Posted by: dolan | April 7, 2009

The Loss of Trust

The US auto industry bailout is a very contentious issue, and for good reason.  There’s no easy answer, no glib solution, if you have any idea of the complexity that is the modern automotive industry.  Personally I feel quite conflicted about the whole deal; American makers have been making better cars as of late, and are doing some forward thinking things, but for the most part their cars are not to the standards of imports, and their focus is scattered at best with respect to innovation.  To make matters wose, their “leadership” has been arrogant and self serving.

However, I’m not sure this is the real issue for the meltdown.  In reality, there are many, but one very obvious one to me is the loss of trust with the customer.  I watched by dad’s 1979 Plymouth Horizon literally fall apart in front of my eyes.  His next car was a 1981 Honda Civic, which ran over 100k miles with few issues.  Both my mom and my dad inculcated in me that I should buy Japanese cars, a heretical idea for the previous generation.

Growing up, I only owned one American car — a 1967 Ford Mustang, which was promptly stolen from out in front of my house after two weeks of owning it.  From then on, it was Japanese all the way: a 1966 Datsun Roadster, a 1973 Austin America (the other exception, but hey, I was overseas), 1972 Datsun 240z, 1985 Nissan Sentra Diesel, 1989 Nissan 240sx, 1994 Honda Civic EX, 1994 Mazda Miata, 1994 Honda Del Sol, 2004 Mazda Protege 5, and most recently a 2009 Mazda 5.  One theme among these cars was that they were inexpensive to run and repair, very reliable (well, except the Z), and pretty fun to drive.  Oh, and Japanese.  Looks like their advice stuck.

Truth is, when looking for our most recent car I didn’t seriously consider anything made by the big 3.  I’m aware that Ford has a big stake in Mazda, but the 5 is made in Japan.  The big 3 didn’t really offer anything comparable in the category.  The only direct competition was Korean (Kia Rondo).  If not considering buying domestic was true for me, I’m thinking it might be true for quite a few others.  In fact, there are very few people I know among my friends who drive an American car.  I can’t think of anyone offhand, but I’m probably overlooking someone.

As time goes on and my generation and subsequent ones gain in influence and wealth, and as gas prices go up, things will get worse and worse for Detroit.  Unless they figure out a way to regain that trust (start up a new company, like Saturn or Tesla?, make insanely great products?) I can’t see themselves digging out of the hole.   Next time I’m in the market for a full-size truck, maybe, but that will very likely be never.

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