The unbelievable is reality

Jan. 1, 2020
No doubt marketing and incentives are poor substitutes for inherent vehicle quality.

It's hard for me to fathom, let alone accept, that our automobile manufacturing leadership is gone and is not coming back anytime soon. Or maybe ever.

I find it hard to believe that General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have continually lost market share over the last three decades and are focused –– out of necessity –– more on survival than growth.

I find it hard to believe that sharply rising gasoline prices, the instability of the global oil market and the lingering war in Iraq haven't been enough to force the Detroit automakers into a full throttle response to bring to market a range of diesel- and hybrid-powered vehicles. Ford boldly jumped into the hybrid market only to back off. Chrysler's and GM's hybrid efforts are pretty much limited to the declining segment of trucks and SUVs.

I find it hard to believe that the Detroit automakers think they can turn the tide with marketing and incentives rather than building the highest quality products in the world.

Also to that point, I find it hard to believe that Chrysler keeps toying with outright gimmicks such as an "icebox" in the glove compartment in its newly launched Dodge Caliber instead of concentrating on improving product reliability across all makes and models.

I find it hard to believe that the American automakers haven't made the adjustment to produce more cars than trucks. Overall, the cars versus trucks ratio is about 50-50; the American automakers are wrongly weighted at about 39 percent to 61 percent.

I find it hard to believe that Chrysler builds its best quality vehicles in Mexico and Canada, while Toyota and Honda build some of the best quality vehicles in the world in Tennessee and Kentucky.

I find it hard to believe that the top three Japanese automakers hold an average profit advantage of $2,200 per vehicle over our Detroit automakers.

I find it harder to believe that the root cause of this disparity still hasn't been entirely identified, let alone corrected. However, according to Automotive News, Harbour-Felax, a management consulting firm in Royal Oak., Mich., certainly offers a clue. Seems as though the Detroit folks over-design their products. The best example the firm gives is that one unidentified automaker uses 81 side mirror variations on a vehicle platform that's tied to 500,000 vehicles per year, while its best competitor (Toyota, I suppose) uses only two mirror variations on a comparable platform.

"That's just one example out of thousands," says the firm's president Laurie Harbour-Felax.

I find it hard to believe that our Detroit automakers and the UAW can't figure out a way to be true partners that would be mutually beneficial to both parties.

Equally so, I find it hard to believe that the Detroit automakers and their suppliers can't agree on a mutually beneficial arrangement.

I find it hard to believe that I had to write this editorial. Maybe you do, too.