Daily Podcast: The Geography of Nowhere
I remember when Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen were all subsets of a larger brand: "German car." Although Mercedes best exemplified what is now called the moniker's "mindspace," all three German manufacturers were known for selling better-built cars than American machines. And don't tell me they weren't. Read Arthur Haley's seminal work "Wheels" and you'll appreciate Detroit's horrifically lackadaisacal attitude to product quality during the 60's and 70's. Suffice it to say, the exploding Ford Pinto was neither a surprise nor an aberration. When VW went native, becoming the first foreign manufacturer to plant its factory flag on American soil, the results were, initially, disastrous. Fortunately for VW, the brand's German car rep was so strong the company survived its own inability to build quality products on U.S. soil. And then Mexico. And Brazil. These days, everyone builds cars everywhere. Although globalisation has forced Americans to build better cars, I reckon it's removed something important from the car branding equation. Can Alabama or South Africa build a world-class automobile? Of course. Is the result something less than a "real" Mercedes? At the risk of pissing off the entire planet, I'd say yes. I can tell the difference. In the same sense, I can tell a "real" Cadillac from a Sigma-platformed, Nürburgring-fettled, European sports sedan wannabe. Is the difference all in my head? Of course. Where else would it be?