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Only in America December 29, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Road trips, Vehicles.
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Here’s a letter to the editor by Larry Matulich, which was printed in the Marysville (Calif.) Appeal-Democrat:

Is there still a Ford in America’s future? Not only is the question for one American car company, it goes for GM and Chrysler too.

The future of American truck and car brands like Ford, Chevy and Dodge, and many others, now really rest in the buying decisions made by U.S. consumers in 2009. And not what the politicians decide in Washington, D.C., on a big loan for the big three automakers.

Personally I still drive an Oldsmobile, a great GM car, that is still going strong with over 200,000 miles on it. With the price of gas under $2, now is the best time in a generation to buy that bigger American-made vehicle and hit the road for a trip. I just returned from a 6,000-mile trip over the old Route 66 route to the Midwest. It is great time to see our beautiful country, and to keep these American companies in business.

Remember in World War II it was Ford that built the planes for us that won the war, and it was Mitsubishi that built the planes for Japan’s war effort. Support America now. Buy American.

I’m compelled to comment on a few things Matulich writes, plus air a few other thoughts:

  • I’m optimistic Ford will survive the economic slowdown. It had already made cutbacks before the current meltdown, and its cash position is far better than Chrysler or GM’s. And, according to Consumer Reports, Ford is building more reliable cars.
  • Matulich says it’s the best time “in a generation” to buy a large American car because of lower gas prices. However, I remember gas dropping to less than 70 cents a gallon in the St. Louis area in the late 1990s. Of course, we know what happened after that — oil prices began a long, upward trend. The current low prices will be temporary, also. So it’d be foolish to buy a big American car when plenty of smaller, fuel-efficient American cars are available.
  • I find it ironic that Matulich praises his Oldsmobile — a brand that was phased out in 2004.
  • Americans in recent decades grew weary of Detroit vehicles that were terrible at worst or OK at best. So, many frustrated Americans eventually bought cars from the quality-conscious Japanese. It will take a long time — or radical changes at the corporate level — for the Big Three to overcome that erosion of market share.
  • I made an effort to buy an American-made car — a Saturn — during the early ’90s. It was still a very good car when I traded it in in 2003. But my next car was Japanese. I was reluctant to switch, but it was hard to ignore  when guys at the Saturn dealership grumbled about the line’s sliding quality after it was taken over by GM. One of the reasons I initially bought a Saturn was it didn’t have GM’s crappy fingerprints on it. Ceding Saturn to a mediocre overseer was no way to retain brand loyalty.
  • No one is making money at cars now. Even Toyota will finish in the red for the first time in its history. The difference is Japanese automakers have enough cash on hand to ride out the hard times.
  • Interestingly, the Japanese don’t want the Big Three to go belly-up. Detroit automakers going bankrupt would badly hurt Japanese automakers because it would cause many parts suppliers to go out of business.
  • Matulich’s “they bombed Pearl Harbor” argument against buying Japanese is a tired thread amid the 21st century. Japan is one of the United States’ strongest allies and has been for decades. Ditto for Germany. Those former enemies changed for the better, and time marches on.
  • Between the first time I bought a home in 2001 to the next one I purchased in 2004, I saw a marked (and disturbing) relaxation of mortgage-loan standards. I qualified for a maximum loan amount that was far beyond my ability to pay. Fortunately, I had no intention of getting a loan that big. Look no further to this story about the now-defunct Washington Mutual to see how far loaning standards plummeted in recent years. And there were reports about the danger signs of a housing bubble three years ago. This atmosphere of lax regulation and cavalier attitudes is the reason we’re in this economic mess today.

Comments»

1. Trevor Hilton - December 29, 2008

My 2000 Silverado has 143000 miles on it, and is still going strong. We had a 2000 Blazer with 100000 miles that was still good, when it was totaled in a wreck.
We now have a 2004 Chrysler Sebring with about 50000 miles, that is a good car.

I see nothing wrong with American cars. I prefer to buy American whenever possible.

To people who say they want to buy foreign because they think American products are low quality, I say, I hope your foreign products are comfortable, because you may have to sleep on them when you lose your job because Americans would not buy from your employer.

2. Ron - December 29, 2008

The data against GM and Chrysler’s quality is strong. Both those companies have been putting out mediocre products for years, and are finally seeing what they’ve sowed.

Ford, meanwhile, has gotten its act together, and Consumer Reports says its cars are as good as the Japanese.

I’m for the auto bailout, with conditions (including radically changing their designs and business model). It’s just that the problem is a lot more complicated than Matulich would have you believe.

3. Bob - December 29, 2008

It’s interesting to read the numerous articles appearing now about just exactly what an “American” car actually is in terms of source/manufacture of parts, assembly, labor, design, etc. After a bit of reading, I’ve determined that my Toyota Camry is actually more “American” than my PT Cruiser. I mentioned this to the dealer who sold me the Cruiser, and he agreed.

4. redforkhippie - December 30, 2008

I’ve driven three Chryslers. Not one of them made it to 70,000 miles or four years of age before the transmission went out. The Saturn I bought to replace my Yugo Dodge Neon was less than five years old — and had a little over 100,000 miles on the odometer, most of them easy highway miles — when the transmission went out in it.

I’ve heard stories about the existence of reliable American cars. They fascinate me, in the same way that stories about various cryptozoological creatures fascinate me. Deep down, I think we all want to believe in Sasquatch, and deep down, I think we all want to believe in reliable American cars. Unfortunately, I have no direct evidence to support any belief in the existence of either.

Meanwhile, my father — who lives in the Midwest — has, for the past three years, earned his living at a Japanese-owned plant that makes parts for automobiles. This plant is one of the largest employers in the area. People are grateful to have it, too — especially since U.S.-based Whirlpool closed its local plant and outsourced all the jobs to Mexico.


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