Not too long ago, Detroit-made vehicles manufactured in the U.S. were
the most popular and bestselling cars. That is no longer the case, and
Maynard, a reporter for the New York Times, explains how the automobile
industry is now led by such companies as Toyota and Honda. She explains
the various reasons for the diminished power of domestic car makers
including the introduction of new, more appealing models and light
trucks. Maynard writes, "With the exception of Toyota and its expansive
lineup, none of the import companies has designs on meeting Detroit
head-on in every segment where it competes.... They can be successful
by fixing their targets and taking away markets, one by one." She cites
BMW and Hyundai as two companies who know their markets very well and
have solid brand images. Based on Maynard's interviews with executives
and employees of many car companies, foreign and domestic, she shows
how the foreign companies were repeatedly more innovative and strategic
in their efforts to win over American consumers. Toyota, for example,
built car plants in the U.S. and trained local employees, including
Spanish-speaking workers, who would later be able to work in Toyota
plants in Mexico, South America and elsewhere. The reporting is solid,
but the writing is occasionally dull. Still, this is an intriguing if
somewhat gloomy view of the American car business.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I've been reading The End of Detroit by Micheline Maynard over the last
few days, so I'm really not surprised to see this bad news.
The Big3 don't really know how to pay attention to customer desires.
They are still chasing after the "Gotta Have It! Car" Will-O'-the-Wisp,
thinking that will save them.
That method did save Nissan with the Xterra, but Nissan followed up on
it with a pretty hot Maxima 2001-2, and then an excellent Altima after
that. They put good quality cars out with excellent engines, and they
refuse to allow any shoddiness that might cause even one customer to be
disappointed. The Big3 don't really think that way, it seems. They
think "good enough" is "good enough", and it isn't.
It was good enough to have a nice looking car when drivers weren't that
sophisticated. It was good enough to have impressive straight-line
power when the roads were used little enough to allow drag racing, and
when gas prices weren't so inhibitive.
But the Big3 haven't really noticed that it is possible to fall in love
with a car for other reasons, and then learn to love its looks. That
happened with me with my old Volvo 240 DL, and it happened again with
my '95 Honda Civic 4-door w/ stick-shift.
Of the Big3, Ford has the Freestyle, the F-150, the Focus, and perhaps
the Five Hundred to catch people's attention. The Focus has decent
handling and gets decent mileage for a decent price...it very nearly
competes with some Japanese cars....except on the quality/reliability
part. Chrysler has the 300C, the Crossfire, and the PT Cruiser to
excite people and draw them in. But GM? The Malibu Maxx seems to have
fallen flat, much less the original Malibu. People on the inside swear
it has European handling, good power, decent fuel economy...but there
isn't much buzz among the non-GM employees. The Silverado sells well,
but they pretty much seem to be a step behind Ford in almost every
category. The Cobalt should replace the Cavalier whose name they
ruined...but it doesn't seem to be garnering much excitement at large.
GM is just the best example of the problems the Big3 all face: an
inability to understand what people want, an inability to make a
completely reliable car line, an apparent inability to look beyond
I think the internet has hurt the Big3, too, because they can no longer
depend on someone walking on the lot and being able to convince him to
buy that day. Rather, consumers these days research, try things out,
and aren't so vulnerable to the hard sell these days. And the Big3 just
don't make a good enough product any more.