Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Is there a media bias against the Big 3? Maybe...

Chrysler recalls more than two million vehicles. GM a few days earlier was a recaller as well.

Are the Japanese or Europeans issuing recalls? From my own personal experience, several thousand Nissan Sentras were recalled for an engine insulation problem, that can cause complete stoppage of the vehicle. I know this, because I own a Sentra '01. Where is the coverage of this recall? Nowhere to be found.

I've wondered why this occurs, why the American recalls make waves, while Japanese recalls are not as prevalent. Many on message boards that support American vehicles, and many American executives have made light of this, and called it bias. I think there is some bias but there are other factors:

1. There are just more American cars on the road. Though the Big 3 have taken hits in the past few decades, still more than 60 percent of the new passenger vehicles sold every year are American. That means more people are buying more of the same model, and when there is a recall on that model, more are affected.

2. There is an organized auto writing industry that is in Detroit. There really is no automotive journalism in California that is as critical, or as close to the Japanese industry as the one in Detroit. The Detroit Free Press has pretty good coverage, and even though there are a lot of fluff pieces, there are also a lot of stories about the American auto industry's problems.

3. Honda and Toyota make slightly better vehicles. The quality gap is closing, but Toyota is not immune, with their engine sludge problem for instance. But it's still better. In a few years though, with more Japanese cars on the road, expect their to be more big recalls. And more coverage.

4. The Japanese are probably not as open with their recalls. Mitsubishi is famous for covering up recalls for decades. The practice is undoubtedly used by the other Japanese manufacturers, but probably (hopefully), not as large in practice. Mitsubishi has a reputation for not building as high of quality of vehicles as its Japanese cousins. But it wouldn't surprise me if there is a practice.

Regardless, these enormous recalls are a sign that there are still problems, even with JD Power reporting the quality gap closing between domestic and foreign. Reputations take decades to make or break, and I fully expect, if the Big 3 keep making quality products, for buyers of foreign cars to come back to the fold, but a media blitz like this doesn't help things.

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