workers will be injured or die on the job, our children will turn out to be fat, debt-ridden TV zombies, or even worse, dittoheads.

    China has a 30 year plan to become the strongest economy on earth. It is not a secret. I have seen powerpoints showing their progress including the number of engineers they graduate, how much they invest in higher education, and many other factors.

    If we don’t watch our back, the world will pass us by.

  • avatar
    Nemphre

    shaker,

    I just wish the Accord Coupe would stop growing. The last gen was too cavernous to have a sporting, cozy, feel to it. Now I see that the new model is even bigger. Meanwhile, the more fittingly (no pun intended) sized TSX is only available as a loaded and somewhat pricey luxo mobile, which I don’t want, and the Civic has a whacked out interior, and doesn’t have the hot engines. Where’s my Prelude/RSX replacement?

    But you’re absolutely right that Detroit doesn’t make anything even close.

  • avatar

    >>>But what if we had? For many of us who dodged that bullet, the prospect is almost unthinkable. Buy that crap? With my money? As mediocre as Detroit iron is today, it was unspeakably worse before the pressure of foreign competition.

    Exactly right. If we all had bought American, we’d be driving junk. Today’s American cars are much better than those of yore because of the Japanese competition.

  • avatar
    hal

    Autos aren’t T Shirts or TVs – someone will always be able to make a profit building cars in the US and selling them to Americans – maybe just not Ford GM or Chrysler.
    Phony patriotism used to sell cars is just insulting.

  • avatar
    86er

    As a truck, not car buyer, this discussion isn’t particularly germane to me, as the American manufacturers haven’t fallen down in the full-size truck market and as such I still purchase their products with confidence.

  • avatar
    powerglide

    slateslate:

    Hey, if you’re still about, yes, Chevy did use AN AMERICAN REVOLUTION as a slogan but then, Chevrolet of India used AN INDIAN REVOLUTION (no longer, but I think Jalopnik or someone preserved the page–Google it).

    Not sure if that makes the General more, or less hypocritical in your eyes, but I take your point.

    If it’s any consolation, “America” comes from Amerigo Vespucci, Italian mapmaker…

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    Kevin said:
    “And frankly I can think of few things more antithetical to the American ideals of freedom and opportunity than a labor union, which exists to shut out other people from job opportunities in order to coopt excess money for the favored few who are in the club, and so to grab an unfair share from consumers.”

    I can think of many things more un-american than labor unions. Beginning with outlawing them. Slavery, prison labor, child labor, no labor protections, no job safety, those are just a few.

  • avatar
    LoserBoy

    These idiots didn’t just take down their own companies. They’ve grievously wounded their whole country and its future.

    I keep hearing this claim, but seeing as the country’s GDP is over thirteen trillion dollars, I have a hard time believing they’re capable of striking a mortal blow.

    carlos.negros says:

    I can think of many things more un-american than labor unions. Beginning with outlawing them. Slavery, prison labor, child labor, no labor protections, no job safety, those are just a few.

    Outlawing labor unions, I agree, is un-American. However, it’s equally un-American to compel a person to join a union, or to compel a non-member to pay dues to a union.

    As for the remainder of your examples…

    1. The United States was built on slavery. It’s a terrible fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. (Another fact: Technically, slavery is still constitutional in the United States. Look for the word “except” in the thirteenth amendment.)

    2. Prison labor still happens. (That same pesky amendment.)

    Maybe those two are un-American, but they’re a significant part of America’s heritage.

    3. There’s nothing particularly wrong with letting children work. A kid mowing his neighbor’s lawn is “child labor.”

    4. “Labor protections” is kind of vague. I can’t comment because I don’t know quite what you’re saying.

    5. I’ll agree that it’s important to take precautions to prevent unnecessary injuries. But some jobs are inherently dangerous, and unless you’re going to argue we outlaw them, it doesn’t make sense to call them “un-American.”

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Tony,

    Your editorial strikes several nerves.

    First, I live in Lansing, MI. where we used to make Oldsmobiles, and still make other GM cars. There is still a strong feeling among people here that one should buy GM to support the local economy. (Though most of what is made here is priced beyond the average joe) We havn’t been hurt like Flint has, but there is a very real understanding that it doesn’t help the local economy to buy something made in OH or TN.

    Second, the competition is only nominally foreign for two reasons; One, The transplants are investing in this country, and Two, the engineer who taught the Japanese how to build quality was an American.

    The transplants are using their capital to invest in America and create jobs here – albeit non-union jobs. Meanwhile the D3 move jobs to mexico (and elsewhere). Personally I no longer think of Toyota or Honda as “foreign”. To me they are just as American as GM/F/C.

    Dr. Deming was an American who tried, unsuccessfully at first, to get American companies to listen to him. He was sent to Japan after the war and they listened to him. Essentially one American engineer has outsmarted all the other American engineers, and MBAs. I realize I’m over-simplifying, but to a very large degree, the success of the transplants is due to American genius. The only reason anyone is upset is because of the foreign sounding names of the companies. If say AMC had embraced Demming, let’s say in 1959, no one today would be upset that Kenosha had become the epicenter of the American auto industry. The D3 listened to Demming breifly, and Ford in particular really benefited from following the plan, but then they all seem to have developed ADD.

    I agree with you that a handful of smug men have badly injured the American economy. I’m never really all that gung-ho for laissez-faire, because the decissions made by the fortune 500 impact the entire nation, not just a single business entity. No, I’m not a Commie, but I recognize that considerable economic power is weilded by men we who we didn’t choose to run our economy.

    I don’t know that the American auto industry has ever been all that well run, and certainly hasn’t been on the cutting edge very often. ‘Ol Henry the first nearly ran FoMoCo into the ground by sticking too long with the outdated T. And no greater bean counter ever existed than HF. He even went so far as to make his suppliers ship things in boxes of exacting dimensions – “coincidentally” when disassembled, these boxes provided wood of exactly the dimension needed for Model T floor boards.

    When Henry came out with the A in ’28 it was already an obsolete car compared to the Chevy. With Chevy you could get a 6 and you got juice brakes. For an engineer HF had some really quirky ideas about brakes. (Might have been better to have an MBA in charge?)

    Chrysler was born out of the ashes of Maxwell-Briscoe and has more or less been going out of business ever since.

    GM is the only domestic that I’d say was ever well run, at one time.

    I’d like to leave one additional thought for the automotive congnescenti here on TTAC – believe it or not, there are literally millions of people (well, ok hundreds of thousands anyway) who are completely satisfied with their GM vehicles. Many are even piston-heads. They are not necessarilly mouth breathers or high school dropouts. Somehow, GM is actually making many thousands of customers happy. I don’t really disagree with all the GM (and Ford and Chrysler) bashing that goes on here, but it’s always good to be reminded that one’s own opinions are not necessarilly reality.

  • avatar
    GUBBA12762

    Re: 50Merc
    All day long I am replacing a/c compressors, window motor-regultors, instrument panel clusters, radios, etc on vehicles that are under warranty or have just passed warranty. Customers are outraged at having to replace these items so soon. If it happens under warranty, they wonder what will happen when the vehicle is out of warranty. When it happens just outside of warranty they are really po’d. The outsourced component quality is extremely poor. Then there are the items that GM has no fix for. For example, on the ’07 Silverados a/c that makes excessive noise and “beaming” issue.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    I think that a country’s products are to a reasonable degree a reflection of the country itself. China is in the news now because its regulatory shortcomings have had an effect on the quality of its products, to its great detriment. We in this country have had it our way for a long time, and seemingly we’ve developed some unfortunate habits. Nowhere is this more evident than among those who run things, though one would have to concede that they do pretty well for themselves at least.

  • avatar
    cooper

    In my opinion America cannot build a Prius competitor, until they build a Civ/Sen/Corolla competitor. I was all GM once, and my service issues and Dealer treatment ended it fast.

    The big 2.8 need to get back to basics before they tackle vehicles they simply cannot build, they have shown us that countless times.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Thanks, GUBBA12762, for the extra information. I’ll look more favorably at buying an extended warranty next time.

    LoserBoy, slavery is indeed unconstitutional in this country. That was the purpose of the 13th amendment, and the slaves in Kentucky (the only remaining slave state at ratification) were freed thereby. The term “involuntary servitude” was used because it is broader than slavery as a legal concept. As a result, threatening someone with harm to obtain their labor is unconstitutional. But telling a convict in prison to make license plates isn’t unconstitutional.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Whenever something can be found to still be made in the USA; I’ll still pay a premium for it.

    In my case, sub in ‘North America’ for ‘USA’, but damn that’s getting hard to do. The exception though is cars. As has been pointed out before, even if they match or even slightly exceed the Japanese or Koreans, why take a chance? They have to pull off something vastly better to even get me in the showroom. I think they could, but haven’t yet, and time is getting short.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I was shocked at the things which failed on our Olds minivan in the few 10s of thousands of miles after the warranty expired. Front headlights fogged up due to vapor leakage. Rear windshield wiper motor failed. A/C condenser failed. Intake manifold gasket failed. It was completely unacceptable to have all these expensive failures on a 3-4 year old car which had been used and maintained with care. We replaced it with an Accord which now at almost 70k miles has needed oil, tires, brake pads and windshield wiper blades. The one strange electrical problem it had post-warranty was repaired at no cost to us because Honda had identified it as a high failure rate item and unilaterally was covering the repairs as a goodwill move. GM doesn’t know the meaning of, nor the value of, customer goodwill.

    Now if I were in the market why on earth would I consider the 2008 Malibu instead of the 2008 Accord? The social contract mentioned earlier should include the idea that if American A buys a product from American B, then American B owes it to A to give him the very best product anyone is capable of providing for that price. For years the US companies have been all take and no give to their customers.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Its not that US automaker’s cars exceptionally bad, just that they are aren’t quite as nice the 02 Focus has 97k miles on it an hasn’t developed as much as a squeek yet – the 300 I rented didn’t put a foot wrong in torrential Washington State rain at 85-90 on the way to Olympic National Park (fun roads there).

    The MBA degree is only good for the universities issuing it (those nice grounds don’t landscape amd manicure themselves), The best schools are Harvard, Chicago, Stanford, MIT, Kellogg (Northwestern), and Wharton (U of Pennsylvania) but they are really only good for the contacts you may make.

  • avatar
    Rastus

    One of the biggest lies perpetrated on the American public is the idea that it is considered “American” to buy 3rd-rate, crap vehicles.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The US automakers do NOT represent what is good of America. When I think if the BEST America has to offer, I look back on its proud history of accomplishments: Apollo lunar missions (to this day, only America has stepped on the surface of the moon), the rich history of Aviation founded in So. California (Lockheed SR71, and many others…my personal favorite being Lockheed’s Constellation….tell me that’s not a beautiful aircraft…

    http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.theaviationzone.com/images/vintage/c121/bin/c121_10.jpg&imgrefurl=http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/printthread.php/Board/globalvillage/main/32667/type/post&h=400&w=800&sz=62&hl=en&start=12&tbnid=9g2MJSQ8nivDPM:&tbnh=72&tbnw=143&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dlockheed%2Bconstellation%26gbv%3D2%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

    )

    Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Apple Computer, Intel Corporation, many *MANY* other WORLD CLASS companies have been CREATED *AND TAKEN THE WORLD BY STORM* in the same time it has taken GM’s *Management* to, yes(!), DESTROY GM!!

    What else? Well, the EARLY days of Detroit, yes they TOO were something to be proud of.

    But this is what I think when I hear the word “GM”:

    http://www.livable-neighborhoods.org/images/junker/02_junker_002.jpg

    And please, I’m trying to say this as kind-hearted as I possibly can, but I’ve heard it first-hand how we “owe” GM members a living.

    Yes, I have.

    If that doesn’t represent Stalinism, then I don’t know what does.

    That rag-tag Hyundai has made something of itself of the past 20 years, why can’t GM?

    Excuses, false patriotism, false promises, misguided “truths, and a culture based upon welfare…that’s what GM represents to most American’s who get up in the morning and put in an honest-day’s living.

    For GM to be hinging it’s future on the labor and sweat of Holden and Daewoo is an utter disgrace…and I mean that most sincerely.

  • avatar
    mrcknievel

    I’ve got a Sebring for a rental while I wait on my car to arrive..and I’ll tell you..this thing creaks, groans, rattles, and whines way too much for a vehicle with only 13k miles on it.

    At the end of the day I’m starting to wonder if the big 2.8 are going to live through their current catch 22…it’s starting to look like they can’t afford to build the car that they can’t afford NOT to build.

    I’m going to check out the new CTS and I’m honestly hoping for the best..Cadillac is reaching for the stars by targeting BMW, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say a little part of me would love to see them with a dog actually in the fight…hopefully the test drive will stop me from looking up the road the uber dealers.

  • avatar

    While I don’t think things are as dire as you imply for the Big 3, it is a very tough environment for them currently, and will probably get even tougher in the near future.

    One of our writers is doing a series called The Long Road Down, which is sort of a thumbnail history of the Big 3′s decline (or, as some of you may wish to call it, their autopsy). You can read it HERE if you’re interested.

    Finally, I wish to point out to all that that the Big 3 domestic automakers are hardly one amorphous blob – they are at various stages of improvement and/or duress. Personally, I’ve become enamored of what I see out out of GM lately from a new product perspective. Is it always the best in the segment? No, but it is credible and competitive for the most part. Huge improvement just from a few years ago.

    B Moore – Autosavant.net

  • avatar
    James2

    When I was 15 yrs old in 1980 (you do the math) my parents bought a new Ford Mustang. I was excited, but that was before I got to drive it (learners permit and all). A crack developed in the panel on each side of the rear seat. Dealer said “they are all like that.” After examining other ‘Stangs, the answer was, unfortunately, yes.

    This was not a Mustang that liked to go for a drive. While Nissan was equipping the ’80 200SX with fuel injection and twin spark plugs (my folks liked the SX but couldn’t afford it) the Ford labored forward with a ONE-barrel carburetor to feed six inline cylinders. Every mechanic in the phone book could not fix the constant stalling.

    Then, one day it rained cats and dogs, and the damn wipers failed. FAILED! While we were on the freeway!! From that moment on my parents said “We’re buying Japanese.” And this was from my dad, who’d been a Ford guy since the sixties.

    It is sad in a way that the Big 2.75 is slowly dying in their home markets, but they collectively burnt a lot of people over the last few decades and, therefore, they have no right to expect repeat business from any of them, my parents included.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    mikey:

    In 1982 our family had an B-body Chevy Impala Wagon, 4100lbs, 5.0L V8, and a new Honda Accord sedan, 2100lbs, 1.7L I4, 71hp. 25 years later, the cars that carry their nameplates have converged in the marketplace. Who would have thought that then?

  • avatar
    jurisb

    detroit is slowly approaching the event horizon, the line beyond which nothing escapes the Fatima claws of total annihilation. America, before you blame mba, or top-arrogant CEOs , look at it from other prospective. none of the companies that are involved in non- precision manufacturing have failed. does the colgate -palmolive or Kellogg`s have different kind of executives? does gillette have a miracle guy? no, as an irony, only whenever it deals with precision mechanisms, and tangible physical appliances that are complex- united states fails. Why has IBM quitted manufacturing computers, concentrating on services? because they can`t keep up with competition. why there is no single tv set manufacturer from usa? any dvd cameras, vhs manufacturers? any high end photo cameras?
    detroit is the same. american manufacturing companies fail for one reason, their obsoletness/ lack of quality is too visually perceptible. could you tell that colgate gel is better than british aquafresh? how? well, but stalling stallion from still-standind detroit is too evident. mechanical failures don`t have justifications to whether national tastes or patriotism. now detroit wants to become the mecca of gambling( while the real Mecca is building al Abrait towers), pouring 1.5 billion in casinos. people make money the way, they are able to, if they can`t manufacture a tv screen or a headlight , they service gambling or something else easy -money -way. America is swollen, swollen from fat, obese little hands that are only able to grab a kfc nugget. how can you fight japanese onslaught in technologies, if you can barely fight your sweating overweight bodies. how do you expect your sons to manage a stamping workbench if they have tasted the easy money of making rap songs, moving lawns or running golf courts? A country where achievement has a zero value over a greenback, is destined to shrink. the whole country is twitching to avoid any real tangible engineering, that`s why anything created by a us-based company is perceived as a miracle. your i-pod is almost nothing in europe, and i-phone already has 7 competitors worldwide including samsung and kyocera. why don`t you test their products? who would have thought that even chinese and indian companies could fight with locals?
    unless you start subsidizing the whole education system of engineering and differentiate taxes of those industries that are easy money, from those that need long-term complex investment, your 10trillion debt country is doomed. the primordial bullion in which an american product gestates, and non -american does, is different. your democracy has opened gates to nations melt the basics of quality demands, so locals could for a long time make average products that could be sold, while europe and asia has long been rivaling in stiff competition of quality and diversity. that`s why a japanese product brought to usa is a degree better, and makes local companies perish. reminds me the Soviet union……

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I think what jurisb is saying is that the US has become a country with too many lawyers, managers, race relations experts, politicians, etc. and not enough engineers and scientists, particularly in the area of manufacturing engineering.

    Then again I might be reading it wrong!

  • avatar

    jurisb: I can assure you that the engineers being cranked out in the US today are among the world’s best, despite your unsubstantiated nonsense about US manufacturing. And if you don’t consider Gillette razors to be precision engineering then maybe you should examine one under a microscope and get back to me.

  • avatar
    toddk

    Yes the executives in Detroit deserve most of the blame for what has happened to the US auto industry. But the unions also are a significant chunk problem as well. I’m not saying don’t pay then a decent wage with nice bennies but come on assembly line work isn’t exactly skilled labor.

    I wouldn’t play taps for Detroit just yet. But like others have already mentioned time is running short.

    jurisb: have you ever heard of Pratt&Whitney or GE jet engines? How about a little company named Boeing? And that’s just the aerospace industry. We can manufacture all sorts of stuff, as good or better than anybody, when we’re serious about it. That’s what makes Detroit’s current situation so sad.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    You can’t beat a dog over and over, then expect him to eat when you extend your arm out with food.

    That is exactly what GM has done to their customers.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    toddk- i have heard of a little company in seattle, whose factory is soooo small that they need to trust the assembly and engineering to Mitsubishi heavy industries in Nagoya for their wings and other fiber parts. i have also heard of a little company in Seattle, that was too small to create their own Boeing 717, so they had to rebadge md-80. the small company in seattle also had made only one plane in last 15 years( let`s not count military Bird of Prey or jsf programm). also this small company was too small to have enough room to spread out and draw their rocket blueprints so they had to `borrow` them from lockheed -martin, after which they had a `warning` worth of 1bn.
    also what about general electric household appliances? can you show me where is the axact location of a place where GE tv -sets or fridges would be engineered? Isn`t that GE only rebadges japanese Tandy corp. products? or was it french thomson they were doing the label magic with? how come GE can make the biggest turbofan engines, but are unable to make small digital screen for their shelf stereo systems? why GE is offering only financial services in my country but not a single domestic appliance?

  • avatar
    jurisb

    perfect zero- the only precision engineering in shaving business for us-based company is Remington that still manages to survive. Would you really consider a few plastic parts slapped together with a chinese steel blade an engineering feat? try ripping apart a Sony slr camera. that`s where you see engineering! I believe that i will sooner walk on the moon than a US-based gillette would start manufacturing electrical shavers like remington or philips. always these coincidences……….of us-based manufacturers making only the simplest things possible. i will not even mention household electronics where us -based companies deal mostly with wires, speakers and plugs………………while their japanese companies master everything that goes between those wires.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Jurisb — The eloquent voice of gloom and doom; unfortunately, is absolutely correct. The present “bubble” in the US economy has little to to with value-added activities, but merely profit-taking by rebadging foreign-engineered products. It would all come tumbling down, but we’re saved by our enviable (?) position as the beast weapons manufacturuer on the planet. Nonetheless, weapons and Wal-Mart do not make a Honda Accord (which, indeed has grown, but somewhat older 6’4″, 220 lbs blobs, like myself, have grown accustomed to 57″ of shoulder room in my V6 Camaro). Now that I can get the same comfort in a 4cyl car that will only be a tick slower, and likely get 25% better gas mileage, I’m looking hard at such a vehicle. (Don’t even bring a G6 or Impala to the table — I’ve driven them.)

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Jurisb,
    Usually you are more entertaining. Another fact you site incorrectly is that IBM no longer manufactures computers.

    Not so. It would be more correct to say that they sold the PC assembly business to Lenovo. They got out of that business, which is actually quite low-tech, because the margins are small, due to fierce competition.

    The source of that competition? Dell from Texas and HP from California. And IBM still makes computers: the really complex, highly engineered mainframes and servers. Where they seem to have done just fine against Hitachi, Fujitsu and anyone else.
    I like your posts, jurisb, but you laid on the anti-Americanism a little thick today. Let’s stick to cars, OK?

  • avatar
    Orian

    A couple of pages back someone mentioned a US engineer teaching the Japanese everything they know about making cars. That is not entirely true.

    The Japanese are always using what would seem like silly old technology and improving it constantly. I saw a special where a factory had built upon some old toy making techniques that made a conveyor system that would move heavy parts without electricity. It was completely self sufficient. No US engineer taught them that.

    Or the other methods of engineering they’ve extracted from hundreds of years of perfecting everything they do. They are extremely methodical and take great pride in what they do.

    Unions do not look at ways to improve, at least the UAW historically has not. They demand that everyone in the union has a job and don’t you dare improve any processes that may eliminate a job or make it more efficient. So in a sense, they are certainly a part of the problem the big 3 are facing. With a reluctance to find improvements from your labor force on top of the bloated management structure and lack of sweating the details, this is what we have left.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    The fact that Dr. Deming was an American takes nothing away from Toyota, Honda, Sony and other companies which had management which was smart enough to actually follow – and continually follow – his teachings.

    http://www.managementwisdom.com/index.html?gclid=CJ-yx5GOiY4CFQYjWAod3zJ2Dw

    http://www.skymark.com/resources/leaders/deming.asp

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming

    In the Wikipedia article, here is a highly fascinating tid-bit of information about Ford, which has obviously dropped the ball within a decade of picking it up. But then, GM and Chrysler never even picked it up!

    “In 1981, Ford recruited Deming to help jump-start its quality movement. Ford’s sales were falling. Between 1979 and 1982, Ford had incurred $3 billion in losses. Deming questioned the company’s culture and the way its managers operated. To Ford’s surprise, Deming talked not about quality but about management. He told Ford that management actions were responsible for 85% of all problems in developing better cars.”

    Every GM, Ford and Chrysler executive, manager and worker needs to read Deming, and especially re-read that last sentence in the quote above.

    “management actions were responsible for 85% of all problems in developing better cars” -Deming

  • avatar
    Orian

    Jurisb,

    IBM did not fail. They, like HP and Dell have identified that the services sector is where the profits lay. You used the Gillette analogy. Let’s take that a step farther – Dell, HP, IBM, and other computer manufacturers sell their desktop and laptop computers for barely a profit. They make their money on the warranties to the end users and the services that they sell to the business world. Dell oddly made a statement in regards to the X-Box when it first came out – they stated that they would not manufacture the thing if they couldn’t profit off the games like MS was going to. Michael Dell used the analogy that he wasn’t going to sell the razor for a loss if he couldn’t profit off the razor blades.

    One thing people tend to forget about economics is that they change every so often. This country first started off as an agricultural based economy, then moved to industrial. We are now primarily a service and information based economy.

    The reason for that is that as we have grown it became cheaper to have other parts of the world manufacture goods as they transitioned from agriculture and into the industrial age. Eventually they too will move from manufacturing to services like us.

    What is next for the US and the other countries as they progress through these phases is yet to be seen, but it’s not surprising that manufacturing is not as big here as it used to be.

  • avatar

    Orian cars are built in union plants in Japan and Korea too.
    Unions make a good scapegoat for piss poor managers and shoddy engineering on the part of the former big 3.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    if developing nations naturally will turn to services after living through their puberty years of agriculture and industrial manufacturing, who the hell will manufacture for them the goods they need. like cars and a soap to wash the car with. how come the`stupid` japanese haven`t quit manufacturing? the `retarded germans`? the `half-witted` koreans? how come hitachi, fujitsu, hyundai haven`t turned to profitable services instead of that manufacturing low-margin `junk` production like ships, cars ,robots etc. if the products in other countires become cheaper to manufacture, how come you still manufacture tupperware, washing powder, budweiser and none of the low tech companies has perished or moved overseas. how come if it is cheaper abroad toyota and honda opens new and new factories in the USA? are they stupid?
    USA hasn`t moved to service and information technology economy, who the f… needs your services or information, people need real hardware, because they watch real tv -sets, wipe their kids asses with real buttwipes and take pictures of their precious moments with real photo cameras. get this- USA is pushed to retreat in information and services economy, because they are slowly pushed out by asian rivals. the question about IBM is- is Lenovo an IBM owned subsidiary run by IBM, or Lenovo is an asian company that independently builds computers to whom IBM has sold rights to slap on a logotype. I think we pretty much know the answer….. sorry forbeing off the topic.

  • avatar
    Orian

    Sherman,

    There’s a fundamental difference in the attitude of the unions in the US vs the ones in Japan and Europe.

    Like I said, it’s not just the unions affecting the big 3 – they are simply part of the problem.

    Hey Jurisb, what’s up with the inflammatory remarks?

    As far as who needs services, who is going to fix those manufactured goods? Who is going to come and hook up your cable tv, or your satellite tv if you don’t know how? Who is going to help you troubleshoot your computer? Who is going to provide you with phone service, cable service, electricity, running water. Services, that’s who. Who is going to deliver your mail. Or the pizza that you ordered because you didn’t feel like picking it up? How about the restaurant on the corner you visit? That’s a service too.

    I never once claimed anyone was stupid. I also never claimed that no one needed manufactured goods. I stated that economies change. The US didn’t move to services and information because they lost the manufacturing war. They did it because it was cheaper to get goods that way. I also never said that manufacturing was going to go away.

    Last I checked IBM still produces micro processors and their own mid-range and mainframe computers. I simply used them as an example. Manufacturing desktops and laptops is now the same as manufacturing appliances. Mid-range and mainframes (and super computing) is where IBM excels. They sold off their laptops and desktops to Lenovo because that division was not making enough money to suit them.

    As far as the Japanese and others building plants in the US, that’s due to the exchange rate of currency. I think you should already be aware of that.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    The world’s largest maker of the advanced equipment used to make semiconductors, LCD screens and the like is Applied Materials, a US based company. Certainly they are in the business of high end precision manufacturing. A goodly number of the world’s most advanced semiconductor wafer fabs are in the US as well.

    A healthy economy is one with a diversified base, which includes agriculture, manufacturing and services. The buzz-talk about becoming a “services economy” misses that point entirely.

  • avatar
    daro31

    I think that this constant nagging at US auto companies lacking engineering talent is coming from prople who really have never been close to the real operations of any of the Big 3. IO have worked for 30 years in automotive and most recently in Quality for one of the big suppliers. I am continously in APQP (Advanced Product Quality Planning} following very well thought out processes by the BIG 3. Engineers who spend about 80% of their time doing non-engineering work come up with brilliant new ideas for both product and processes. Many of them do design and test work on their own time, weekends and late into the night because they are passionate about their work. Time after time though great work and ideas are shelved because 1 cent of cost spread over 2 million cars is just to big a number for a bean counter, who only cares about the next quarter. As long as the last signature on a project approval is the director of finace, we are doomed to failure and the slippery slope will just get greasier.

  • avatar
    Orian

    jthorner,

    It’s not just buzz-talk. Every 50+ years or so our economy changes. It doesn’t mean the last big thing goes away, it simply fades to the background and continues to contribute. But like agriculture and manufacturing, they no longer are the focus as they used to be.

    Right now the free-market in the US favors services. Look at the high salary jobs right now – Doctors, attorneys, financial areas, etc. Those are all services.

  • avatar
    BerettaGTZ

    jurisb: It’s a bit myopic to think that the US needs to be good at manufacturing everything. If the Japanese and Koreans, who culturally are extremely meticulous and detail-oriented, are good at digital cameras and the like, I say “so what?” Americans are more “big picture” types who find such minutiae extremely tedious. Americans have always been good at providing services (certain auto dealers and the airline industry nothwithstanding). So it’s perfectly OK for the US buy our Sony’s from Japan while we sell them our Starbucks and Hollywood blockbusters. And last time I checked, the US still manufactured some pretty good hi-tech stuff that sells well everywhere, Pentium chips and 787′s being just a few examples.

    In any case, companies like GM and Boeing are now doing their design, engineering, and yes, manufacturing work around the world. It’s a natural evolution of a global economy that’s becoming more and more interdependent. We can either choose to sit and whine about it or adapt and thrive.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    I think Whatdoiknow hit it on the head. For the US manufacturers to try and recreate the halcyon days of the 50′s and 60′s when they sat astride the automotive world is a mistake because, despite all the hype you hear, the cars of that era weren’t really that good. There just wasn’t much competition, so nobody had anything to compare them to.

    Buck61: Whether the early Japanese cars were “junk” or not is irrelevant because the current Japanese cars certainly are not. The thing is, even if they had quality problems early on, the Japanese companies were tempered in the fire of competition, and quickly learned to make better cars, where the US manufacturers blissfully skated along in a closed market, competing only with each other, meaning that their marginal vehicles only competed with the other guy’s marginal vehicles. As soon as the large scale importation of cars ramped up in the 70′s, Detroit started taking it on the chin and they’ve been in that position ever since.

  • avatar
    Buick61

    Martin Albright:

    The cars of the ’50s really weren’t that bad. Certain things were out of the control of the auto industry at the time, namely: rubber. Tires blew out, hoses failed, belts snapped, and bushing and mountings crumbled early in a car’s life cycle. Those cars would have been much more reliable had they had the advantage of the materials we take for granted today.

    They also needed more astute attention to rountine servicing.

    Beyond that, those sheer number of those cars left running around is a testiment to the fact that they were solid, reliable, and desirable transportation for several generations of drivers. I had a 1959 Cadillac that served as my daily driver for a while, and it was great.

    You have to judge them in the context of the times. American cars from the 1950s and 1960s were safer, quieter, faster, more comfortable, more advanced, offered more features, and lasted longer in extreme use than anything that came before them.

    But, of course, there were issues. Then, as now, consumers don’t reward shoddy products. Buick lost customers after its power brakes had issues for the 1955 model year. Chrysler Corp’s beautiful 1957 cars were plagued with various issues, and the company’s sales suffered the following year because of it (the whole industry declined in 1958, but Chrysler’s decline was worse than the average).

    As much as the success of the Japenese auto industry in the 1970s and 1980s was attributable to hard work, an equal amount is attributable to the sheer luck of good timing.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Dynamic 88: And no greater bean counter ever existed than HF. He even went so far as to make his suppliers ship things in boxes of exacting dimensions – “coincidentally” when disassembled, these boxes provided wood of exactly the dimension needed for Model T floor boards.

    That’s exactly the kind of thinking that Ford needs today – and Toyota and Honda have already probably adopted. Honda’s founder, in particular, admired Henry Ford I.

    There’s bean counting, and there’s smart bean counting. Your example is one of the latter.

    Dynamic 88: When Henry came out with the A in ‘28 it was already an obsolete car compared to the Chevy. With Chevy you could get a 6 and you got juice brakes. For an engineer HF had some really quirky ideas about brakes. (Might have been better to have an MBA in charge?)

    Chevrolet didn’t adopt hydraulic brakes until the 1936 model year. Plymouth did have them for 1928.

    The Ford Model A may have a had a four to Chevy’s six, but the first version of the Stovebolt six wasn’t exactly a high-quality powerplant. The Model A, on the other hand, was (and still is) renowed for its quality and durability.

    Buick61: I love it when people proclaim that GM, Ford, Chrysler and AMC built junk in the 1950s and 1960s, and American car buyers didn’t know any better until the imports showed up and provided them with a quality product.

    The real truth is that the imported cars in the 1950s and 1960s had serious flaws, and were inferior to most American cars in durability and overall flexibility until the late 1970s. Certain foreign marques may have had one or two salient qualities that set them apart from American cars (build quality, or handling, or safety features).

    But the HVAC systems, automatic transmissions and stereos were jokes on imported cars until the mid-1980s, rust resistance for most imported makes (especially the Japanese marques) was inferior to that of the domestic marques (except for the Chevrolet Vega), and their cars were certainly not more reliable than a GM or Ford product equipped with a straight six or V-8 and automatic transmission.

    Detroit’s problems began in the early 1970s, when it replied to the imports with the awful Vega and mediocre Pinto and began to cut corners on even the big cars and intermediates.

    And I currently drive a 2003 Honda Accord EX, so I’m hardly a “Buy American No Matter What” person.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Henry Ford was certainly eccentric, even to the point of nuttiness, but his cars weren’t shoddy. One reason for the success of the Tin Lizzy was that it wasn’t tin — it was vanadium steel, much better than what competitors used. Durability as well as price sold the Model T.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I think Martin is on to something when he mentions competition.

    Growing up the the 70′s, I had real difficulty understanding why the U.S. had 3-4 carmakers, while Japan, a much smaller nation, had 9. What I learned was that the intense competition within Japan forced those manufacturers to be stronger, whereas the American carmakers rode their triopoly for all it was worth.

    Until the transplants came and blew them away.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    GUBBA12762:
    August 21st, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Re: 50Merc
    All day long I am replacing a/c compressors, window motor-regultors, instrument panel clusters, radios, etc on vehicles that are under warranty or have just passed warranty. Customers are outraged at having to replace these items so soon. If it happens under warranty, they wonder what will happen when the vehicle is out of warranty. When it happens just outside of warranty they are really po’d. The outsourced component quality is extremely poor. Then there are the items that GM has no fix for. For example, on the ‘07 Silverados a/c that makes excessive noise and “beaming” issue.

    I had a Saturn Vue that from the beginning would occasionally make a noise on start up and spit out a green viscous fluid-not coolant, that’s red. When the Sun roof broke a month after purchase (thank God in the down position), I took it to the nearest Saturn dealer to have it fixed and asked him to check the AC system and compressor in particular due to the sound and the fluid (oil from the compressor?). They fixed the sunroof-unattached rivet-while I waited in the lobby ALL day, but told me there was nothing wrong with the AC. No explanation as to the fluid and noise.

    The car continued to make the noise while other parts failed, from the small-rails on the roof cracked-to the large-clutch cylinder took a dump while on vacation. Eventually, as I was leaving a small aircraft airfield, I heard a sound very like a single engine plane flying overhead, except it didn’t go away. The sound was coming from the rear of the vehicle making me think fuel pump. One more trip to the dealer. Since it wouldn’t do it when they drove the vehicle, they couldn’t repair it. I specifically asked if there were any TSBs for the fuel pump, and they said no.

    My brother-in-law is an engineer with GM, and he had convinceed me to buy the Vue. He followed by purchasing one of his own a few months later. Every time I would tell him of my problems, he would insist they were my fault for not providing proper maintenance. (Just what maintenance should be performed on a clutch cylinder within the first 24,000 miles?) Finally, a few months after I dumped my POS Vue, he started hearing the same sound from the rear of his Vue. He asked some other engineers at GM and they told him it was undoubtedly due to a problem with the fuel pump that they were aware of. Did GM ever perform a recall or even issue a TSB? Of course not. Just delay; after all most of the vehicles will last through the warrantee period.

    By the way, his local Saturn dealer gave my brother-in-law the same lame run around with regards to his fuel pump until my brother-in-law told him he worked for GM and was aware of the fuel pump problems. Then the dealer replaced it.

    Why sweat the details? Because they are symptomatic of a general lack of attention to the details. When going into a restaurant, always check the bathrooms and lobby first. If they can’t be bothered to keep the public areas clean, what do you think the kitchen is going to be like? If a car manufacturer can’t bother to assemble exterior components that all car buyers are going to see and judge the car on, how much attention will they give to valves, AC compressors, steering racks, etc.? Just enough to get the majority of the cars through the warrantee period.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    I also take exception to the statement that American made vehicles have always been junk. As others have pointed out, American cars became better and more reliable with each passing design cycle. To say that they only thrived due to a lack of foriegn competition ignores the “quality” of the foriegn cars both Japanese and European. Sure American cars from the 50′s require much more maintenance than today’s cars, but that is true of any car, no matter its country of origin. I’m not defending American car makers (see my post above for what I think of GM now). They made some serious mistakes in 70′s and since, but I don’t think it’s just nostalgia that makes us remember the classic American cars with fondness.

  • avatar
    86er

    They made some serious mistakes in 70’s and since, but I don’t think it’s just nostalgia that makes us remember the classic American cars with fondness.

    Plus the styling, which was oftentimes art on wheels.

    I should know. I look out the window at my 92 Crown Vic, and, no matter how hard I squint, can’t turn it into a 66 Galaxie.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Lumbergh21:

    Amazingly, Ford is even worse than GM in the “wait awhile so we don’t have to pay for as many fixes” game. They had a cruise control switch in tens of millions of vehicles that catches on fire, sometimes when the vehicle is in use, sometimes after it’s been parked for hours or days. They clearly knew about the problem in 1999, when they first recalled a few (but nowhere near most) of the vehicles with the switch. The finally recalled all of the vehicles with the switches THIS MONTH!

    That’s borderline manslaughter.

  • avatar
    Buick61

    SherbornSean:

    The U.S.’s auto industry is much more mature than Japan’s, that’s why there are so few American Automakers and so many Japanese. Through consolidation, buyouts, and bankruptcies, American companies have slowly been whittled down to the strongest players. How many American companies were there in the 1910s? 1930s?

    The same thing has and will happen to the Japanese companies. Where’s Isuzu going? How long until Mitsubishi bites it? Toyota bought into Fuji, so is a Subaru acquisition that far-fetched?

    “What I learned was that the intense competition within Japan forced those manufacturers to be stronger, whereas the American carmakers rode their triopoly for all it was worth.”

    That doesn’t make too much sense. You really didn’t “learn” anything, you just made an inference. American carmakers didn’t ride their triopoly—they worked for decades to squash their rivals. When you have 20 car makers, THAT is intense competition. GM, Ford, and Chrysler fought a better game than the rest.

  • avatar

    I was watching and listening to a local (Toronto) Show on TV last Sunday evening, the Host was trying to promote the Chrysler Mini Van 2007 as a good buy as compared to a Honda or Toyota one, the listener that called in said that he had given the Big 2.8 all the giving he was going to do over many years, so you see it will be hard to make people change, as someone has stated before, for 30 plus years the Detroit makers have been selling us Junk and we ate it up, I always thought that it was wise to buy North American vehicles until I had the misfortune to purchase my GMC Rally Van, I still have it,but now also drive a Toyota product that is hardly ever in the Shop except for regular maintenance

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    Here we go again with the emphasis on quality and/ or reliability. Q & R were only part of the problem facing the big three at the start of their fall from glory.

    PRODUCT, PRODUCT, PRODUCT!!!!!!!!!!

    Many of you are proving my point by pointing out that the foriegn cars of the 1960s and 1970s were not that reliable nor were they necessarily built to a higher standard. THEY WERE DIFFERENT!
    What foriegn competition did do was show the American public that ALL of the cars from the big 3 with maybe the exception of the Corvair were all essentially the same. Even if you were a pistonhead back than and were into American Muscle cars you had your choice of a body on frame, iron block v8, live axled, 4000lb+ bohemoth with either a Ford, GM, or Chysler badge on it. The big 3 did produce a great deal of cars but not much choice.
    Exactly how long can an company survive if it continuiously recycles the saem old formula. To think that these same fools actually tried to reccycle the same old obsolete formula in the 1990s with the SUV craze!!!!

  • avatar
    kjc117

    Well put, USA companies only care about profit, remember the quote, “Greed is Good”?
    If you financially benefit by the domestic auto. manufactures then sure purchase their products. Most Americans do not and work hard for their money and need a car that is not a pos or depreciate like a rock. I have no sympathy for the domestics.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    Tony—very well written editorial—maybe the best I have seen on TTAC—and given the sheer number of responses I think most would agree your prose was interesting and provocotive.

    I have to agree most with whatdoiknow1 (and Bob Lutz) that it is all about the product. Lets face it folks—when you boil it all down—GM, Ford, and Chrysler are losing in only ONE (and most) important area—-mid-size families cars (please don’t tell me a Yaris beater will change the game !). This is where they lost their way the most—this is where they need to concentrate. The Fusion, New Taurus, Aura, and New Malibu (looks good on paper) are a start—-but truly they need a game changer like the ’86 Taurus. I am not saying they will accomplish this task—but IF one of them does—consider it game changed !

  • avatar
    toddk

    kjc117
    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with greed. The company that has the most happy customers will make the most money in the long run.(by far) The bean counters in Detroit don’t understand that and sacrifice making a killing in the future for $1 more today.

  • avatar
    toddk

    jurisb
    So Boeing worked with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Welcome to the real world!! There’s nothing wrong with that.(collaboration) Is Honda now a lesser company for getting together with GE for the turbofans of the Hondajet?

  • avatar
    discoholic

    “The American way is putting Arab oil in Japanese cars…” Ouch. – On the one hand, “buying American” looks increasingly absurd in a world where car parts are produced all over the place, an “American-built” Ford Fusion is actually hecho en Mexico, and the “Japanese” competition is made in Texas. On the other hand, “buy local” is usually shouted at consumers when they overwhelmingly opt for the foreign stuff because the local alternative is crap.

    I can’t help question Saturn’s decision to go with this “American” nonsense precisely at a time when a) they’ ve started selling rebadged (European) Opels and b) for the first time ever, they actually have a competitive product to sell. To customers with more than 10 working brain cells, “buy American” means, “yeah, you and I both know it’s garbage, but we just couldn’t think of any other reason.”

    So far, every American car I’ve driven was either underwhelming or lightyears behind the European and Japanese competition – I think my worst automotive moment was driving a brand spanking new Impala four years ago: you can quote all the stats you like (yeah, it was big alright), but that car was just so appalling in every single way that it drove, handled, looked and felt like something the Europeans would have phased out years before John Travolta became famous. You think these times are over? Go try to buy a “luxury” Lincoln MKZ with electronic stability control and you know what I mean. (Quite apart from the fact that “luxury” in this sorry case means a bog-standard Fusion with some glittery bits and a silver-painted ersatz-aluminium interior. I’m confident the Lexus guys are laughing all the way to the bank.)

    Of course, one could use “Buy Our Stuff Because It’s the Best” instead but you know, if it isn’t…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    American carmakers didn’t ride their triopoly—they worked for decades to squash their rivals.

    That game was pretty much over by WWII — the makeup of Holy Trinity had already been largely established.

    Here’s a brief summary of the history of automaking in the United States, as best as I can tell:

    -First, a bunch of independent craftsmen and tinkerers made small batches of cars. There were probably at least 100 of these.

    -Ford figured out how to create an assembly line that was relatively efficient and how to make parts with close enough tolerances that it became possible to mass produce a car and sell it at a fairly low price. This gave Ford dominance in the US market. Bye bye craftsmen.

    -But Ford offered one basic product in one color. GM invented progressive marketing and offered a variety of features and styles, taking the lead from Ford. Otherwise, though, uses the same production techniques as did Ford.

    -WWII came. Thanks to Adolf and Tojo, the Detroit automakers got nice shiny new factories and lots of cash from Washington to build weapons.

    -End of WWII: Adolf gone, but factories still here. Newly prosperous Americans with GI mortgages and new suburbs now able to buy lots of Detroit products. They were nicely styled (even if they didn’t always work), there were plenty of them, and, for the most part, there was nothing else to buy.

    -Toyota reinvents the production model, focusing on quality control and efficient inventory management. After figuring out what Americans wanted and patiently waiting for the market to find them, while continuously improving the product, they eventually beat out Ford and have almost stuck the fork into GM.

    Ford and GM spent most of their ladder clawing time before WWII, so they haven’t found the need to be truly competitive for decades. In the meantime, they became corporate behemoths with too much hubris and not enough competitive spirit to meet the challenges posed by the imports.

    That Detroit hubris, combined with Toyota’s reinvention of the production model, has led us to the problems of 2007. A company that isn’t hungry for business will eventually starve when the low-hanging fruit has been plucked.

    The Detroit loyalists are the low hanging fruit, and they are now mostly at retirement age. They don’t have many cars left to buy in their futures, which doesn’t leave much of a future for the Big 2.8.

    Kudos to the author for a great commentary. Really well said, an articulate summary of what many Americans are already thinking. People in Detroit should read this stuff and realize that this is what they’ll need to address if they want to get their business back.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    Pch101, you’re close. Details, details. But as the “unoffocial auto historian” I have to make a couple of corrections to your thesis about how Detroit Inc came about.

    1) There have been “probably” some 5000 manufacturers of American automobiles since 1805, the first “automobile” being a steam powered river dredge which moved on land from Oliver Evans’ shop to the river in Philadelphia. Not all of these companies were craftsmen oriented, many started during the era of mass production.
    2) Actually, it was a calamatous fire at Randsom E Olds’s Detroit factory, in which one previously rejected prototype (a “Curved Dash” 2 seat car) was saved by a workman, that caused high-precision mass production techniques to be used for the first time. Olds had to find suppliers to manufacture everything and he then had it all assembled. This was the first “hit” car in the US, and even worldwide, the Curved Dash Oldsmobile of 1901, built through 1904. This predates the start of the current Ford Motor Company (which began in 1903). But yes, you are correct that Ford’s Highland Park Michigan factory for Model T cars was the first place where the assembly line (as we know it) was used. The first assembly line was for magnetos, if ever you want to bedazzle anyone at the pub with a trivia answer nobody ever asked about.
    3) Henry Ford’s Model T was offered in many colors at the beginning, and the end, of it’s 1908-1927 production cycle. It was in the majority of the middle years that it was black, only, owing to the speed with which the line had to move. A high speed drying laquer was found (in black) which meant bodies drying in 3 hours rather than days, so Henry adopted this wholesale.

    Finally, let’s not forget the HUGE Volkswagen Beetle chapter (1949-1979) in the United States, which proved that an “odd” and foreign car built by an ex-enemy could be sold – as long as – the car was built well, the price was low, parts and – wow – SERVICE – were available – and the car filled a need unheeded by Detroit Inc. Much as I can’t stand VW and love my Toyota, Toyota, Datsun (later Nissan), Honda, and all the others essentially copied the pattern that VW and their Beetle, had set up in worldwide sales. That isn’t to take anything away from the Japanese – after all, Renault was a one-hit wonder in 1959 with their Dauphine, but could not (or would not) follow through and establish quality dealers, so Renault faded away in the US…. unloved and not even remembered by most.

    Detroit Inc needs to take the Renault Dauphine lesson into account, among many others…

    But your thesis of what happened was a good short version, with a few bits missing. Nice job, tho.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    Another lesson the US manufacturers need to heed, is Dr. Deming’s.

    May I quote from the top, front page story in the August 13, 2007 “Automotive New”?

    “Chrysler takes a big h it on warranty work”

    “DaimlerChrysler paid an eye-popping 4.8 bilion euros, or $6.1 billion, in global warrantee claims in 2006…” “…also cover Mercedes-Benz, Smart…” (so it’s not just “us” in the US).

    “DCX warrantee costs were 36.8 percent higher than GM’s $4.46 billion last year.” “Ford; $4.10 billion, Toyota $2.37 billion, and Honda $960 million”.

    More interesting was their chart shwoing the percentage of product revenue spent on warranty big the big 5 automakers (GM, Ford, DCX, Toyota, Honda).

    1Q (1st quarter) 2007 figures were under 1.5% for Toyota and Honda, 2.5 to 3.0% for Ford and GM respectively, and over 3.5% for 4Q 2006 (latest figures) for DCX.

    Given that some of the damage in this scenario is by the Mercedes brand, so much for German quality, huh?

    Little wonder Chrysler had to pull their 7/70 warrantee awhile back. It was obviously costing them BILLIONS extra.

    When will these Detroit 3 (and Daimler Benz) ever learn to use best-practices? AKA the Toyota System. Answer: never. Death will come, first.

  • avatar

    Regarding the “Dauphine” by Renault I had one of these Cars too, it was the only time a Policeman came to my home to say that my girl friend who was driving it was lucky to be alive as the Car was hit and came apart like a box of Chooclates, they stopped selling them in Canada too the same year.

    With regards to Warranty claims the one about GM is a little unreliable as here in Canada there is a large Class Action suit about defective Gaskets on GM vehicles on all of there V6 engines, one that GM never owned up too whereas Ford did come good here in Canada for the very same problem

  • avatar
    glenn126

    After looking for official stats relating to car reliability for years and finding NOTHING until the Automotive News article I referenced above, I have to say that Mr Bleeker’s website is exonerated (as I always suspected it would be) and his conclusions all these years have been spot-on. Look for yourselves.

    http://www.autooninfo.info/AutoonInfo/ReliabilityInformation.htm

    I’d also found some British information previously which essentially showed that Toyota, Honda and BMW were exceptionally good cars on the whole. As in, way less likely to have you standing next to the dead thing in the middle of the night hoping your cell phone works on the highway 10 miles outside of Blatworst, Nowherseville

  • avatar
    Orian

    geeber,

    The problem related to rust wasn’t the metal wasn’t up to par, it was the trip over on the boats that did them in. I took a few classes several years ago after work and I ended up in a class with an individual that works for the Marysville, OH Honda plant (he was in the QA group). Once they realized the corrosion began on the boat over to the states they changed their coating processes and the problems disappeared.

  • avatar
    EddieNYC

    Regrettably, at this stage of the game, “Joe lives here, but cannot buy one thing American…” BYE AMERICAN is more about the country as a whole and not just an automobile industry. At 43 years old, I missed out during this country’s hey day (and its great automobiles) and now it seems the country is going to heck.

    “What does the failure of American cars to step up to the plate tell you about America?” If it was only just cars that failed: Regrettably it is other American industries, as a whole, that aren’t what they used to be. Jeez, USA doesn’t even make manhole covers!

    It isn’t as if this is a surprise:

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone.
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’.
    ….
    Bob Dylan 1964.

    ——————
    “Don’t Give Up” – Peter Gabriel, 1986…

  • avatar
    jurisb

    eddie, and it doesn`t matter if don`t give up is chanted out by Peter Gabriel or Sarah Brightman, the message won`t be delivered. Detroit has earplugs. Whatever may come, whatever may go, that river is flowing…………………..away.

  • avatar
    Rastus

    I agree, jurisb,

    You see, everyone, it is in a loser’s nature to be a ….loser.

    And besides, GM gave up…gave up on their very “customers” ….a LOOOONG time ago!

    When you give up on your paying customers, ….you know…the ones who pay your salary, your mortgage, your children’s college education….when you give up all of THAT…..you truely ARE a loser.

  • avatar
    Rastus

    For those about to rock, WE SALUTE YOU!!

    For those geriatrics who had their day in the sun and are now completely incontinent, step out of the parade and go find a nice nursing home.

    Those weepy, sappy tunes you play do nothing to address the problem whatsoever.

  • avatar
    law stud

    Buy “American” is not just about where the car or its parts came from.

    The profit is “American,” it pays for US healthcare costs and other expenses.

    A Japanese car sends the profit out of this country, even if they employ non-union workers in a factory over here.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The profit is “American,” it pays for US healthcare costs and other expenses.

    I’m sorry but that’s incorrect. For one thing, very little of the money taken in by automakers ever becomes profit. (In the case of the Big 2.8, there are no profits.) The vast majority of those revenues are used to pay for expenses, such as parts, materials and wages.

    A chunk of pre-tax profits goes to the governments where the facilities are located. The remaining post-tax profits are largely invested into assets, such as R&D and plant and equipment. A fraction of the profits are paid to shareholders.

    At this point, R&D work is sourced globally, factories are built whereever they are built, and the shareholders are generally located in western countries. The benefits are spread around, regardless of the automaker.

    Bottom line: The winners in the automaking game are the countries where the factories are located. The main beneficiaries of the automakers’ operations are the workers, the materials sellers, the suppliers and tax authorities.

    If you buy an “American” car, chances are that a fair bit of whatever extra revenue that gets generated will fund the construction of a plant outside the United States or Canada. If you buy something from a “transplant”, much of the money will be kept in the US, to the extent that parts and labor are provided here. Profit is such a small portion of the total (typically less than 6-10% of the total revenue inflows) that it should not be a major consideration.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    OK everyone, question.

    Is my wife’s 2007 Hyundai Sonata an American car?

    Apparently it was engineered in southern Michigan, styled in California and I know for a fact, that it was built in Alabama.

    Is this an American car?

    Or, is a Ford Fusion an American car? Based on a Mazda, engineered in Japan, and manufactured in Mexico?

    I vote “Hyundai”.

    Kind of a new way of thinking, isn’t it?

    But Detroit is stuck in old ways of thinking, and that’s what got them in the jam they’re in.

    So I don’t want to think “old”.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Two friends of mine bought trucks within the past year or so. One was a Toyota built in Texas, the other was a Chevrolet built in Mexico. Toyota made a huge investment in the new San Antonio plant. GM is closing factories in the US just as fast as they can figure out how to.

    Toyota makes a profit and is investing much of their profit in US factories and R&D centers. My alma matter’s recent alumni magazine featured a cover article about the many new college grads Toyota USA is hiring. Meanwhile the Delphi (previously GM) R&D center and factory in said same college town is getting rid of people as fast as they can.

    It seems to me that my Toyota truck buying friend did his fellow Americans more economic good than did the Chevy buyer. The Chevy buyer got his truck for over $7000 off MSRP, and that for a basic 4×4 work truck. I’m pretty sure that even with a Mexican factory GM probably lost money building his truck.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    When a small unknown Japanese company (Sony) designed the first mass market transistorized TV, the American manufacturers refused to follow suit. Apparently, there was more profit in service (changing vacuum tubes) than selling reliable TV’s. The rest is history. The auto industry never learned from the experience of others.

  • avatar
    friendlyjoe

    “Joe lives here and he builds cars. I buy Joe’s stuff, Joe buys my stuff, and we both make a decent living.”

    You used my name without permission. :)

  • avatar
    friendlyjoe

    Glenn 126 and jthorner have raised relevant points.
    At this stage of the game, what keeps the most money here?

  • avatar
    Umbrous

    slateslate : Buick = Recommended by nine of out ten old whities

    What’s wrong with being old or white?


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