This scribbler seems to have stretched his cleverness and then some - to
fill xxx words' space.
Economics: Leaving him aside, the US auto industry has always been one
of mass (vs. class). We don't produce finely tuned machines that achieve
400 HP from 3.0L - it just doesn't work that way here. We produce a
cruder but simpler, low maintenance vehicle that's based on common
parts, and do so for a relatively low price. Detroit must think in terms
of 100,000 units, not 5,000 units.
The median family income in the USA is about $44,000 - that's the US
auto market's heart and when one sees annual new car sales of 17 million
units, including imports, the idea of "mass" really takes hold for
American's spend about 12% of their income on transportation - about
$440 per month. Not a lot of money for new auto purchases. That's why
some of the US auto makers don't even make money building cars! (The Big
3's retirement and health care costs are enormous ($1,500/car) vs. the
One needs a car in all but center city neighborhoods. The mass
dispersion of autos, US per capita auto ownership vs. European per
capita auto ownership, I'd suspect is substantially higher in the US,
even when per capita income is similar. The more socially oriented
Europeans have robust railway service vs. our ever regressive Amtrack
service over freight rails. All these factors create demand but a
profitless prosperity for Detroit's Big 3, so they "push the iron out
the door" just to stay in business.
Technology: A new Corvette uses an ancient push rod V-8 design that's
been vastly improved over the years; I had one of these 5.7L V-8s in my
'72 Chevy, it made 165 HP with a two barrel carburetor! Simple and
reliable engine. The cited Pontiac model is based, I understand, mostly
on common parts that have been assembled as a "sports car". And its
aggressive price reflects that "heritage". So it's not a BMW, well,
nobody said it WAS a BMW, or a Lotus or a Mercedes. And then to run a
pick up truck through a race course and complain that it's not a sports
car is truly absurd. It's a truck, designed to haul goods!
Application: Then there's the actual use that cars encounter in the US.
Mostly suburban - low speed and lots of idling in traffic - and speed
limited (to 65 - 75 mph) freeway and interstate use. Driving 150 mph is
a one time experience for one will not be driving at all thereafter. So
"performance" is essentially limited to acceleration up to freeway speed
and the relatively large Detroit iron does that reasonably well before
it drops into overdrive to save fuel.
Attitude: IMHO the US auto industry ought to stop resisting change and
start embracing it. Ever since emissions controls arose - even the very
simple crankcase vapor capture - the US auto makers have been resistant.
Too costly, too complicated, etc. etc. But they've always done it in the
end, perhaps not the most efficient way but done it. Now Toyota's Prius
is showing Detroit a new path and we're seeing their same begrudging
reaction to this new Castor Oil. Oh well, if we MUST!
A historical parallel is the British - French Concorde vs. the 747.
Class vs. mass, cutting (or was it bleeding) edge technology vs. proven
technology. Passengers loved the Concorde but its economics, age and
lack of new SST aircraft finally killed SST service.
Detroit is in business and that, today, means avoiding big risks,
keeping the doors open and collecting a paycheck. Given the industry's
economics, its breadth and after market infrastructure maintenance and
repair skill set I believe Detroit is delivering a good product for the
price. Of course auto columnists scribble about cars but they ought to
do so with a bit more perspective, IMHO.