Ask Jack: What About That American Exceptionalism?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

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)]

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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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.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.