It's a rough time to be an autoworker. No, I take that back, it's a rough time to be an American autoworker. After all, GM and Ford are both chopping their workforces like they never wanted the things in the first place and there is really noplace to turn for a new job building cars. After all, American cars aren't selling in the global marketplace, and now they aren't even selling in the US. However, it isn't all bad. After all, both GM and Ford can turn things around entirely by laying off all those people who are hired to make sure that they only produce pieces of shit.
I read an article recently in CNN Money that states that American cars aren't that bad. Needless to say, I didn't buy it before I read the article and I still don't buy it now. You know, after reading the article. Not that I have any preconceived notions or anything.
The first problem is, of course, the fact that a subjective measurement is based upon quantitative measurements. In case you had not noticed, quantitative measurements can often be used arbitrarily to come to just about any subjective judgement. For instance, much as I love Ohio State and consider it the happiest place on earth (Disneyworld is nice, but it doesn't have booze and football), I do not believe that my beloved campus in Columbus, Ohio does not have the second best political science program in the country. However, if you count the total number of papers published by the faculty of any political science program in the country, you will see that Ohio State has the second most. At least that was the case a few years ago or so. Just trust me, that got counted and OSU ruled. Well, it was second place to ruling, but you know what I mean.
Or let us take music. By quantitative measurements, Irving Berlin should be the best songwriter in the history of the world, what with the fact that he wrote more songs than any other songwriter in the entire world. However, Irving Berlin is no Neil Diamond. Neil Diamond rules. And so does Willie Nelson. You were always on my mind. You were always on my mind.
Anyway, the fact is that the quantitative measurements are not all that hot. But in this case, quantitative measurements do matter, since they are the total count of reported defects. But, I want you to consider the word "reported".
I want you to ask yourself, just who is reporting what to whom? Are these defects that were repaired by the dealer, or are these defects that were reported to any repair shop anywhere? Considering that there is still some idea that gas stations and rural mechanics can't figure out how to work on foreign cars, the import car owner is more likely to take his/her car to the dealer to get it fixed, whereas the Chevy owner will not feel any qualms about having Jim Bob at the Gas 'n' Sip take a look at his Malibu when it breaks down again. Will those repairs show up in the JD Power survey? More than likely, they won't.
Additionally, wouldn't the Japanese car buyer also be more likely to spend a little more to get the car taken care of "properly" by taking it to the dealer? After all, didn't the Japanese car buyer spend a little more at the dealership in the first place for a car that is more likely to run properly?
Consider also the term of the "long term" reliability described in the survey. The long-term period of time JD Power is looking at is a whole 2 years. Just so I know, how does 2 years tell you anything about a car? Except for the cars that are subject to lemon laws, 2 years is not that long of a term. In fact, by the time 2 years have passed, an owner's payments might not have even caught up to the well-documented and very rapid depreciation of a car.
Mind you, there is some hope in this study by JD Power. It may very well indicate that American cars are at least sort of catching up to their German and Japanese peers. Of course, when the best news coming out of Detroit is, "We're not the turd we used to be!" that is not saying much. Of course, that's really the best news coming out of the actual city itself, so why not count that as good news for the industry that takes Detroit as its capital?
And, even if GM and Ford have matched or even surpassed the quality found in Japanese cars, why would they be surprised that their reputation is so slow to change? It took Japanese companies a few decades before people considered their products anything other than pieces of junk. And they did it by making quality goods now and then waiting for them to not break down. If GM and Ford are really going to meet or exceeed the Japanese or German reputation for quality, they are going to have to make cars that will last for 15-20 years, then wait 15-20 years until those cars prove their worth. After all, I drive a '93 Corolla and I can't even leave my driveway without seeing another car that looks exactly like mine. Now think about how many '93-vintage Tauruses you see out on the road, despite the fact that the Taurus was the best selling car in the country from 1992 to 1996, and was somewhere in the top three from 1987 to 2000. And as a matter of fact, no, the Corolla was never in the top 3. Think about that. Then think about the reason why Japanese cars have a much better reputation for quality.
There is one organization that takes issue with this good news and that is Consumer Reports. They recently named their top 10 cars of the year and, in that list, not a single American car was listed. This is a first for the American automakers and it really shows how far they have sunk. Not one car worth mentioning by the most unbiased and most trusted name in product reviews and consumer protection. We can only assume that GM and Ford are planning to rebound by bringing back the Corvair and the Pinto.
However, in this list, there are four cars that are actually put together in the US. One is the Honda Accord and the others I can't be bothered to look up right now. This is interesting because it is clearly not the fault of the Americans actually doing the work of assembly. Instead, the problem must lie somewhere farther up the ladder. This means that the problem lies either with the engineers who design the cars or the businessmen who make the final decisions on what parts go into the cars and how to cut corners on costs. And I really don't care who is making these poor decisions. Just so long as somebody fixes it.
In Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams describes invasive species causing extinctions in terms of the British motorcycle industry. In his example, he shows that -- for a long time -- British motorcycles needed to be fixed constantly, sprayed oil all over their riders, and were abysmally hard to steer. In other words, they were poorly designed and nobody every bothered to improve them since they were the only motorcycles available in Britain. Then, of course, the Japanese came along with their motorcycles that didn't spray oil, worked fine without frequent repair, and didn't result in death when taken around a corner. For some reason, many people preferred these Japanese bikes to the British kind, especially when British motorcycle companies showed no inclination to improve their motorcycles. In Adams' example, he shows that British motorcycle "conservationists" saved the industry because they thought these worthless machines were worth saving. And now look at them! British motorcycles have finally become obscure, overpriced curiosities that people purchase to stare at, but nobody actually drives because they are wildly expensive to maintain and riding one is akin to suicide. And it is also why some people will be surprised to hear that Britain actually has a motorcycle industry.
The moral of the story is that, if American car companies don't want to be dinosaurs, they have to learn to give people what they want rather than what they are asking for. After all, there is a big difference between the two things. People may say they want big, stylish cars with huge engines and plenty of horsepower, but they are not mentioning an assumption that they make of their car: that the thing actually runs. A Jaguar may look nice, but it's only going to look good on the road, not in the shop. And Jaguar's already small portion of the car market fell through the floor when their cars were so unreliable, even rich idiots couldn't afford the upkeep. And rich idiots will put up with a lot (see Lamborghini).
Of course, American car companies aren't just guilty of making cars unreliable. They also have a complete lack of vision, an inability to understand basic market forces, an abject refusal to learn from past mistakes, and an unwillingness to prepare for the future. Obviously, all of this entirely revolves around the gas pump.
This looks like a job for a numbered list!
Note how, in the above sequence of events, Detroit made a decision to continue their plans of building ever-larger station wag... er... SUVs instead of putting money toward small, reliable cars that don't use a lot of gas. So all we need is one more oil glut and we should be sending Ford and GM to join such automotive giants as MG, Studebaker, Austin-Healey and Renault on the world stage. After all, GM and Ford are always looking for an excuse to make big, stupid cars, so any temporary reason to build them should be enough to put them over the edge.
But, don't worry. After all, Ford and GM are going to lay off the tens of thousands of people who are responsible for poor designs, lousy reliability, a complete lack of an idea of where the market is heading, and the inability to create a car that will actually sell outside the US. Then, once those people are gone, these automotive giants will surely be back on top once again.
I was passing through the Internet and I discovered this little gem supporting my theory that American cars are still steaming piles: Consumer Reports 2005 Best and Worst in Reliability. Always nice to get a little backup.