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August 9, 2007 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Latest news out of the auto industry: Buick ties Lexus as top auto brand in vehicle dependability. Cadillac is #2. Mercury is #3. If you haven't seen the new Buicks, you should take a look at what they've been doing lately (see: Enclave, Lucerne). Also, the new (sort of) Taurus gets rave reviews. The Ford Edge, also new for 2007, has captured 16% of the crossover market, and owners seem to love it. Finally, for the greenies, GM is ready to test the electric Chevy Volt--says it is on schedule for production in 2010. Is it time to consider buying American again? And not just for the sake of it?
posted by fusinski (150 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
No.
posted by saladin at 12:57 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Most new cars, regardless of brand, are relatively well built -- your odds of getting a lemon perhaps vary by a few % points. #1 in that ranking is not going to make me buy a Buick. I think when it comes down to it, people are looking for a car that (yes) is dependable, and yes it is a good economic value, but also has a certain aesthetic value to it. It seems to me that urban dwellers with cash to burn have concluded that the North American manufacturers just don't really "get" this aesthetic factor.

A lot of car buying (disclosure: I do not own a car!) seems to me to be an emotional exercise, and this is where the North American manufacturers have gone off the rails -- years of focus on big and powerful trucks/SUVs has created an emotional distance between the AMerican companies and the import buyers. It's a large gap to try and close, and it's going to a long while to do it.
posted by modernnomad at 12:57 PM on August 9, 2007



I'll start considering American again when the quality goes beyond "initial." Since I the average age of my two Toyotas is 12 years, I'm likely to drive anything I own until it's at least 10 - 12 years old, I care more about the last 10 years of service than the first 2, which is what is being measured in the JD Power surveys.

When I see 14- year old Buicks on the road that look as good as my 1994 Corolla (whose paint hasn't even begun to oxidize, despite being in the sun for 14 years), then it's time to consider American cars again.
posted by u2604ab at 12:57 PM on August 9, 2007 [7 favorites]


I'll start considering American again when the quality goes beyond "initial."

For the record, those results are not from the Initial Quality survey. Those are from the Vehicle Dependability Study, which are quality results over a three year period.
posted by fusinski at 12:59 PM on August 9, 2007


u2604ab has is right. Initial quality is not a good indicator.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:00 PM on August 9, 2007


You know, I was just thinking of getting a beverage. I thought about some sort of imported coffee or tea or even some fancy imported spring water, but then I thought, "you know Coke has such a dependable, all-american flavor and you should see what they are doing with Pepsi these days!" So I went for a refreshing Pepsi Blue!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:01 PM on August 9, 2007 [7 favorites]


Once again - JD Power's "reliability" ratings are pretty useless. In their system, every problem is just as serious as every other one, and all they do is count the problems. So if 1000 Lexuses have broken radio knobs, and 1000 Buicks have broken crankshafts, JDP says they are equally reliable.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:01 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


looks are just as important as reliability. this is why i will never buy an american car.
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 1:01 PM on August 9, 2007


owners seem to love it

uh, hello endowment effect.

(FWIW I had an Edge on rental and it was suprisingly good for a Ford, but what does that mean?).
posted by forallmankind at 1:03 PM on August 9, 2007


Also, checking out the CNN link you provided about Buick, the "most dependable" chart actually shows that of the 19 categories of cars listed, 14 were topped by imports. Long ways to go for Detroit, methinks.
posted by modernnomad at 1:05 PM on August 9, 2007


This post reads like ad copy for a commercial during the Rush Limbaugh show.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:06 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Buick is doing really nice stuff in China.
posted by probablysteve at 1:06 PM on August 9, 2007


It's gonna take a lot to make me forgive Detroit for the 1985 Mercury Grand Marquee that ruined my life between the ages of of 17 and 18.

Fortunately for them, the only car I've used for the past 4 years is a subway car.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:06 PM on August 9, 2007


I'll consider buying an American car again when the plug-in hybrids are <$20K. They've had long enough to dick around with the technology.
posted by Shecky at 1:08 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I reach a certain point where there's nothing they can really ever do to get me back. Ford lost me for good with the last Ranger I owned. I'll also never enter another Pizza Hut. Ugh.
posted by jiiota at 1:10 PM on August 9, 2007


It's gonna take a lot to make me forgive Detroit for the 1985 Mercury Grand Marquee that ruined my life between the ages of of 17 and 18.

That reminds me of the Dodge Shadow I had around the same time period. I replaced nearly every part on that vehicle besides the motor and, ironically, the automatic seat belts, which I despised.
posted by fusinski at 1:11 PM on August 9, 2007


WTF?
posted by prostyle at 1:11 PM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


What's sad is that American owned brands are competitive in the European market, which is one indication that over there, they're a reasonable value proposition; possibly even comparable in quality. So what's the difference? Simple: they're not the same cars. This is borne out in my obviously limited experience: I've driven European Fords that were ergonomic, good performers with solid build quality and looked nice; qualities that I don't find in the ones they sell over here. U.S. auto makers could make and sell good cars here. They just don't want to, because deep down in their hearts, the don't believe they should have to.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:11 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't you really have a Bu-ICK? (RealPlayer)
posted by spock at 1:15 PM on August 9, 2007


I can never take GM seriously because they managed to create and sell such ugly pieces of crap like the Aztek. How an entire company of people managed to give it the thumbs-up is beyond my comprehension.
posted by junesix at 1:15 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Does this qualify as Pepsi Bluick?

Those cars look like my grandma would like driving them. And she's dead. Fuck that, man. I want to look cool. And also, maybe save some gas. But mostly look cool.
posted by mckenney at 1:16 PM on August 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


I bought a "certified" used Kia Optima last year, partly because it was cheap and still had a good warranty and partly out of sheer contrariness since I live about 15 minutes from Detroit. As a bonus it's a surprisingly good car so far.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:19 PM on August 9, 2007


junesix, in all fairness, the Aztek was no uglier than the rest of the Pontiac lineup. I think they were going after the niche market populated by people with absolutely no ability to discern attractiveness.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:20 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Allow me to rant a bit. The problem isn't (entirely) American car makers, it's some combination of focus groups and marketing consultants that convince all car manufacturers that Americans have absolutely horrible taste in cars.

Ford, at least, can make good cars. The European-spec Focus is seriously a top-notch car by anyone's measurement. Ditto the Mondeo in Casino Royale. Hell, I'd even buy a Ka. But no, us 'Merkins don't like little, high-quality cars, we want enormous trucks with wheels the size of Southeast Asia. No, we bloody well don't. I see that some manufacturers are trying it, hence the Versa and Fit, but yet again the American manufacturers have their heads firmly lodged up their backsides and won't notice that everybody wants small, good cars until they've lost even more marketshare to Toyota.

Ford, we're ready for the Euro-spec Focus at least. Stop foisting this ten-year-old platform crap on us and give us some good stuff.
Chrysler: You made the Viper, you can't be all bad.
GM: Die in a dildo factory fire.
posted by Skorgu at 1:22 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Buick is doing really nice stuff in China.

Not really. They are just selling cars there. The same crappy (though apparently as dependable as a Lexus) cars they sell everywhere else, except lots of them.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:23 PM on August 9, 2007


After relocating back to Canada from overseas, I bought a 1996 Pontiac with 110,000 kilometers on it for driving around town. A year later we scrapped it because every single fucking seal leaked. Needless to say, the next car we bought (and we bought new) was a Honda. Never again will I consider buying an American car.

PS: Fuck you, Buzz Hargrove.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:23 PM on August 9, 2007


On non-preview-at-all, what George_Spiggott said.
posted by Skorgu at 1:24 PM on August 9, 2007


I see that some manufacturers are trying it, hence the Versa

Oh God, the Versa has a novel and nice look both inside and out, but it handles like a cardboard box perched on a couple of rolling pins. Worst rental car I've ever had.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:25 PM on August 9, 2007


If you haven't seen the new Buicks, you should take a look at what they've been doing lately

They're doing the same thing they've always done; selling the same models as other GM marquees, with different names and badging.

So. How long have you been working at the dealership?
posted by davejay at 1:27 PM on August 9, 2007


I've got a Pontiac Sunfire that has completely changed my mind about american cars. It has been sturdy, fuel efficient, reliable and cheap. It's every bit as good as my first car, a '78 Honda Civic, which I've used as the gold standard for vehicle worthiness.

Sadly, this means that it's GM is producing cars of a comparable quality to that which Honda was making 30 years ago.

But still! Progress!
posted by lekvar at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2007


What Pollomacho said
posted by ob at 1:29 PM on August 9, 2007


What's sad is that American owned brands are competitive in the European market, which is one indication that over there, they're a reasonable value proposition; possibly even comparable in quality. So what's the difference? Simple: they're not the same cars.

Check out the Saturn Aura; it's the German-market model, they're selling it to the dealers without a profit (to help revitalize the brand) and it's actually a pretty nice car, or at least the XR version is.
posted by davejay at 1:29 PM on August 9, 2007


So. How long have you been working at the dealership?

Heh. I know the Detroit pride is showing through pretty badly (as pride generally does), but truthfully my auto industry career spans a grand total of 3 months... and that was at GM, via HP as a contractor, and I hated it there so much I quit faster than you can say disgruntled workers.
posted by fusinski at 1:31 PM on August 9, 2007


I love how people bag on the American auto industry like it's the cool thing to do. I mean - huh! - the Edge is a surprisingly good Ford, but what the hell is that supposed to mean? It's like they have no right to make better cars. That being said, I still agree with the critical sentiment. Such a fucking pickle.

For me, "Detroit" is all about Ford. Of all the years for Buick to stand out in any kind of survey, I find it hard to believe it is this one.
posted by phaedon at 1:31 PM on August 9, 2007


Not true, Pollomacho. Buick sells a completely different lineup in China, and by all accounts the cars are vastly superior to their American offerings.
posted by saladin at 1:33 PM on August 9, 2007


I know I'm echoing sentiments here, but seriously: US auto companies need to refocus their vision regarding auto styling (PT Cruiser, for christ's sake?!). I recently was shopping for a new car and seriously looked into American models, wanting to believe there were some jewels in the rough.

I bought an Acura TL-Type S.
posted by NationalKato at 1:34 PM on August 9, 2007


The more useful reliability ratings come from Consumer Reports. To oversimplify their findings: American cars overall are more reliable than European ones, and less reliable than Asian ones (of the models sold in the U.S.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:34 PM on August 9, 2007


skorgu brings up a great point -- Ford is dying in the American market precisely because (ok, its not the only reason, but stick with me here.. )they don' t have a decent compact car.. and yet, the euro-spec focus is a great little thing that sells well across a variety of markets and demographics and receives consistent plaudits from auto journalists.

what is the logic behind NOT selling it North America? It's almost like they want to go bankrupt. The Way Forward my ass.
posted by modernnomad at 1:35 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually I think the new Buicks are cool cars too.

I have a GMC SUV that is great, is a joy to drive and has been trouble free. My husband has a BMW so don't tell me we don't know what we are missing.

The Lucerne is a good looking, well-made car.
posted by chocolatetiara at 1:35 PM on August 9, 2007


Not true, Pollomacho. Buick sells a completely different lineup in China, and by all accounts the cars are vastly superior to their American offerings.

Trust me, I just moved back from Beijing. But if by "vastly superior" you mean "in almost no way different" then I stand corrected.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:37 PM on August 9, 2007


My feet come from the same country I do! (so does my bike for that matter, and my subway cars, and my bus...)
posted by furtive at 1:38 PM on August 9, 2007


Buick: The American Lexus (or Not) Why can't we get nice things in the States?
posted by caddis at 1:41 PM on August 9, 2007


This post reads like ad copy for a commercial during the Rush Limbaugh show.
I was thinking Paul Harvey, actually. Very Paul Harvey.

Page Two!
posted by Wolfdog at 1:42 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Another one for the wrecking yard: The PT Cruiser. It was all the rental agency had when I got there a few weeks back. Handled like a Dodge Omni with a trunkful of anvils.

The only thing worse was the Chevy HHR, which was such an unwieldy beast I didn't even make it out of the rental lot with it.
posted by gompa at 1:44 PM on August 9, 2007


I'll never buy a Buick, or desire to drive one, but I'll be damned if it isn't hard to avoid getting laid in the back of one. It's like a velvet futon back there.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:44 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


After driving a succession of hand-me-down Volvo 240s(the best cars ever made) through high school, college, and my first job(commuting into Detroit, no less), I made the mistake of buying a Saturn as my first new car purchase. I bought into the hype of "it's a different kind of company!", read halfway-decent reviews that I now realize were most likely plants and shills for GM, and looked at my bank account and assumed I couldn't afford better. After 8 years of ill-fitting, poorly-constructed and uncomfortable interior, the loud-as-hell engine and road noise and the surprisingly poor MPG, I've concluded my next vehicle purchase will be anything but an American car.
posted by 40 Watt at 1:45 PM on August 9, 2007


Oh, and while it's admirable that GM is finally getting it's head out of the sand in regards to the internal combustion engine, the Volt is one of the ugliest cars ever to fall out of the GM tree in a while. Look at the beltline on that thing!
posted by 40 Watt at 1:49 PM on August 9, 2007


Pollomacho, I'm asking this without even a hint of sarcasm: did you get the opportunity to drive or ride in any Chinese-market Buicks? I genuinely interested in them, as the few pictures I've seen of them show some much more stylish cars than are found here in the states wearing the Buick marquee (which isn't saying much, but still). I'm led to believe that the entire Chinese line-up is also all rear-wheel drive (based on Australian Holdens), which is another major plus to distinguish them from their American cousins.
posted by saladin at 1:49 PM on August 9, 2007


I like how Saturn's Hybrid gets worse MPG than a lot of gas-only vehicles.
posted by sciurus at 1:53 PM on August 9, 2007


Agreed about the Euro Focus. I drive a Mazda 3 (at least for a few more weeks), which is built on the Euro Focus platform, and it's a great little car. Light(ish), quick, tight, solid. My impression of Ford in the US, though, is that they make garbage. Noisy, rattly, ugly, poorly-assembled crap. Now, the new "Taurus" is meant to be pretty good, likewise the Edge. The unfortunate part is that Ford will have to offer heavy incentives to lure buyers, which ruins resale value, which perpetuates the idea that domestic cars are unreliable and cheap. It's a deep hole US carmakers have gotten themselves into by offering lousy cars for so many years, and simply offering good cars at a fair price isn't going to fix the problem, at least not quickly.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:54 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'll buy a Ford when they'll sell me a left-drive StreetKa here in the US.
posted by nicwolff at 1:55 PM on August 9, 2007


Can you even remember how many times you've heard someone say, in a desperate, hopeful tone: "Have you seen the new Taurus? It's nice!"
posted by kosem at 1:56 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend and I share a Ford Focus. It's hers, and when I met her I did nothing but make fun of it. (Full disclosure: a 1986 Ford Escort ruined my life as a teenager.) But after driving it around for awhile, I actually like it. I mean, really like it. When it comes time to look a for a new car we may just go down to the Ford dealership and pick up a new Focus. Just sayin'.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:59 PM on August 9, 2007


i'll do whatever my corporate masters tell me and LOVE it.
posted by Max Power at 2:01 PM on August 9, 2007


The Mercury Mistress is actually a hell of a fun car.
posted by kosem at 2:02 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I'm to blame. While I have had issues with Detroit design in the past, I've had just as much issue with the Asian designs as well. Car design in general went kinda blah for a long while until the last five to ten years, as designs are stepping forward as more aesthetic and eye catching in the past. The Pontiac Solstice is sweet little car, and the Saturn Aura goes along great with it (two new designs that I think are a good sign).

Whats amused me, is that the more successful such cars as the Camry become, the more their design evolves towards what I consider an American style. Many of the Asian companies actually have American designers working for them for products in the U.S., after all.

Its not so much that Americans cannot design cars, its what a few posts have hinted on, that the American car companies are hampered by a bureaucratic corporative mess, legacies from the 50's and 60's, still stuck on mindsets from those eras. They get railroaded every time they're successful, because they place blinders on and ignore changing economic variables (i.e. price of oil).

As for the Aztec...I always had the feeling they let engineers design that one. I mean, it had some nifty features...like a tent.

...
posted by Atreides at 2:02 PM on August 9, 2007


you should take a look at what they've been doing lately

regretfully, I just did
posted by matteo at 2:03 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


saladin sez:

Pollomacho, I'm asking this without even a hint of sarcasm: did you get the opportunity to drive or ride in any Chinese-market Buicks? [...]


I dunno about Pollomacho's experience, but my brother in law in China owns a Buick Regal, built in Shanghai. I've ridden in it any number of times, but never driven it. I'm no expert on the details of the Regal line, but it looks pretty much like the ones I see here in the US; heck, the radio controls are labelled in English and not Chinese. I don't know offhand if it is front or rear wheel drive.

The one notable difference from the US model is that it has a backup proximity detector (with sensors mounted on the rear bumper) with a display on the dashboard.
posted by doorsnake at 2:10 PM on August 9, 2007


Looking at the people that I see driving Buicks, I think that most of them are driving the last car that they will buy. I think that's why they had to discontinue Oldsmobile, their last customer died off.
posted by octothorpe at 2:14 PM on August 9, 2007 [5 favorites]


That freaking 3800cc engine design they have in the Lucerne was old in 1983 when they retired the Grand National.

Sheesh.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:17 PM on August 9, 2007


junesix, in all fairness, the Aztek was no uglier than the rest of the Pontiac lineup.

Painful truth that. Pontiac has had, by far, the worst styling of any American brand. God, the cheesy plastic body moldings alone would prevent me from even considering a Pontiac. Disclaimer: I did own an '84 Firebird (but it didn't have all of that plastic crap on it).
posted by MikeMc at 2:19 PM on August 9, 2007


Every Ford / Chrysler I've ever driven has been shit, but I loooove my '03 Focus SVT. Go fig.
posted by thedaniel at 2:21 PM on August 9, 2007


That should be "before my current vehicle, every ford I'd ever driven.." obv.
posted by thedaniel at 2:22 PM on August 9, 2007


I like how Saturn's Hybrid gets worse MPG than a lot of gas-only vehicles.

I like how Lexus' Hybrid and Toyota's non-Prius Hybrids and Honda's Hybrid Accord get worse MPG than a lot of gas-only vehicles.

But then, I'm easy to please.
posted by The World Famous at 2:24 PM on August 9, 2007


ikkyu2: "That freaking 3800cc engine design they have in the Lucerne was old in 1983 when they retired the Grand National.

Sheesh.
"

I had that 3.8 engine in my 1976 Pontiac Sunbird. Great engine for the time but that was thirty years ago.
posted by octothorpe at 2:26 PM on August 9, 2007


3800cc engine design

There's a reason it's lasted this long. They were great until they started making parts of them out of cheap composites. You would not believe what my 3800 has lived through. It survived something that breaks pistons in the newer northstar engines. How do I know this? I tore down both of them. The 3800 just needed a new intake, the Northstar was junk.
posted by IronLizard at 2:26 PM on August 9, 2007


Maybe the problem is the car dealers? (youtube, NSFW, old)
posted by anthill at 2:26 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


American car companies are still run as if some crazy grandfather is still demanding that he wants more headroom and leg space and doesn't care if that means sacrificing good design. All the current woes about labor and such are merely easy excuses. German and Japanese manufacturers came out of a world war, from practically nothing, and built themselves up as huge companies. The standard mid-level exec at Ford will tell you that's their competitive advantage. Bullshit, they got lazy and the market corrected the problem. Besides why does nationality matter so much? Things like cars are produced and designed all around the world, no matter which company.
posted by geoff. at 2:31 PM on August 9, 2007


A friend drove SAABs and some other expensive foreign cars. He went for a Hondai (to pof line) when they offered hundred thousand warantee. He figured he had nothing to lose and could chance it...within 3 months, he bought a 2nd one, for his wife. No problems and most comfortable and enjoyable. Says it as good or perhaps better than any of the more expensive American or other foreign cars he has owned. But then some of us can not afford a Lexus etc either.
posted by Postroad at 2:34 PM on August 9, 2007


As a man of limited means, I drive a 1997 Escort, which is cheap but has held up pretty well, actually. They say that the 97 Escort was the last effort of US car companies to really tried to compete with the imports before giving up and making large chrome-covered Canyoneros instead of actual cars.

So, I've generally figured that I'll get an import when I had the cash. Still, when I rented a car out East, I ended up with a Saturn ION, which I quite liked. It drove nicely, had lots of headroom, and looked pretty cool (I thought). Plus, "ION." A cool name, to boot.

I couple months after getting home I Googled up the car, only to discover it had just been canceled. Apparently my taste in cars wasn't shared by everyone.

Then, a couple weeks ago I ran into a fellow at a party, who said that his wife was a poet. I asked him about her work. He told me she had picked out the name for the Saturn ION.
posted by washburn at 2:37 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


I loved my two Pontiac Grand Prixs, and now I've got a Saturn Aura XR that I love even more. It looks good, rides nice, gets great gas mileage. It's available in a "green line model." The new Astra is going to be hot, I think (I think its called the Astra). (The Pontiacs had better radios though.)
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:40 PM on August 9, 2007


Thanks for the link to the Streetka, nicwolff. I saw a lot of Kas when I was in Europe last year, but none of those. It looks like a fun car.
posted by stopgap at 2:41 PM on August 9, 2007


(and, great post title)
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:41 PM on August 9, 2007


Ok, just to be all contrarian and stuff, this guy, who makes a series of books about car reliabilities and whatnot, always seems to rank Buicks quite high in reliability. This is coming from someone who thinks Consumer Reports is an industry shill.

So basically, I completely believe that Buicks are reliable. Now, why anyone would want to buy one... That's a different matter.
posted by eurasian at 2:42 PM on August 9, 2007


IronLizard: I fail to see what's so great about the Buick's engine. It looks pretty outdated to me:

2008 Buick Lucerne

3.8L V6
197 hp
227 lb.-ft. torque
16/25 mpg
Annual Greenhouse Emissions: 9.6 tons

2008 Toyota Camry V6
3.5L V6
268 hp
248 lb.-ft. torque
19/28 mpg
Annual Greenhouse Emissions: 8.3 tons
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 2:47 PM on August 9, 2007


As a man of limited means, I drive a 1997 Escort, which is cheap but has held up pretty well, actually.
I'm sure it has, but that means little as far as the quality of American cars goes. The North American Escort has been essentially a rebadged Mazda since 1991.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:51 PM on August 9, 2007


I had a '95 escort. It was a perfect first car, slow, manual, who cares if you beat it up, and with the seats down you could, um, sleep in the wagon back. Drove seven hours through a blizzard in that car. *sniff*

Then a spark plug blew clean out of the engine because Ford was too cheap to install helicoils and just threaded the header.

Also, am I really the only one who thinks the Solstice looks like festering cat ass? I keep hearing about how great it looks, but I can't remember what it looks like. So I google it and throw up a little in my mouth. And then promptly suppress the memory. Now the GTO was an alright car. Of course it was Australian so that's not surprising.
posted by Skorgu at 2:51 PM on August 9, 2007


The Saturn Sky looks 10x better than the Solstice IMO, but all the buff book freaks like the Solstice much better. I agree with you that the Solstice is pretty lame. But, I don't know about the GTO, man... it looked every bit like the bastard child of a grand prix and a sunfire to me.

I also want to weigh in on whoever said the Volt was ugly. That car is hot... check yourself!
posted by fusinski at 2:54 PM on August 9, 2007


Your North American built automobile is covered in dots. Strip away the surface finish and you'll find green dots, black dots, yellow dots, blue dots, white dots. Sure, the manufacturing process is constantly being more tightly engineered with automated checks and failure points along the line, but ultimately they're relying on the people putting it together to actually pay attention, part after part after part, company after company up the supply line, and they try to enforce that by having people mark every piece. Check to make this certain this part isn't bent, dot it with a green marker; check that this fastener is attached, dot it with a black marker; check that this weld is complete, dot it with a white marker; torque test this bolt, dot it with a yellow marker. Then at the end of the line four temps supplied by a contractor will go check every other hole and fastener and weld, dotting the part 35 times as proof that someone glanced in the direction of each marked feature. Whether all this decoration of plastic and metal makes your vehicle more reliable I cannot say. Maybe the Japanese also hold their cars together with dots.
posted by TimTypeZed at 2:54 PM on August 9, 2007


I just have to nth the hideousness of that Volt. Why are car bodies getting bigger and chunkier as the windows get smaller and narrower? Every new American car looks like something out of a Dick Tracy cartoon to me. Please make it stop.
posted by IcyJuly at 2:54 PM on August 9, 2007


American car companies are still run as if some crazy grandfather is still demanding that he wants more headroom and leg space and doesn't care if that means sacrificing good design.

I'm a tall fellow, and I can assure you this is not correct. American cars tend to be quite large, but they don't actually parlay that into vast quantities of head and leg room.

This is especially true of Lincoln, less so of Cadillac.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 2:56 PM on August 9, 2007


I was recently in the market for a new car to replace my beloved 14-year-old Toyota MR2. Among the cars I drove was the Pontiac Solstice - a beautiful-looking ragtop, to my eyes, and apparently priced right, starting at $19,995 with the same engine/drivetrain/suspension as the other models (except for the turbo, natch).

Problem is, because they're making so few of them at their Delaware plant, and they're so popular, people are not only paying full sticker price, they're paying 3, 4 or even 5 thousand dollars over sticker. Which is all good, I guess, but ...

So that meant that by the time you added some accessories and paid the premium, I was looking at nearly $30K for a 2-liter four-banger. Hmm. The Solstice is nice - really nice - but it's not $30K nice.

So I bought a 350Z.
posted by kcds at 3:08 PM on August 9, 2007


The Buicks kick ass.
posted by three blind mice at 3:10 PM on August 9, 2007


All other things aside, the dealbreaker for me with most american cars is the interiors. I like the direction, cadillac, and dodge have gone exterior design-wise, but the interiors are still shoddy. A friend of mine had a new Dodge Charger as a rental, The interior was bulky, plastic, and felt like an afterthought. For all I know it might be a good car. but riding in it, it felt cheap. In contrast, have a look at the interior of the VW Jetta. Not an especially good looking car from the outside, but the interior is like some sort of cozy spaceship disco lounge.
posted by billyfleetwood at 3:11 PM on August 9, 2007



Two things "they" need to do....

1. Until the big 2.8 start looking at the long view- and that is build a car and company that will make me want to go back for another purchase, then I will look elsewhere.

2. Next, build an interior that is good looking, makes sense and uses quality material. I am tired of banging my head on the steering wheel in frustration over bad design and cheap, cheap materials. It is painful to walk into a dealership and I still do, only to find they still don't get it.

Full disclosure: I drive a Subaru Outback Legacy - assembled in the United States. Some interior goofs or design laziness but am happy.

I also have not looked at the new models, yet.
posted by fluffycreature at 3:14 PM on August 9, 2007


I like how Lexus' Hybrid and Toyota's non-Prius Hybrids and Honda's Hybrid Accord get worse MPG than a lot of gas-only vehicles.
posted by The World Famous

Really? Which of those hybrids gets worse mileage than gas-only vehicles?

Also: mileage = important; emissions = even way more important.

And: The last time I drove an American car regularly was years ago; it was a Ford...something, some small sedan, and it was a horror. Brake issues, coolant issues, weird rattles and squeaks, and lots of time in the shop. No thanks, not anymore, not again.
posted by rtha at 3:19 PM on August 9, 2007


Ever since some bad experiences with a Ford Escort from the late '80s (it tried to eat me), I swore off American cars, and for the next two decades or so, I more or less kept to that promise, so I was quite chagrined to discover myself the owner of a $3000 Saturn.

I'm even more surprised to discover that I'm still driving this car 3 years later.

Despite not having AC or power-steering, it's actually a quite fun car to drive, and I've had to put virtually no work into it.

I'm still pretty down on American cars, but I do like the look of the CTS, and the guys from Top Gear approve of it as well.
posted by quin at 3:30 PM on August 9, 2007


My '65 Mustang doesn't count, of course.
posted by quin at 3:32 PM on August 9, 2007


GM is ready to test the electric Chevy Volt--says it is on schedule for production in 2010.

Woot. Let's kick the electric can car down the road a few more years. Then we can announce the amazing stuff we might have ready for 2014.
posted by rokusan at 3:33 PM on August 9, 2007


Really? Which of those hybrids gets worse mileage than gas-only vehicles?

The ones I mentioned, according to the chart you linked to.

Note that Lexus' hybrid isn't even on the chart, nor is the Highlander hybrid.

Also: mileage = important; emissions = even way more important.

Also: mileage = CO2 emissions.

And: The last time I drove an American car regularly was years ago; it was a Ford...something, some small sedan, and it was a horror. Brake issues, coolant issues, weird rattles and squeaks, and lots of time in the shop. No thanks, not anymore, not again.

You're clearly a real car person who notices important details about cars. Like the name of the car you drive regularly.

The root of the American car companies' problems is that they don't understand that it's all about the product. They think it's about price, or volume of sales, or incentives, or a million other things. But it's not. It's about the product.

When they sell a zillion cars to rental car companies, that hurts the perception of the product. When the cars that they sell to the rental car companies are a special model just made for the rental car companies with a crappier interior and worse creature comforts than the standard model, that hurts the perception of the product even more.

Why are the decisionmakers at the big 2.75 so dumb?

1. Because they drink nothing but their own kool-aid -- they don't ever drive a brand new model of their competitor's car. Ever. Maybe they drove a BMW a few years ago. But they are accustomed to their company's way of doing things, and as a result, other companies' cars just seem strange to them if the ever do drive them.

2. Because they never rent rental cars. They drive a top of the line company car whenever they go somewhere on business. They have no idea just what a bad impression their fleet vehicles are making on people.

3. They only own their cars for 1 or 2 years, tops as company cars. That means that they have no idea whether their cars are good in the long run. Fords are pretty great cars for one year. And that's the only kind of Ford experience that any Ford exec ever has.

What they should do is have every exec drive a different car to work every day. On Monday, they drive their company's brand new car. Tuesday, drive a competitor's brand new car that competes with Monday's car. Wednesday, a 10-year-old car from their company. Thursday, a 10-year-old car from their competitor. Friday, a bottom of the barrel rental from their own line of fleet vehicles.
posted by The World Famous at 3:43 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


I don't know much about cars, but since we're sharing anecdotes, my teenage car was an '89 Taurus station wagon. Now, I'm the first to admit that I was an ugly, nerdish, socially inept teenager, so I don't know how much the car hurt my chances of getting any, but it certainly didn't help. Performance-wise, it ran just about how you'd expect. A couple of times I had to get a tow from the middle of nowhere when smoke started boiling out from under the hood.

Now I'm driving a '97 Avalon, and I'm very happy. Sure, she's needed some parts replaced here and there, but the engine has been running like a champ for as long as I've had the car. Here's to ten more years of loyal service. I'm definitely buying Japanese again when the time comes.

Earlier this year, I had an accident which stuck me in a rental car for a month, and I ended up with an '07 PT Cruiser. Here's the deal-- from a sheer aesthetic standpoint, I love the exterior design of the PT Cruiser. As much as a car can express someone's personality, that stately anachronistic look expresses mine. I adore it. But on the inside, I hated it. The proportions were all weird, the steering wheel was in my lap, and I had to crouch to see upwards through the windshield. If there was any way to adjust the height of the seat, I never found it. I could never be happy driving that thing with that interior.

Oh, and the first time I saw an Aztek on the road, I had to do a double take. I thought the Insectoid Empire had sent their battlecruisers to conquer Earth.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:44 PM on August 9, 2007


The North American Escort has been essentially a rebadged Mazda since 1991.

Ok I guess, but the Wikipedia article you cite doesn't say anything about the 97 being Mazda-designed.

The key thing in any case is that my 97 Escort was union-made in Michigan, and was still a decent car. I used to have a Dodge Colt that was really "imported for dodge" and made in Japan (which really was a "rebadged" foreign car). Even if the Escort (or some model years of the Escort) used some Japanese designs, it was assembled in the US--evidence to my mind that the US car companies could have done better in the 90's than they chose (or were incentivized) to do.
posted by washburn at 3:56 PM on August 9, 2007


I have to agree with folks dissing Detroit iron (aluminum). They make a nice low rpm V8 and all the rest suck eggs. The Japanese and others kick their ass in nice high rpm, high hp, high torque, low maintenance, silky smooth V6 power plants, and don't even get me started on the fours. I have a Honda Accord 6MT and that engine is like butter, yet packs raw power. There are others that are even better, and they are not Detroit. Detroit lacks sophistication in most of its offerings. I have long thought that the only way out for Detroit is to take on the Germans, make the highest end, most technologically sophisticated vehicles at the highest levels of performance and elegance. To hell with econo-boxes and what not for the hoi polloi. Sell, style, power, sophistication. Fire the accountants, hire race car engineers along with a few California and Italian body designers, give them freedom and shackle the corporate overlords and maybe, just maybe you might get results. Some thought Dieter might have achieved that, but on inside information he seemed to have wanted to party more than transform the business. Nice commercials though. Detroit needs to get its mavericks back.
posted by caddis at 4:00 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


The World Famous, that sounds like a pretty great idea. I'd make one switch and say that they should drive those cars from work everyday, just so they could be kept at work instead of needing a 5 car garage at home. But the spirit is right on. Just wait 'till they're fighting over who gets to take the BMW M5 home for the weekend.
posted by anthill at 4:18 PM on August 9, 2007


washburn, the "made in" label is pretty much irrelevent these days. The second-gen Escorts were Mazda-designed platforms with Ford bodies, that they were built in Detroit or Mexico is (almost) irrelevant. Tons of "Japanese" cars are built in the US, yet they're still far and away better than the "American" cars built here. It's the designs and the engineering that make a car suck, modern assembly lines are pretty much created equal.
posted by Skorgu at 4:24 PM on August 9, 2007


If there's a model of Buick available only in China, I'm guessing there's a reason they can't bring it here.
posted by Challahtronix at 4:26 PM on August 9, 2007


After relocating back to Canada from overseas, I bought a 1998 Mazda with 110,000 kilometers on it for driving around town. A year and a half later and I've not had a single fucking hiccup. Needless to say, the next car we buy (and we buy second hand) will not be American.

PS: apologies KokuRyu.
posted by Frasermoo at 4:32 PM on August 9, 2007


It's the designs and the engineering that make a car suck, modern assembly lines are pretty much created equal.

It's also the supply chain, the quality of the various parts and materials that the company has contracted for from outside companies, and the infrastructure of the company, from bean counting to manufacturing to distribution that eats away at quality and adds to overall cost of production.
posted by The World Famous at 4:47 PM on August 9, 2007


Frasermoo, your Mazda is a Ford product. It is as American as a Toyota is Japanese.
posted by The World Famous at 4:49 PM on August 9, 2007


I'll consider American when they stop airing those redneck-targeted car commercials every 7 minutes. I can't even imagine how much advertising cost is in the price tag of a Ford or Chevy.
posted by zek at 4:50 PM on August 9, 2007


I'll consider American when they stop airing those redneck-targeted car commercials every 7 minutes.

The ones where the Toyota pickup truck pulls the trailer up and down the see-saw?
posted by The World Famous at 4:51 PM on August 9, 2007


I fail to see what's so great about the Buick's engine. It looks pretty outdated to me:

Just one thing: It's made of steel. No aluminum to warp/crack/break as quickly. The aluminum motors/heads you throw away once they're done, the steel ones can have a second or even third life with no problem. But then, I'm someon e who keeps old beaters going past any sane limit, so YMMV. For me, parts are cheaper than car payments and tow trucks don't come circling like great stinking vultures if there's a cash crunch. Rust, however, is my mortal enemy.
posted by IronLizard at 5:09 PM on August 9, 2007


> looks are just as important as reliability. this is why i will never buy an american car.
> posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 4:01 PM on August 9 [+] [!]

I'll say something good about an American car. Last time I needed a replacement vehicle I felt I could spend $10,000. (For comparison, a new Honda Civic costs $14,000 around here.) The nicest car I located for 10K was a three year old Dodge Intrepid, of which you can see an example over here at upload.wikipedia.org. It is, to my eye, one of the most austerely handsome cars made by anybody in fifty-odd years. Consumer Reports called it "remarkably agile for a car this size" and they didn't exaggerate, it's the second best-handling car I've owned (first best being a Corvette.) It came thoroughly pre-tested with 60,000 miles on the meter. As of now, just about to clock 100,000 miles, it has not yet begun to fall apart or show any signs of doing so (though of course you never know, any older mechanical contraption might pull the stunt made notorious by the Wonderful One-hoss Shay.) There are plenty of desirable cars out there, even some American ones (I wouldn't turn down a Cadillac CTS-V if Santa brought me one) but, not really being a car maniac, I'm pretty much content to drive this one until it does disintegrate.
posted by jfuller at 5:09 PM on August 9, 2007


eurasian, is this the guy who thinks CR is an industry shill?
Phil is founder and past president for almost 20 years of the non-profit Automobile Protection Association (1968-1987), a former elected member of Consumers Union (Publisher of Consumer Reports) Board of Directors, and a colleague of Ralph Nader.
Here is a picture of the back of a Chinese Buick (a Delica), taken last Fall. The other Buicks in Beijing looked quite ordinary.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:09 PM on August 9, 2007


Why are car bodies getting bigger and chunkier as the windows get smaller and narrower?

No kidding... I had this thought just a few days ago. There was a certain car I saw... it wasn't Dodge Magnum or a Chrysler 3000 but worse. I can't find what the damn thing was, but it was a Buick-looking full size car. The passenger windows were no better than slits. I was sort of mortified at the potential for claustrophobia, not to mention the safety risks of not being able to see traffic around the car.
posted by zek at 5:11 PM on August 9, 2007


washburn, the "made in" label is pretty much irrelevent these days.

Well, I disagree, since the reason I'd want to buy an American car is to support organized labor in the US. I'm not sure why it's so important where the label comes from.

Of course, this raises the question of whether I'd rather buy a union-made foreign car than a non-union made car from some right to work state. In general, I'd feel better about getting a car produced under good working conditions (including respect for the right to collective bargaining) than one made in the US by ununionized labor.

Oh and also, on Dr. Z: I'm not a car person at all, and I'm also not much of a blogger anymore. But I can't help pointing the way to a post of mine from a while back re the sad story of Dr. Z, for those who share my interest in this character's odd cultural misadventure. (Hopefully an admin will delete this self-linking comment if it is unduly evil).
posted by washburn at 5:12 PM on August 9, 2007


Frasermoo, your Mazda is a Ford product. It is as American as a Toyota is Japanese.

It's built on a Mazda platform and has a Mazda K series engine and is built in America in a predominantly Mazda influenced and run plant.

You're statement is far too sweeping.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:18 PM on August 9, 2007


How dare you call yourself Dr. Z. There's not a single Datsun oriented post in there!
posted by IronLizard at 5:19 PM on August 9, 2007


caddis, you're wrong about the V8. I went to test drive a new Z06 not too long ago and I can testify that it produces an absolutely ridiculous amount of horsepower through the entire RPM range, including the top end.

What baffles me is: how can this be a priority for GM? How can it be a priority for GM to fill parking lots with unsold Hummers? How can GM spend $11 million tuning the Holden Commodore's exhaust note so it is somewhat reminiscent of my 1965 GTO's - and yet, yet, they cannot produce a normal mid-sized car that anyone in their right mind would ever want to buy?

Maybe I'm getting old, but I'm not even that excited about the Z06. I have driven a few really fast cars over the years and my predominant impression of the Z06 is that it was monstrously overpowered. I hear that 30% of the '06s didn't make it a year on the road before they were totaled, and I can believe it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:21 PM on August 9, 2007


Here is a picture of the back of a Chinese Buick (a Delica), taken last Fall. The other Buicks in Beijing looked quite ordinary.

That is a Mitsubishi Delica with a Buick license plate bracket.

This is one of the Chinese Buicks that people are raving about.

Washburn, just because you buy from an American company doesn't mean that the car was even made in the U.S. Furthermore, why would you want to support the unions who are helping to put the U.S. car industry out of business? The Big 2.75's woes aren't totally the union's fault, but lousy CBAs certainly are a big part of the problem.
posted by The World Famous at 5:23 PM on August 9, 2007


the last great American car was the EV1
posted by joelf at 5:38 PM on August 9, 2007


Washburn, just because you buy from an American company doesn't mean that the car was even made in the U.S. Furthermore, why would you want to support the unions who are helping to put the U.S. car industry out of business?

My Escort was made in the US (though I bought it used, so the point's pretty much moot). All things being mostly equal, I'd prefer union-made vehicles to ones that aren't union-made since I'm generally sympathetic to economic democracy. I'd probably also prefer a foreign car made in a union shop, or in a country with strong social protections to one made in an American state that uses anti-labor laws to undercut unionized auto plants and workers in other parts of the US.

All that said I'm not a zealot about this. Price, style, reliability etc also factor into the equation; yet conditions of production would be something I'd consider.
posted by washburn at 6:12 PM on August 9, 2007


If we throw out the design issues, is Detroit capable of building and selling clones of Camry's and Accords for a profit? In other words, given Detroit's current situation with regard to executive salaries, union labor, fleet sales, and dealership controls, could they turn themselves around in the short-term by simply copying Japanese designs?

For me, the whole product design issue is the biggest obstacle to me even considering American cars. But theoretically, that's a problem that could be easily fixed with the right people at the controls (like a Steve Jobs-type design-is-king visionary).
posted by junesix at 6:15 PM on August 9, 2007


Ten years ago when I had two very young children, I decided to buy a minivan. It had been years since I owned an American car - I'd been a faithful Honda owner for years. A few weeks after I bought a Plymouth Voyager, the car suddenly stopped working as I was backing out of the driveway. No brakes, no steering, no power, nothing. I brought the car into the dealer, and they ran a diagnostic. They saw from the car's computer that I lost power, but couldn't locate the problem. They thought that perhaps I had "shut off" the engine inadvertently (what??). The next time it happened, I was in the pharmacy parking lot. Back to the dealer, but no luck finding the problem. The last time it happened, I was waiting at an intersection and lost all power, including brakes. I couldn't stop the car from rolling into the intersection, and got broadsided by another car going 40 miles per hour. One of my toddlers got a cut on the head from smacking into her sister's car seat, and I got a shoulder injury. It was a miracle that we survived.

It took 3 years and a of lot of lawyer fees to get compensation from Chrysler - and they only paid for the car repair. I dumped that minivan as soon as it came out of the body shop and bought a Honda minivan. My next car after that was a Lexus SUV (hybrid). No problems with any of my Japanese-made cars. Ever.

I will never ever buy another American vehicle.
posted by Flakypastry at 6:16 PM on August 9, 2007


You're clearly a real car person who notices important details about cars. Like the name of the car you drive regularly.
posted by The World Famous

The last time I drove an American car regularly was years ago... As in about 20 years ago; I babysat it for a professor who was off-campus that summer, and I drove it for about three months, so no, I don't remember what model it was.

Oddly enough, I remember the Rabbit I drove for 270,000 miles, which I finally sold only because I couldn't afford the insurance (in DC). It was rock-solid. Ditto the various Toyotas and Hondas I've driven. I guess my inability to remember the exact model of every car I've ever driven disqualifies me from being able to tell a crappy car from a good one.

Also, I managed to post the wrong link above; it was all cars, not all vehicles. This is all vehicles. It is sorted by Air Pollution Score, not Fuel Economy.

A salient point:
Lexus RX400H mpg: 32 city; 27 Hwy
Honda Accord (non-hybrid model): 24 city; 27 HWY

They both score a 9 on the air pollution score (scale is 1-10, with 10 being best), and a 7 on the "Greenhouse Gas Score."

The Lexus does worse by the "air pollution" metric than some gas-only vehicles - and as far as I can see, all of those vehicles are cars, not SUVs. I couldn't see that there were any gas-only SUVs that did better than the hybrid Lexus.
posted by rtha at 6:30 PM on August 9, 2007


I would never, ever buy a truck other than a Ford. I just love love love them.

But Ford cars, meh. For the most part, I can take them or leave them. I think the Mustang would be nice to have if I was fifteen (maybe even ten) years younger. I think a Ka would be a great commuter car if Ford would sell it over here, but the last FoMoCo car that I really lusted over was the Mercury Marauder - before that, it was the Lincoln Mark VII LSC.

Perhaps I'm just an old fart.

And get off my lawn.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:37 PM on August 9, 2007


"junesix, in all fairness, the Aztek was no uglier than the rest of the Pontiac lineup."

All due respect, Kirth, but I must disagree. To my designer's eye, there is absolutely no angle from which the Aztek pleases the eye - even when viewed from above. The proportions are just all wrong, they violate every basic design rule about where things should go and how they should be related spatially. It is a textbook example of what NOT to do when you're designing ANYTHING.

Other Pontiacs did suffer from some of the same ugly applique as the Aztek, but only from the front; from other angles the contemporary Grand Am/Grand Prix looks decent, if bland. It's not offensive to the eye.

I actually took some personal time to study the design of the Aztek and figure this out. Yes, I'm a huge nerd. But just looking at the car offended me so badly, I had to know why.

I still cringe every time I see one, and fruitlessly try to find a viewing position from which it redeems itself. Maybe I'll have to put one up on a lift and see what it looks like underneath.

That said, the interior was pretty nice, roomy and comfortable.

"I think they were going after the niche market populated by people with absolutely no ability to discern attractiveness."

Can't argue with you there. They miscalculated on that one, though; I heard they built about 4-5 times as many as they sold in the US. I wonder what happened to all the rest?

I love my '67 Camaro. Now there is an example of automotive design beauty. I just don't drive it much. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 6:50 PM on August 9, 2007


The last great American car was the 1986 Chevy Chevette. When I was in high school, we packed 11 people into mine. It wouldn't actually move but we did fit in there.
posted by SteveTheRed at 7:03 PM on August 9, 2007


The last American car I owned was a Chevy Cavalier. I'll never buy another "American" car (not including Toyotas built in the US). The last 3 cars I've owned have been Toyotas (including the Prius I drive now).

I'll only buy Hondas or Toyotas from now on, and I'll never buy another car that doesn't have a keyless pushbutton start. I love not having to fumble for a key.
posted by mike3k at 7:03 PM on August 9, 2007


Oddly enough, I remember the Rabbit I drove for 270,000 miles, which I finally sold only because I couldn't afford the insurance (in DC). It was rock-solid.

Unless it was a '97 Rabbit which had a teensy problem with the electrical system - as in they installed it. Then of course there is the 2002 Jetta which leaks oil like a sprinkler system was installed and is "normal" according to the company.

I will NEVER own a VW again - any product they sell I will not buy. PERIOD.

Get off my lawn, too!
posted by fluffycreature at 7:13 PM on August 9, 2007


Both General Motors and Ford have successful European divisions with highly rated vehicles that sell quite well in places like Britain. The Euro-spec Focus has been mentioned previously as an example of a really good small car that Ford refuses to export to the American market (fancy that, an ostensibly American manufacturer having to import its own product into the home territory). Why is this the case? A couple of possible reasons.

1) Most people don't actually know what they're buying. The people who are so enamoured by the current Euro Focus are the ones who watch downloaded episodes of Top Gear, read European car magazines if at all, and read a lot of automotive blogs. But just how big is that audience compared to the general car-buying public? Until recently, probably very small. How many people buying Mazda3s are even aware they're basically buying a Euro-spec Focus with Mazda trimmings, and how many just think they're getting a really good Mazda?

2) Cost. Cars are more expensive for a given size segment in Europe. Tax rates, trade regulations and the cost of gas all play roles in this. Gas impacts car ownership costs more than sticker prices, but the effect is the same: if you're in the market for a car, you're spending far more than you would in the States, and as such you come to expect much more. Because gas is much more expensive, smaller, more fuel-efficient engines are the norm; because cars are more of a luxury item, fit and finish, design and feature sets are more important as well. Trying to bring all the European value adds to the United States for the price of an American car is difficult to say the least.

3) Regulations. Crash regulations cause a lot of problems, not necessarily because American safety regs are stricter (though I think they are), but because of the amount of money you have to spend on crash tests and certification. Emissions regulations are another big one; a lot of cars in Europe run diesel, but different emissions regulations—especially California's strict policies—mean it's next to impossible to simply bring a European car over to the States without at least some testing.

Despite all this, American manufacturers are beginning to take the hint. For years, Mazda has served partially as Ford's shadow Euro label, though the relationship between Mazda and Ford has always been more complicated than a simple master/vassal relationship. In addition to the Mazda3 serving as our Euro Focus, the next-generation Mazda6 will be built on the Ford Mondeo platform. Word is that Ford plans to incorporate more of its European product into the American lineup in the coming years.

Saturn, long the realm of the eminently kickable plastic door panel, has found a second life as the American division of Opel/Vauxhall. The Saturn Aura is the American version of the Opel Vectra, and the next-generation Vue will be a rebadged Opel Antara. The next generation of the popular Opel Astra compact is being designed for both European and American markets, and will even utilize the same name (Opel/Saturn Astra).

But Mazda, and to a certain extent Saturn, are already aiming for a market geared towards smaller cars with better fit and finish (Saturn, remember, was originally termed GM's import-fighting division). Ford and GM still have to hit a much wider audience, including the audience that says bigger is better. And this doesn't just apply to SUVs; both companies have full-size vehicles without direct analogues in Europe, and many people will still balk at paying a premium for a well-equipped small car. While those attitudes are changing somewhat, the U.S. market will always skew towards larger, fuel-hungry vehicles.
posted by chrominance at 7:47 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Unless it was a '97 Rabbit which had a teensy problem with the electrical system - as in they installed it.

No, it was before VWs began to suck teh huge suckage. I think it was a late80ssomething - I want to say '87 or '89. I do remember that it had about 90K miles on it.
posted by rtha at 7:53 PM on August 9, 2007


...when I got it, that is. I put another 80K or so on it.
posted by rtha at 7:54 PM on August 9, 2007


My family has owned close to a dozen different Hondas/Toyotas over the last two decades or so, with nary a mechanical failure. My older brother learned to drive on a 15-year-old Accord that served him flawlessly. My Corolla is now 8 years old and has been going without a hitch this whole time (when I actually take it in for an oil change or to replace the brake pads like I'm supposed to, that is... ahem). Hearing car horror stories is always a bit baffling for me: aren't cars supposed to be reliable enough for you to just turn the key, take it in to the shop when scheduled, and not have to worry about being stranded somewhere (or worse -- be the cause of an accident as with Flakypastry)? It doesn't take rocket science to build a reliable car.

Guess I'm sticking to Honda and Toyota. I'll buy American once they start making them just as cheaply and reliably.
posted by DaShiv at 8:05 PM on August 9, 2007


chrominance: While those attitudes are changing somewhat, the U.S. market will always skew towards larger, fuel-hungry vehicles.

See, I think that's the myth that Detroit has been telling themselves for decades. Sure, trucks will always be big sellers -- no one is telling Ford and GM to stop building trucks. But when it comes to passenger vehicles, though Americans may say they want bigger cars, what they're really buying are the well designed, fuel-efficient ones. Perceived desire is a long way from actual consumer purchasing behavior. Ask anyone what their dream car would be and they'll describe a fast, sporty, mileage-be-damned muscle car or a tank-sized SUV. But look in their garage or follow them to an auto dealership and you'll see the real world result of rational buying behavior - fuel-efficient, reliable, high-resale value cars purchases.
posted by junesix at 8:43 PM on August 9, 2007


I have a 2000 Explorer Sport (dude, I'm carbon offsetting or something, my other car is a two-seater) and I fucking love that car. I mean, sure, the check engine light has inexplicably been on for the last 3 years, the rest of my dashboard lights (power steering, the little cartoon of the guy with a seat belt on who is getting punched in the face by an airbag, my "low fuel" - but I guess that's really my own cheapiness -) make it look like Christmas, all while my radio display flickers, on, off, on off, fliiicker flicker flicker, like it was being controlled by a poltergeist. Even all of these things, and I seriously, no lies, insensibly, dumbly, like a smart girl with a boyfriend who has failed senior year 4 times, I keep being in love with it.

It gets terrible mileage, it is top heavy and hard to park, and it is the best car I have ever owned.
posted by mckenney at 8:44 PM on August 9, 2007


rtha, you (probably) drove a 1984 Rabbit, the last year they made them in America. Yep, it was American-made. Decent cars, rustbuckets like all 1980s sheet metal, but cheap parts, easy-ish to work on, and in the GTI version a go-kart hell-of-good-time.

mark 4 1998-2004 VWs... yeah, they have quality issues worse than US cars.
posted by anthill at 8:54 PM on August 9, 2007


That Intrepid is quite handsome, jfuller.
posted by Kwine at 9:07 PM on August 9, 2007


Do Americans want bigger cars because they are bigger people than Asians and some Europeans?
posted by Cranberry at 9:23 PM on August 9, 2007


This American loves small cars. I think the stereotypical American loves big cars for the same reason they love big portions of anything; more is better.

There was also some study that related the American love of big cars to an underlying and pervasive sense of fear (fear of status, fear of collision, and, oddly enough, fear of being grabbed by something underneath the car, according tho the study). Who knows how much truth to that though.
posted by lekvar at 9:35 PM on August 9, 2007


1984 Rabbit

Yes! Yes! That was it! I manage to figure out how to replace the fan belt myself, and was stoked about that.
posted by rtha at 9:37 PM on August 9, 2007


fear of being grabbed by something underneath the car, according tho the study

What's odd is that there were reportedly a group of rapists that did this in town. They would grab their victim, drag them under the vehicle and do it right there at gas pumps and in parking lots. Here's a report from another state, too.

mckenny: the check engine light has inexplicably been on for the last 3 years
It gets terrible mileage,


Besides the usually crappy mileage, these two things are related. I'd bet a $20 on a bad 02 sensor.
posted by IronLizard at 10:52 PM on August 9, 2007


I like how Lexus' Hybrid and Toyota's non-Prius Hybrids and Honda's Hybrid Accord get worse MPG than a lot of gas-only vehicles.

You sound like you're missing the point. It may be a popular misconception that "Hybrid" should mean "low MPG", but what it means is "for any of many possible purposes, the vehicle uses a hybrid of two kinds of motor".

One of those possible reasons is: electric motors can kick the hell out of gas engines when it to torque (or pretty much any other performance stat really). So if you wanted to build a high-performance car with kickass power, but can't make it full-electric because the battery technology and infrastructure is just not available yet, you might chose to use both a gas and an electric engine - this makes it a hybrid, even though fuel economy has little to nothing to do with the decision.

Your Lexus hybrid example, case in point, is neither designed nor advertised as a fuel economy purchase, it is advertised as a car that can put a near-silent 600hp under your foot. A car with the performance of a V-12, but the sound, emissions, (and yes, fuel economy) of a V-8.

I have no idea if the Lexus is any good, or if it delivers on these advertised claims, but let's at least judge apples as apples.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:39 PM on August 9, 2007


I've always been a huge fan of used Toyotas. I once bought one with 192,000 miles since I figured the engine was just getting broken in. Drove it all over the state and kept it for four years. I followed that up with a 12 year old Nissan pickup. Had that one five years. It hasn't seen that much use in the last three years, though, since gas prices went up and I got a motorcycle.

However, we bought our first ever (and probably last, since I hate car payments) new car four years ago. It's a Saturn ION. The car has been great to us. We've driven it in eight states and it hasn't given us any trouble. The electric power steering abso-freaking-lutely rocks. It has a u-turn radius about the same as a Toyota Echo. Five speed automatic transmission. Gets 25 in town and 38 out of town (it's rated 24/32, but I am kinda OCD about checking mileage when I fill up, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it was getting top notch mileage on the highway.) Oh, and those plastic door panels aren't overrated either; we've had the door bumped by wayward shopping carts, other car doors opening next to us, things like that, with nary a dent or scratch.
posted by azpenguin at 11:57 PM on August 9, 2007


We drive a Camry. It's 3 years old, I've no idea the mileage on it. It has surprised us with a failure exactly once. The battery suddenly was dead. But no big deal. This happened at a gas station which happened to be attached to a Toyota dealership :-) We were back on the road within 30 minutes. Seriously good luck, since we were touring areas where a car breakdown means you're lucky to get out with the clothes on your back, and don't expect to see the car again (yea, South Africa is like that in some areas).

I don't know what we'll drive next. Depends on where we move. So far, we only get company cars. Of our nature, we quite enjoy not having a car, but not everywhere has good public transit. We have the means to rent one whenever we decide we need one, so that works.

Last time I owned a car was 10 years ago, and it was a '88 Bronco II. When I had a problem getting warranty work, Ford couldn't force the dealer nearest me to do the work, so I had to drive about 3 times further (lived in middle of nowhere, hence the 4x4). No Fords for me again.

In general, I don't like what GM does, either. Except for the Opels we rented frequently in Germany. Very satisfying. But as rentals, I've no clue how they hold up. Not likely I'd choose to have one long term though.

I'm from Flint, Michigan. I watched Flint go down the toilet in the 70's (only big employer being GM). 30 years later, they still haven't figured out how to be competitive. Very sad. The word 'hopeless' comes to mind.
posted by Goofyy at 12:37 AM on August 10, 2007


I am partial to Buicks. My family at some point decided that the most reliable and roomy but affordable car was the 1995-7 Buick LeSabre, so my parents ended up buying three of them. Both my sister and I are shitty drivers, and it became very useful to have untippable cars.

This means I don't know anything about cars other than the LeSabre, which I can drive like an extension of my body.
posted by limnrix at 12:56 AM on August 10, 2007


Better late than never. Whether to the thread or to quality.

But as for me, I'm done with US carmakers. My last car was a Saturn (given to me, not bought). It was a nightmare from top to bottom mechanically, one of the worst-built cars I have ever, ever driven. It finally died with less than 90K on it. I've owned two Ford trucks, several Plymouth and Dodge muscle cars, and driven dozens of American cars as rentals. They do not come close to Hondas, Mazdas, and Toyotas I have known.

The US auto industry in its great arrogance finally decides to get around to quality, reliability, and fuel economy. Like I said, better late than never, but too late ever to interest me again. You don't screw your customers for 25+ years and get a free pass the first time you top the JD Power list. No fucking way.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:07 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've got hearing damage in my right ear from our '88 Golf that we eventually sold for $500. It was a gift. The mufflers slowly got louder and I didn't notice and just turned up the radio. Doh. Still, it was a dream compared to my wife's Escort pony. Never another Ford, and I would only get a VW if I planned to sell it before it reached $50k.

The problem with buying an American car is that you are placing yourself in a network that is determined by the corporate culture that created it. We are talking about companies so big that they qualify as City-States, with a long history of poor customer service, internal conflicts and with histories that always invoke that little Monopoly robber baron icon.

Toyotas and Hondas feel like they were designed by incredibly obsesses Ninja Engineers with cybernetic implants who cut off the pinkies of employees who make mistakes.

Racist stereotypes aside, my Brother's Saturn has over 200,000 miles on it, and he's only had to replace the fuel pump (which required him to remove the gas tank. Doh!).

As far as unions ruining american cars is concerned, according to patron saint of some internet hipsters Malcolm Gladwell, the refusal of automakers to collectivize retirement benefits is what is killing them. It's in the New Yorker, but not yet online.

We drive a Nissan minivan branded as a Mercury Villager, and it has been great. 135k. Needed some drive train work once when the CV joints weren't properly lubed when we got the oil changed.

I'd buy a Mazda or a Ford Ranger (really a Mazda), but that's about it for American manufacturers.

Speaking of EuroFord, there is a flickr group devoted to the KA:

http://flickr.com/groups/ka/
posted by mecran01 at 6:43 AM on August 10, 2007


Aside from the reliability issue, here's something else I've noticed: American car companies just don't do small car ergonomics well.

Take a Ford Escort, and compare it side-by-side with any Japanese/Korean car of similar exterior dimensions. The interior roominess of the import will be vastly superior. I'm 6'4" tall, and have no problem sitting in the '84 Nissan, '95 Honda Civic, '92 Hyundai, and many similar-sized imports. But the Escorts, Cavaliers, etc are just cramped and uncomfortable.

American car companies just don't seem to care that they offer inferior products.
posted by yesster at 8:33 AM on August 10, 2007


Your Lexus hybrid example, case in point, is neither designed nor advertised as a fuel economy purchase, it is advertised as a car that can put a near-silent 600hp under your foot.

600hp? Try 250 in the RX 400h and 340 in the GS450h.

If it is advertised as a near-silent 600hp, Lexus/Toyota should be sued for false advertising.
posted by The World Famous at 9:06 AM on August 10, 2007


TWF, is that the internal combustion engine power output alone? I think their marketing department is adding the electric and gas engine power outputs.
posted by anthill at 10:42 AM on August 10, 2007


From http://www.lexus.com/:

The hybrids are listed as:

RX - 268 hp (total) 0-60 in 7.5 sec (4wd)
GS - 340 hp (total) 0-60 in 5.2 sec (smokin!)
LS - 438 hp (total) 0-60 in 5.5 sec

these figures are with the gas and electric outputs added as that is what you get under full throttle
posted by caddis at 11:25 AM on August 10, 2007


How many people buying Mazda3s are even aware they're basically buying a Euro-spec Focus with Mazda trimmings?

Me! (I also download Top Gear.)
posted by smackfu at 2:59 PM on August 10, 2007


I guess we have to disagree, zoogleplex. If I had to choose between the stepped-on-shoebox look of an Aztek and the ought-to-be-stepped-on-bug look of a Grand Am, I would have trouble deciding which was uglier. I'm talking about the Grand Ams of a few years back; I think the newer ones are more nondescript.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:13 PM on August 10, 2007


Agreed, taking styling cues from cockroaches is a terrible idea.
posted by IronLizard at 8:19 PM on August 10, 2007


Kirth, we're not in all that much disagreement, so it's all good. All them Pontiacs were ugly then. To me, the Aztek is so ugly it makes an Edsel look charming.

Mazda3? NICE. I'd buy one if I were in the market, the hatchback in that dark gunmetal gray color.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:53 PM on August 10, 2007


But when it comes to passenger vehicles, though Americans may say they want bigger cars, what they're really buying are the well designed, fuel-efficient ones.

It's true that Americans are buying more small cars these days, and concern about gas prices is driving the sales of compacts and subcompacts just like in the 70s. Regardless of this, there are systemic reasons why Americans will continue to drive larger vehicles than their European and Asian bretheren—greater availability of parking lots/garages versus street parking, wider lanes, a well-developed interstate system, urban sprawl and especially cheap gas (relatively speaking) all contribute somewhat to a bias towards larger vehicles.

Small vehicles still do best in dense metropolitan areas, and though you can take a Smart car on the highway quite easily (there was an article in the Toronto Star recently where the writer road-tested a Smart by driving across the country with his daughter with relative ease) there's still that prevalent mindset that highway cruising in a compact car isn't as safe or comfortable as doing it in a larger vehicle. These attitudes will change, but Europe's already there. I don't see how we'll ever leapfrog them on acceptance of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

And the trend towards smaller cars isn't a universal one: take a look at the minivans and small SUVs we drive here, and then look at what they offer in Europe to fit the same needs. Here, every minivan is a behemoth; in Europe there are two or three distinct classes of MPV, the largest of which is roughly equivalent to our minivans. Only now are we starting to see compact MPVs along the lines of the Ford C-Max; the US-spec Mazda5 is built on the same platform, and the Mercedes B-Class is available in Canada.
posted by chrominance at 10:52 AM on August 12, 2007


I saw a SmartCar go past my building yesterday as we were waiting for friends to pick us up. I think it's pretty cool - and if the price point is appropriate I expect to see a lot more of them here in LA. I would totally buy one.

Since I'm mostly a motorcycle guy, it just kind of boggles me how comfortable so many people are with using 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 lb plus vehicles to transport a single 150-200 lb person. That means using 5% or less of the total energy expended in actually moving the person around. My bike weighs around 450 lb, I weigh about 170 lb, so I'm using 38% of the energy to move me, and with a passenger it's even better, closer to 50%.

Something like that small light SmartCar makes so much more sense to me, at least if you're in a typical US city.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:22 AM on August 12, 2007


I'm pretty sure the price point on the SmartCar is not appropriate. Like it costs as much if not more than a 4 seat compact.
posted by smackfu at 1:28 PM on August 12, 2007


Getting back to Buicks, this guy is a Buick aficionado. Maybe not a typical one, though.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:28 AM on August 13, 2007


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