Death With Dignity: Detroit's Sudden Impact
In the Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact, Jennifer Spencer (Sandra Locke) confronts one of the gang members who raped her sister and left her for dead. Even though the cornered perp is looking at the business end of a gun held by a woman who has already killed every other conspirator (shooting them once in the genitals, once in the heart), the gang leader taunts her executioner. "So how's your slut sister?"
Hate rapists. Love the ‘tude. Here's a felon who sees Death's blade scything towards her and mocks its master. Compare that attitude with The Big 2.8 of late. These beleaguered automakers are busy advertising their po-faced passenger cars as highway high mileage champs and Camcordima-crushers. Puh-lease.
While I'm sure there are plenty of readers ready to pronounce Detroit's passenger cars superior to their transplanted competition, what IS the point? That train has left the station. The Big 2.8 would have to crank out a decade's worth of mechanically bulletproof, class-leading cars to regain the mid-size momentum from well-satisfied Toyondissans.
News flash: Detroit doesn't have a decade. As Ford's Presidente de las Américas Mark Fields recently admitted "Time is not our friend."
Gentlemen, it's true: you're screwed. Your margins are in pickups and SUV's, the trucks ain't movin' in big numbers no mo', you ain't got the time to change focus (so to speak) and you're selling three-quarter-assed transplant wanna-be's based on price. On top of all that, you're busy rushing more milquetoast motors to market.
Hey, it's the ‘70's all over again! Gas prices spiked and Detroit didn't have anything genuinely competitive to offer, save market share. Gas prices have risen again and Detroit STILL doesn't have anything competitive to offer. And their passenger car market share is history.
Back in the day, Detroit destroyed their vehicles by trying to compete on the imports' terms, sticking diesels into piss-ant little Cadillacs for Christ's sake. And now they're doing it again.
Yep, they're building a whole range of slow, bland, watered-down versions of their once all-conquering SUVs. If ever a vehicle lacked edge, the Edge is it. And what's a honking great Buick somethingorother doing with a weedy V6 under the hood? Trying to be a bigger Honda Pilot? Fuhgeddaboutit.
More generally, why is Detroit trying to be Toyota? OK, The Big 2.8's gas-guzzlers aren't selling. That really blows. But here's an idea: go out and sell them!
The current generation Ford Explorer is safe, cheap, comfortable, smooth, powerful, versatile and handles like a dream. So when was the last time you saw an ad for a Ford Explorer that didn't scream CASH BACK! DEALER INCENTIVES! ZERO PERCENT APR! LEASE A NEW FORD EXPLORER FOR $199 A MONTH!
C'mon guys, you're staring down the barrel of bankruptcy (at best). Stop selling cars like Ginsu knives! Just look death straight in the eye and tell it to F-off. All I'm seeing is market-reactive, mileage-related come-ons. How about some ads telling people to forget fuel efficiency and buy big?
"Excuse me sir, you don't seriously think a few more mpg's is going to save the planet do you? Life is short! Do you want to spend it DOWN THERE, eye-to-eye with all those passenger car people? Speaking of which, have you ever wondered what happens when an old school SUV hits one of those new school compacts? Of COURSE you have.
"Yes, I know: gas is expensive. What if I can show you how to save enough money on the purchase of your SUV to pay for that gas? You LOVE your SUV. You give that up and the next thing you know you'll be eating soybean burgers and drinking white wine spritzers. We build some GREAT SUV's. Do yourself a favor. Do US a favor. Buy one."
Meanwhile and in any case, the fact that the Chrysler 300 was a hit seems to have escaped Detroit's import-addled attention. Hello? Can Toyota, Honda, Nissan, KIA, etc. build a big, bad, trad American sedan for the masses? I wouldn't recommend waiting to find out.
Or, for that matter, trying to sell [non-fleet] American motorists more lily-livered Euro-styled front wheel-drive mileagemobiles. Go wake up your design teams and show us what real ‘Merican metal is all about. What? You killed the Cadillac 16 and Buick Velite in favor of green machines? When did hara-kiri hit Detroit?
Will a more ballsy strategy work? Hell no. The Big 2.8 have too many dealers, brands and overheads; their continued survival demands all blockbusters, all the time. That just ain't gonna happen. But what the Hell. When you're moments away from the big sleep, it's better to go out like the Dirty Harry villain, showing a little class. OK then, style.
More by Robert Farago
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