Come On, Bill!

Consumer Reports, published by the nonprofit Consumers Union, covers the automotive market each year in its April issue.  The next issue goes on sale March 7, 2006 and the news isn’t good for Detroit.  The technicians and engineers of Consumer Reports have given a clean sweep to Japanese automobile companies this year, virtually shutting out Ford and General Motors.  The magazine also revealed a survey of its subscribers and of Internet readers showing that the top-three most reliable brands were considered to be Lexus, Honda and Toyota.

Some of the 2006 results are shown below:

Honda Civic                             Best Small Sedan
Honda Odyssey                        Best Minivan
Honda Accord                          Best Family Sedan
Toyota Highlander Hybrid        Best Mid Sized SUV
Subaru Forester                        Best Small SUV
Subaru Impreza WRX STi           Most Fun To Drive Sports Car
Nissan Infiniti M35                   Top Luxury Sedan

Last year Ford’s Focus was named the top small sedan, but the honor was jerked when the Focus performed poorly in crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

When I was growing up in the 50’s there weren’t many foreign cars in the United States, save for a few Volkswagens and Renaults.  GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors were the “big four”.  While I love to go to car shows and look at the old 50’s models, none of them stack up to the quality of today’s cars.  My 1929 Model A Ford owner’s manual recommends an engine rebuild every 500 miles!  In the fifties if you got 100,000 miles on a car it was considered an excellent vehicle that had seen its last days.  Today you would call a car a “lemon” if it quit running at 100,000 miles.  I routinely drive my cars over 200,000 miles without problems.  The old cars rattled a lot and rusted easily.  Today’s cars are tighter and far more rust resistant.  Modern automobiles also have many features that were unheard of years ago like heated seats, navigation systems and cruise control.

The history of foreign domination of the US auto market is well documented.  In the 1970’s the Japanese were just starting to crack the US market but their cars were junk.  Nissan pickups (then called Datsun) started showing rust a year after you drove them off the lot.  The 70’s Toyota cars were laughable rattletraps.  In spite of that we bought Japanese cars because they were inexpensive.  Only the Germans were making quality cars in the 70’s.  They got top dollar for their BMW and Mercedes automobiles, which were superior in quality and reliability.

Then, much to the chagrin of the Germans, by the 80’s Japanese automobiles matched and finally exceeded the quality of cars made in the fatherland.  The Japanese also learned to drive down manufacturing costs while increasing their impeccable quality.  It wasn’t long before the Japanese started to dominate the hearts and minds of American consumers, along with US market share.  I’m not complaining about the Japanese domination of the US auto market, for I’ve bought plenty of Japanese cars.  In my opinion consumers should purchase the best products possible.  The Japanese haven’t imposed their leadership position on American consumers.  The American public has voluntarily bestowed that leadership to the Japanese companies.  A basic tenant of capitalism is called “creative destruction”.  Competent firms and products deserve to survive and incompetent firms deserve to die.
My wife and I enjoyed Mercedes cars in the 70’s until we nearly killed ourselves driving their rear wheel drive configurations on snowy Minnesota highways.  We have purchased many full sized and small Ford pickups over the years.  They were good trucks, although the Nissan and Toyota trucks we owned were fabulous as well.  For the last twenty years we have driven Acura (made by Honda) automobiles.

My wife and I quarrel a bit over this choice.  I have tried, without success, to convince her that an Acura is nothing but a Honda Accord with a fancy name and a high price.  She won’t give up her Acura, but what the heck, the darned things last forever and we aren’t frequent car traders.

My wife and I have bought many foreign nameplates over the years, rewarding their makers with our hard earned dollars.  I don’t apologize for this.  I buy a car based on its quality and value, not based upon whether it’s parent company is American owned.

A confession is in order, however.  I’m going to admit that I would really like to see an American company succeed in the auto market.  When I see Bill Ford on television commercials, I’m thinking, “Darned it, Bill, why don’t you quit trying to catch up with the Japanese and really come up with something revolutionary?  Instead of trying to keep up with them, why don’t you “leapfrog” over them?  Come on, Bill, let’s see you build a vehicle that is so extraordinary that the Japanese just look at it with their mouths wide open?  Come on, Bill, make your great granddaddy proud!”  Come on, Bill!

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