Why Buy American?

· 5 min read
My grandfather was a proponent of everything American made for years. He owned a '85 Cadillac DeVille and a '88 Chrysler New Yorker as I was growing up. I don't remember much about the Cadillac, but I remember that the New Yorker had a computer that would talk to you and I remember that when that computer broke the speedometer and everything electronic also stopped working. We spent months waiting for that computer to get fixed. We would still use the car, of course, we would just not have any idea of how fast/slow we were going, or how much gas we had in the tank. We were driving blind. Old habits die hard however. When my grandmother asked me what car the family should get, I suggested a Ford Taurus. We got it, everything was oval shaped, just like Ford's logo. I had done the research, I had seen the car I really liked, I even had pictures of a rally version of that car. The year was 1996, I was 13. My grandfather died a few months later, and my watching of movie Westerns on video and my liking of American cars died with him. The Taurus was plagued with transmission problems that were so common, they should have placed them in the brochure. I remember these clearly since every time we had to go to the garage I would believe this was my fault because I had picked out this car. My grandmother picked it over the Volvo my father suggested, and that was a vote of confidence in me. I had let my family down by having picked a Ford. I was not going to make that mistake again. I have since owned a Volkswagen Golf, a Volkswagen Jetta and a Subaru Impreza. I have not really considered any American made car in a while, because honestly they all disappoint. The car that I picked out for my grandmother was not the car I got, it was plagued with problems and pieces ungluing. The Volkswagens were both great in that regard, I had a few problems, but mostly minor. A gas pump issue once, and an electrical issue with the back window. The Impreza was just great fun, the interiors had a plasticky feel, but I bought the car for the engine and all wheel drive. Which I still dream about today. These cars were cars that when I saw them, I could see what was good about them. I could think, wow, this car looks good and is affordable. This car is something I would love to have outside my house. It has been years since I have had that feeling with an American car. Every time I see a new concept model that looks good, I can’t help but to think to myself “I can’t wait to see what kind of watered down garbage that will turn out to be.” I understand that I may not be the demographic that American manufacturers may be after but the fact is the American automotive industry is in trouble. General Motor’s market cap is now just above $3 billion. Meanwhile the German Volkswagen AG has a market cap of $185 billion. Somehow Volkswagen has kept its value and has continued to do well in the marketplace after all these years while General Motors has found itself between a rock and a hard place. ( The ‘rock’ in this figure of speech is not a nod to Chevy trucks. ) It’s all come down to how they have presented their products. At one point you would buy a car by its brand. You wouldn’t want a luxury car, you’d want a Cadillac. This is now apparently only true in the world of Hip-Hop. The fact is that there is no reason why GM has 12 brands, and out of those 8 are marketed in the United States. There is no reason why the Saturn SKY has to compete against the Pontiac Solstice. There really is no difference amongst the two Kappa Platform based cars, even their price points are basically the same. I mention these Kappa Platform cars because I happen to find them appealing, in that they can be a poor man’s Lotus Elise. But they were obviously going after those who bought the Mazda Miata. Which were the same people who later bought the Toyota MR-2. Both cars, great sellers in the US. Instead of GM trying to create a successor to those cars, GM tried to create a competitor. It’s the shortcoming where you don’t try that extra mile. Where you just want to do what is out there and is selling well. That is hurting American cars. Ford had been working on hybrid technologies for years. Which never came to fruition. Then in 2004 when “hybrid” became the new black they licensed the technology from Toyota. It took about 2-3 years for Ford to develop it’s own hybrid technology, which it quickly used to get a whole 5 more MPG out of their Ford Escape. GM did the same offering hybrid Yukons. They are just following the trend, and even then, they are trying to make the trend follow the path that they have been cornered into. A Hybrid GMC Yukon makes no sense whatsoever and the slow sales have shown that. Which brings me to my second point. Picking what car to bring to market because of research of focus groups does not work. This is what happened to the Pontiac Aztek, I’m sure behind that ugly facade something wonderful hid. I hope somebody found it because that car was just horrible. It was a car that you’d have to just think about how practical it is because it was just not appealing in any other way. Get some good designers and try and keep that vision throughout the manufacturing process. If you go back and check what the Aztek’s concept looked like all the lines were rounded and had a very nice stance to it. The final product looked like a crushed Trans-Am. If you don’t trust your designers, fire them. I don’t want to see any more good concepts ruined because somebody from upper management who has no idea about design didn’t like something and ordered it to be changed. In fact, there’s a The Simpsons episode about that. A completely outrageous car made to look quite interesting and appealing through design, Homer crosses it out and makes it a 50s car with a bubble sticking out in the middle of it. The way to make money in today’s market is to have a brand people know. Have that brand be something people can believe in how reliable it is and stand behind that brand 110%. The days of scattershot car selling are over. People are now actually trying to save money and still get a quality car, some will even pay premiums. I think GM, Ford and Chrysler can still do this, if they start trying to lead and leave the competing to the other guys. Paraphrasing from Jack Smith (CEO of GM from 1992 through 2000)  “We’re not in the business of making cars, we’re in the business of making money.”