Sunday, January 11, 2004
What's the biggest difference between American cars now, and American cars at the height of their popularity in the 1950s? The cars now are bland, and inoffensive.
What kind of vehicle has kept the Big 3 in business? Big, offensive, brawny vehicles like SUVs and pickups.
In no industry can you play catch up and expect to win. The American manufacturers will never build a car with as few problems as a Toyota or a Honda. They'll also never be able to build a car that handles as well as a BMW or Mercedes. But why should they try? Every auto exec from Detroit I see interviewed, tries to compare their car to something else. References are made to JD Powers on custumer satisfaction, and how their cars never break down like the Japanese. And then when a new luxury car is made, it is immediately compared to the latest from BMW. In fact, Bob Lutz bragged about how the Cadillac CTS was track tested at Nurburing race track in Germany, where they test their cars.
But they don't get it. Why would I buy something that is like a Bimmer, when I can just buy a Bimmer? There is no Bimmer supply problem, I could walk down to the local dealership and drive home today in one if I had the money.
What American manufacturers need to create are vehicles that are uniquely American. Americans want big cars, they want cars that are flashy. What are the most popular American cars year in and year out? They're the cars that haven't really changed in focus through the generations. Corvette, Mustang. The best selling convertible is a Chrysler Sebring. Where else can you get a large car convertible, that is cheap and perfectly suited for grand touring? It's a perfect car for retirees, and it sells well to them. Americans don't mince words in their demands. The world is offended by our large SUVs, but we're proud of them for better or for worse. The Ford 500 was an attempt to do that with a car. It's big, but then they Europeanized the exterior, and they ended up compromising. Because of this, the car is in danger of becoming another Ford Taurus, rental market only.
So go for broke. The American consumer will thank you with his or her paycheck.