Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Chose Tokyo, But Can Detroit Rebound?

It was interesting to read this story in the midst of all my car-related news this week: Two Republican candidates, in Michigan this week for a primary that took place today, vowed to help the U.S. auto industry regain some of its lost ground:
Michigan Republicans head to the polls for that state's primary Tuesday as Mitt Romney and John McCain both pledge to lead a revival for the state and an auto industry ravaged by recession.
"I will not rest until Michigan is back," said Romney, a native son who jabbed at his rival for saying many jobs among the thousands lost will never return.
"We will create new jobs," insisted McCain, who also favors improvements in federal programs for laid-off workers. "We have the innovation, the talent, the knowledge and the ability ... to regain Michigan's position as the best in the world."
It occurred to me as I read this story that, during all my recent car-shopping, I never once considered a domestic automaker, and I think the main reason was at least the perception of a lack of quality. Having just come off a year where my aging car was in the shop for three major issues, the last thing I wanted was a new car that had similar problems right off the bat.

But is it just a perception of low quality among domestic automakers, or is there any truth to that? (We'll set aside for the moment the question of which car is more "domestic"--a Ford truck made in Mexico, or a Honda Accord made in Ohio?) I can only go on anecdotal evidence, but it seems like the people I know who drive domestic vehicles have their cars in the shop more often than those with foreign--especially Japanese--ones.

I remember a good friend of mine whose dad worked for Ford for a time, and even after he left the company, the dad wouldn't buy anything else. And I also remember that those Fords were in the shop again and again; he pretty much had "frequent flyer miles" at the dealership's garage, where everyone knew him by name. Still, out of loyalty, he continued to buy nothing but Ford, and they continued to always be in the shop. (I can understand the loyalty thing to a point. My dad, retired from Shell, will buy no other gasoline unless there's none available; keep in mind that Shell stations in Houston are as ubiquitous as Starbucks in Plano. Still, I've never heard of Dad getting a bad tank of gas from Shell, and if he did, I wonder what it would take to test his loyalty.)

The jury's still out on what caused the once-mighty domestic auto industry to fall so far. Did they rest of their laurels while the once-upstart Asian companies took over the mantle of innovation? Are the unions here to blame? (I'd have little trouble citing that as a cause myself.) One of the presidential candidates blamed our own government regulations; it's probably a little of all of that.

Don't get me wrong--I'd love to see the American auto industry rebound; I'd love for a lot more of everything we consume to be made over here. But for me personally, while Detroit was sleeping, Tokyo rose up and created something that a lot of us could wrap our hearts and minds around, and, having just bought my third Honda vehicle in a row I don't see myself going in a different direction anytime soon.

So, a quick quiz: 1) What kind of vehicle do you drive? 2) Do you prefer domestic or foreign cars in general? 3) Do you think that the American auto industry can ever regain its faded glory?

I'm ready to play Tag again: In yesterday's post, I mentioned the few things I would miss about my old car. There's one more that I omitted, though it really wasn't specific to the old car per se, and it's a temporary situation: I miss using my TollTag. I've generally been very happy with the NTTA, but if I can spout out a quick rantlet here, I wish there were a way to keep using one's tag while in the interim period of new car ownership. I understand what they're doing--it's hard to combat fraud if someone has a cardboard license plate--and I have no problem with keeping new customers from opening accounts until they have their permanent tags, but it's unfortunate that already-existing customers have to be temporarily disenfranchised just for buying a new car. At any rate, I've been hoarding quarters more during the past few days than I have since college...

I'm glad I had some decent money to spend...or I might have had to buy something like the Nana Tato, an Indian-made vehicle that, at a list price of $2500, is billed as the world's cheapest car. The base model has no radio, no air bags, no passenger-side mirror and only one windshield wiper (and no AC; imagine getting through an Indian summer like that!). It's also two feet shorter than a Mini Cooper, looks smaller than a Smart in the picture, has only one-third of the horsepower of my Fit, and gives off the general impression of a Matchbox version of the Chevy Aveo that I rented over Christmas. (And no, they're not intended for sale over here.)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Michigan is best known for for being the place where, in 1896, Henry Ford built the first commercially successful automobile, using parts manufactured by the Toyota Corporation."--Humorist Dave Barry, on his daily calendar page for today.

No comments: