It is true that there is some confusion amid the swirling mix of perception and reality surrounding Domestic American cars. Overall it has never been harder to buy a bad car than it is now. Think of the shittiest car on the market today. Okay, got that in memory? Now compare it to average or good cars available now. Obviously there is a gap but, then try thinking back 10, 20, 30 years ago. Maybe even take a look at the small car segment that Detroit has failed to fully embrace. Can you buy a car as bad as the Chevy Cavalier or Dodge Omni or Ford Pinto today? Made by anyone?
Where Detroit has failed is not at a level of build quality. You can’t blame lazy American workers. Lazy American workers seem to be able to build Hondas and BMWs just fine. And while the long term pension and benefits obligations are an issue for the big three, the $73 an hour rivethead is an urban legend.
Detroit has not failed at a level of technology or design. Look at how many Japanese car companies have handed major design roles to US operations. Look at how across the board things have got cleaner, safer, more powerful, and longer lasting.
No where they have failed is turning Engineering, Design, Technology and Build Quality into a range of cars that people want. Some of this is laziness. When SUVs became the rage in the 1990s (I blame OJ and his low speed Bronco chase) Detroit has an easy, quick and cheap exploitation: build a ton of these things on existing low cost truck chassis and jack up the price. When suckers would pay anything for these tanks and GM was making $12,000 margin on a Suburban it could almost make sense for them to continue selling piece of shit Cavaliers at a $2000 per unit loss just to maintain market share. Which they did. For about 20 years.
Here is another idea. Keep selling that Suburban for outrageous money. Just don’t count on it lasting. Use some of the windfall to put aside your arrogance and design a car that could actually compete with a Honda Civic.
The problem is – and GM has been worse than any with this – the right people are not making the decisions. I don’t work in the car industry but I am used to decisions being made by the wrong people, the proverbial bean counters. But at least my brain dead, business destroying bean counters have not killed the company yet. And we still make a profit every quarter. I would contend that we would make more money if half of them were put to death, but it is hard to stage a revolution when everything is fine. But I would think after 25 years of consistent driving the business into the ground GM might think about changing drivers.
Like many North Americans, my primary exposure to actually driving Detroit product is the rental market (I like to refer to it using the British term “hire car” as in “Oy Guv’nor, I can’t get me hire car past the articulated lorry on the high street and into the lift!”). And while we reached a point about 10 years ago where even the worst was drivable, the domestic product is not close to the “import”. And it is not a lot cheaper. So yes, i guess the Chevy Cobalt is a better car than the Cavalier. But I can get a Honda Civic for the same or less money.
This is not about design and implementation. It is about intent and it comes from the top. Instead of introducing cars that people wanted they lobbied to keep sneaking in an increasing number of SUVs as “Light trucks” under fuel economy rules. How about making something that doesn’t handle like a pig? We know they can do it, look at the Corvette or the Solstice? Maybe realize that just adding an OnStar button to a cheap wallowing shitmobile will not make people say “Wow”. After the first time the woman in the OnStar call center greets you by name it loses effect. And then you notice that rattle and the crappy brakes, and those shitty plastic wheel covers, and the “bucket seats” that sacrifice any support for Obesity-Friendliness” and….