After Consumer Reports published its top ten new car list recently — a list that contained not one American-brand vehicle — there were some who pointed to this as evidence of an ongoing pattern of anti-American car bias at CR. A bias that continues to poison the waters — and alienate buyers — at the expense of Detroit.
CR bases its rankings on editors’ subjective opinions, objective data about the cars themselves and surveys of its readers. The results are, predictably, absolutely biased; no question about that. CR editors clearly prefer import cars — and always have.
But the larger issue remains: GM and Ford aren’t in trouble because of CR (or “bad press” generally). The problem is simply that both companies have not been successfully attracting and retaining customers. They haven’t figured out how to make cars that people want to buy — consistently, at any rate. And they continue to make embarrassing mistakes — such as the Pontiac Aztek “dumpster on wheels” and the bland, over-priced, “badge-engineered” GTO. On the Ford side, there were the Contour and Mystique (”Mistake”), two so-called “world cars” that this part of the world wasn’t interested in. Then there was the Mercury Cougar and the Lincoln Aviator — both belly-flops of Chris Farley/Brian Dennehy proportions.
All this followed on the heels of the late ’70s and early ’80s — an era of epic low quality and engineering missteps ranging from the disastrous GM diesel foray to Ford’s massive recalls for defective wiring and ignition modules that sometimes caused fires or stalling in the middle of an intersection (or both).
Hyundai also got some terrible press (deservedly) during the 1980s; but the company doggedly improved, year after year. Look at Hyundai today (it’s been only 20 years since the first Excels arrived in this country). No more bad press. Hyundai’s a respected brand that has absolutely no trouble attracting buyers; and it is on the verge of taking the next Big Step step — bringing forth an upscale line of high-end cars that will compete against Lexus and Acura and BMW.
What have GM and Ford been doing these past 20 years?
Toyota and Honda were also mocked when they first began selling cars in this country. Remember? They, too, just kept at it — and are where they are
today because of it.
The Japanese luxury divisions — Acura, Lexus and Infiniti — are less than 20 years old, too. They began as complete unknowns, without any track record, market share or buyer loyalty. And yet within a decade, Acura, Lexus and Infiniti became dominant players in the premium car (and truck) segment.
Why did it take GM until the last few years to begin to seriously try to
revamp Cadillac to make it something other than an old man’s car? What
ever happened to Lincoln?
Is anyone home? Hello?
These things didn’t just fall out of the sky, fully formed. It took years of hard work and constant improvement in product, value and customer service on the part of the Japanese — combined with years of indifference/sloth/stasis on the part of the domestics — to reach the current impasse.
I’m the first to laud GM and Ford for what they are doing now; the current crop of Cadillacs, for instance, is excellent — distinctive, aggressive and competitive. They are viable alternatives to their Lexus, Acura and Infiniti equivalents. The Ford 500 and the new Fusion and Milan are top-notch also.
Trouble is, GM (and Ford) should have started building cars like these 15 years ago. Had they done so, they might not be staring into the abyss — with hundreds of thousands of people on the verge of losing their jobs.
There has been a disconnect between what the market demands and what America’s car companies were willing to offer that’s only been changing relatively recently.
And it may be too little, too late.
There is absolutely no reason — and no excuse — why GM and Ford could not design a well-built small car the equal (or better) of “benchmark” small cars like the Toyota Corolla or the Honda Civic. But instead of developing the very best in technology, quality, features and attention to detail, GM and Ford sat on their hands, pawning off functionally solid but clunky and crude by comparison Cavaliers and Escorts.
Why did GM and Ford allow Lexus and Acura to come out with luxury sedans that undercut Mercedes and BMW on price but were as good or better machines in every meaningful respect — not seriously challenging them for years?
Why did it take a Japanese company to pioneer (and bring to market) the first consumer-viable alternative fuel vehicles? While GM and Ford were were frittering away untold millions on the never-ready electric car (EV-1, Ecostar), Toyota developed the Prius hybrid — literally years before any American company came close to offering one for sale to the public.
Why has it taken so long for GM and Ford to even acknowledge the problems consumers have been reporting for years with the appalling treatment they received at GM and Ford dealers? Yes, things are better now. But why not ten years ago?
It goes on on and on.
While an autopsy might be premature at this point, if GM and Ford (Chrysler’s no longer an American company; it’s a subsidiary of German industrial giant Daimler-Benz) do end up on their backs, it won’t be because of bad press, “unfair” trade practices or greedy union bosses. If GM and Ford’s cars were really good ten or fifteen years ago instead of merely so-so (or just plain awful) none of those things would matter now.
And that, ultimately, is what this mess is all about.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here