Ask Jack: What About That American Exceptionalism?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask jack what about that american exceptionalism

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I’m passionate about obtaining products, goods, and services that are Made In The USA. Which is not to say that I never buy anything from low-cost countries where workplace safety and environmental regulations aren’t up to snuff — to my eternal sorrow, both of my laptops are Chinese, and as many of you have reminded me, the new Silverado LTZ in my driveway was Hecho en Mexico — but in general I will pay a considerable cost in both time and money for an American or at least Western product.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m just doing it to be a total snob. Nowadays, Made In America tends to imply prestige and cost, whether we’re talking SK Tools, Alden boots, or any number of high-end, hand-made bicycles. If you’re walking down the street and everything on or about your person is USA-made, chances are you’ve spent some real money. That’s also true for many industrial goods, certain building supplies, and nearly anything with wings. There’s just one complex product where the American flag logo is attached to a mandatory discount in the minds of most consumers.

No prize for figuring out what that is…

Timothy asks,

A few years ago I believe I read something you wrote about Lincoln getting back to being Lincoln, and not trying to chase other manufacturers. It seems like they’re starting to do just that, with the new Navigator, Continental, etc. Cadillac seems to be still chasing BMW with diminishing returns. What’s your take on this now that it’s a few years later?

Well, I’m extremely bullish on the new Continental and I’m quite impressed with the new Navigator. I absolutely think Lincoln is heading in the right direction, even if the bulk of their volume comes from FWD crossovers at the moment. In a perfect world, we would have a proper Mark Ten coupe with a hood the size of a carrier flight deck and five Designer Packages, but that’s obviously in the same realm of fantasy as life on Mars and interesting matches on Bumble.

As for Cadillac, wey-ulllll, I think they have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that GM can produce a car that can humble the Germans around a racetrack. But we already knew that GM could do that, because the Corvette does that all the time. And I don’t think you can argue for any real sales or prestige benefits that accrue to the obsessive pursuit of luxury laptimes.

The problem with Cadillac as I see it, however, is this: Customers in the highline markets are extremely sensitive to authenticity. You can read some perceptive thoughts on the subject here but let me break it down for you quickly: Most luxury-car buyers have to be taught what to want, because they didn’t grow up with an intimate knowledge of luxury cars. So they are hyper attentive to any signs that a product is imitative or ersatz because they are worried about being humiliated. They would rather buy a subpar product with impeccable social credentials than buy a brilliant product that might cause their neighbors to sneer.

I’ve met a lot of GM engineers. They are competitive men who often have backgrounds in team sports and other endeavors where you call the other guy out and then you beat him. The current Cadillac range is chock-full of that attitude. But to luxury buyers, this focus on beating BMW and Mercedes and Lexus just smacks of Avis-esque we’re-number-two-so-we-try-harder insecurity and it makes them allergic to the product.

The reason I think Cadillac should go back to making Fleetwoods and deVilles and unashamedly American cars isn’t because I think those cars are more in keeping with the brand, although they are. It’s because selling vehicles that are obviously authentic Cadillacs in the classic style would demonstrate confidence to customers. Which in turn would result in more sales. I’d like to see Cadillac once again become the Standard of the World. But it has to be on their own terms. Or it’s meaningless. Simple as that.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY-SA 2.0)]

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  • Vulpine Vulpine on Sep 21, 2017

    Always loved the old Coupe deVille. The true epitome of "personal luxury car."

  • Newenthusiast Newenthusiast on Sep 21, 2017

    I'm too young to remember when Cadillac really did compete at the Rolls-Royce/M-B S Class level. I understand that making cars that are acceptable for standards all over the world makes sense from a global business perspective, but no one in the stratosphere we're discussing buys ANY of those cars (RR/Bentley/Maybach) because they are good as 'daily drivers' for discerning buyers. No, they buy them for the same reason they buy supercars: because they are visible representations of being "**** you filthy plebes" rich. That doesn't necessarily mean bringing back the Brougham and chrome, but quality of design, materials and construction. Say what you will about the VW Phaeton, that thing was a designed as a halo car (should have been a Bentley). That's the kind of precision and attention to everything the Cadillac brand should have...just bigger than the Europeans in every vehicle class. Buick should be playing where Caddy is now, and Oldsmobile (RIP) should be where Buick is now. Cadillacs should be brash, big, bold and American...but not in a 'Las Vegas Strip" way. More like the difference between Upper East Side and say....Windsor in the UK. Both have money, but are very different. The Escalade should be the idea for all their cars, in terms of looks, performance, ride quality, and options. Big, quiet, bad-ass American cruisers. Not a single one should start below the 75-85k raneg, and absolutely nothing smaller than a 6 cylinder should under the hood....10 and 12 cylinders are welcome at the top end. Hybrid and EV tech should be seamless and cutting edge when it arrives. The current line up's standard suspension and performance specs should be where the 'V' designated models start, and the current "V" specs should be the top of the option line.

  • Malcolm Mini temporarily halted manual transmission production but brought it back as it was a surprisingly good seller. The downside is that they should have made awd standard with the manual instead of nixing it. Ford said recently that 4dr were 7% manual take rate and I think the two door was 15%.
  • Master Baiter It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future. It will be interesting to see if demand for Ford’s EVs will match the production capacity they are putting on line.
  • Brett Woods 2023 Corvette base model.
  • Paul Taka Hi, where can I find 1982 Honda prelude junkyards in 50 states
  • Poltergeist Make sure you order the optional Dungdai fire suppression system.