Economic patriotism

I've never been one to wave the flag. Yes, maybe I take living in the United States for granted sometimes, but if you play the cards you're dealt, you don't whine when you get a couple aces. But reading Daniel Howes's article in the Detroit News today about Washington's attitude toward Detroit's number one industry has me thinking about some recent comments by Bob Lutz, GM's main product man and a longtime employee of the global auto industry. Lutz - born in Switzerland, I might add - gave a rousing speech defending the concept of "economic patriotism" and noting that we as Americans simply suck at it. Who more exemplifies how economically unpatriotic we are as Americans than big man George Bush himself, who, as Howes mentioned,
won't meet with the bosses of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group. But he'll sit astride a Harley, visit a Nissan truck plant, herald the Toyota engine that won the Indy 500, campaign for Republicans and then have his press secretary swear there's no snub of Detroit.
Sure, he drives a big 'ol pickup at his ranch in Texas and Cadillac builds his limos, but those press opps mean nothing when he won't say carburetor to Rick Wagoner, Tom LaSorda and Bill Ford. Should GM, Ford and the Chrysler part of DaimlerChrysler receive some sort of relief package along the lines of the bailout Chrysler got in 1979? Considering the current government's track record with the airline bailouts, probably not a good idea. But that does raise a good question: Why were we quick to hand checks and concessions over to the airlines ("You wanna legally probe passengers? Well, okay!"), but any specter of doing the same for the automotive industry immediately meets boos and hisses? And yes, the domestics got in over their heads with pensions and with concessions to the unions. They've got to figure a way out of that hole. When GM appoints one of its top honchos specifically to deal with the issue, you know 1) it big problem, and 2) they takin it seriously. And yes, it has become difficult to discern domestic from foreign lately, with Nissan building cars in Tennessee, BMW building in South Carolina and GM and Chrysler building in Canada. I grew up in Central Ohio, where Honda's Marysville plant drew workers from an hour and a half away and suppliers employed thousands. The real factors underneath this problem, though, lie in Americans' perception of its own automotive industry. We now give it the short-shrift, look on it with the same despicable frowns as we gave the imports 25 years ago, and blame poor sales on poor quality, irrelevant products and that hangnail you got on the test drive. But keep in mind that Toyota's currently going through a million-car recall, the Ford F-series pickups have outsold even the VW Beetle over each respective lifespan and initial quality studies mean crap outside of the dealer's lot. Am I here to tell you which cars to buy? No. Am I here to tell you something more than your immediate satisfaction hangs on the line? Yes. Now you tell me why you bought your car.

  1. And if you take a look at JD Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study (, you might notice that Americans’ perception of domestic brands doesn’t really match reality.

    August 23rd, 2006 at 8:29 pm
  2. I recently bought a Honda Fit. I do love my car and I bought a Honda due to what I figure must be brand loyalty. I had a Honda before and I really liked it so when I was looking for a new car, the Fit seemed to be the ideal car for me. I wanted a cute little car that had four doors and was preferably a hatchback, all of which it was. I want to point out that I did look at all of the hatchbacks on the market I could before I made a decision. I feel a little guility about not buying a domestic car, especially since I work at a bank and I see a lot of old people who do nothing but find reasons to hang out in the bank and bitch about everything(social hour). Oh, and the Fit is really cheap. And who doesn’t like to say “the fit is go”? Anyway, that’s why I bought my car.

    Jessi G
    August 23rd, 2006 at 10:49 pm
  3. I bought my Escape cuz uhm…well my dad works at Ford and the Mustang was too sporty, the Focus was too small for me and my doggy, and all the other cars were for old people (there was yet to be a Fusion).

    Buy Ford, people. My dad’s pension is the key to my inheritance!!!

    BTW Dan – You’re a Car Guy. What is your take on the quality of American cars?

    August 23rd, 2006 at 11:30 pm
  4. I kinda wanted to keep my own automotive preferences out of this, but because you asked – I get to drive a number of new cars for my job, everything from the latest Miata to crapbox Kias to the Corvette Z06. Every manufacturer has its highs and lows. For instance, if Chevrolet could build every one of its cars with the same attention to detail that it consistently gives its Corvettes and full-size pickups, it should whip the industry along. But then again, drive a Malibu from a few years ago, and you’ll wonder if the factory workers could find their assholes with both hands. I had an ex buy the Ford Focus because it was the best thing on the road in that category at the time, and hers really excelled. But another friend bought the SVT Focus and had trouble after trouble – and he worked for Visteon, the biggest Ford supplier. I personally think all of Ford’s pickups and SUVs suck like a nickel prostitute, but as I pointed out before, people (hillbillies) buy them in droves.

    As far as JD Power’s study, sure, that’s part of the reality of the current car quality situation. But again, it depends on responses from vehicle owners. It doesn’t factor in recalls, warranty (and non-warranty) fixes, number of miles driven or whether the owner just loooooovvveesss his/her vehicle sooooo much that he/she won’t say anything bad about it (and vice versa). The other problem with the study is that these people have, for the most part, owned this one vehicle for the last three years. They likely haven’t driven more than one or two other vehicles in that time. Of course, their opinions are gonna be skewed in some way, shape or form. I’d like to hear more from the people who gave up their cars in disgust after six months or a year, or from the people who switched to something else (conquests, as the industry calls them) and liked it better after six months or a year.

    Like I said, I’m not telling people what to buy. But I hate that people dismiss certain makes entirely because of what they’ve read, rather than what they’ve tried.

    August 24th, 2006 at 7:55 am
  5. A little follow-up, and this is kinda old news to the automotive community, but I’m still catching up after my recent Utah trip:

    The Mazda RX-8 has suffered all sorts of warranty problems, with a big recall on the rotary engines. Mazda dealers were attempting to communicate customer complaints about the RX-8 to other dealers in a private webcast which somebody posted to, igniting an outrage among the enthusiast site’s members.

    But as Automotive News reported in its August 14 issue, shortly after the webcast was posted, JD Power released its customer satisfaction study, which pegged the RX-8 as the highest-scoring Mazda model.

    “Those people love their cars,” one of the Mazda dealers said.

    My point exactly.

    August 25th, 2006 at 11:11 am
  6. [...] also know that some wiseacre is going to call up the post I wrote last year urging Americans to buy American cars. By no means am I saying that an environmentally conscious person should never buy a new car. Old [...]

    no, Jesus would drive a second-hand beater - Unsought Input
    November 3rd, 2007 at 4:37 pm

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