• Sep 18, 2007

"Import intenders" is the term used for car buyers who don't even consider domestic vehicles when planning their next purchase. And according to J.D. Power, they make up 54-percent of car buyers. In spite of Detroit's efforts, and in spite of improving testing scores, the Big Three have been unable to sway those buyers to their brands.

When Ford's ad agency put on a promotion called Swap My Ride, ordinary folks who drove Ford vehicles for a week raved about them. Buick just joined Lexus at the top of the J.D. Power long-term reliability survey. Yet when market research firm CNW holds focus groups with cars that have all of their branding removed, if people think the car is American their opinion of it automatically drops -- even if they're talking about a Toyota Camry. Having driven the new Cadillac CTS, which is a very good car, the biggest hurdle the brand will face when trying to lure BMW buyers is not the quality of the CTS -- it's the word "Cadillac."

There are a host of potential reasons for the reflex judgment of American cars = lesser quality. Detroit is building better cars than the ones that created the perception in the first place, but Ford, GM, and Chrysler aren't having much luck changing it. They are sure they can get more people to change their minds if they can just get them in the cars -- but they have to get them to even consider getting in the car. A solution is not just around the corner, but the first step will be to keep building good cars .

[Source: Wall Street Journal via Edmunds]



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  • 87 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      There is more to quality than durability/reliability. An Aztec could be the most reliable car on the road but it is an ugly turd. Nobody wants to drive an ugly turd. Quality is also about good design aesthetics.

      The new Ford Focus might end up being a reliable car, but it is an ugly turd that shows lack of good design aesthetics inside and out. The steering wheel looks like it belongs in a cheap minivan -- ya the youth that buy this want to feel like they are driving a minivan -- not. The huge silver colored strip on the dash is an eyesore.

      Looks like Ford let their affirmative action team of women designers loose on another project. This new Focus is going to be a disaster.
      • 7 Years Ago
      To fix the perception problem...
      First step "build good cars"
      Second step "educate & get them in the driver's seat"

      We all agree this would work, however the big 3 marketers are in la la land. Their budget is hugh! What are they doing to educate and get customers into the dealer? That is what counts and makes sales.

      I say, slash the advertising budget and offer CASH! Yeah cash! Have it in three levels, one in the form of an online quiz you must pass, one to visit a dealer, and one to test drive.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Perception takes years or decades to change. That's why Toyota gets a free pass in the face of very large recall numbers. Things will change if they continue to do the right thing.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Perception takes years or decades to change. That's why Toyota gets a free pass in the face of very large recall numbers. Things will change if they continue to do the right thing.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I can honestly say that I like the direction that a few of GM's brands are going by adding some of those sexy Euro/Australian cars to their line up. I probably wouldn't buy one simply because they don't make a car that appeals to what I want. I would feel just as confident in a Chevy Cobalt as I would a Honda Civic.

      I think Ford could have that same success if they just got rid of their awful hum-drum car lineup and made their Euro cars over here. Obviously that excludes the Mustang and their trucks. Their latest Mach III razor blade front facia design is boring compared to say, a Mondeo. For the love of God make another SVT Focus only in both sedan and hatch.

      Dodge/Chrysler is hopeless imo. They are the only domestic companies that I would categorize as being poor quality. The fit and finish on those cars is ridiculously terrible. The Viper isn’t even worth the money it costs (compared to a Z06). Their only decent car, imo, is the Charger SRT-8, but again the fit and finish is pure rubbish. I would rather be sent to Hell than be forced to drive a Dodge/Chrysler for eternity.
      • 7 Years Ago
      They need to stop putting chrome all over everything. Have you seen an Escalade lately? The glare will blind you. How many imports do you see with chrome all over them? Having chrome on your car is like having a mullet haircut. I guess that's what you should expect from car companies based in that fashion mecca called Detriot.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Oh my god, my $62,000 Corvette doesn't have as nice an interior as a $180,000 Lamborghini. WHY?!?!?!?!?!?

      I wonder...
      • 7 Years Ago
      It seems that at some point, the domestic car manufacturers lost the expertise, and/or capital investment, to compete in the mid-sized car segment. Even most of the competitive U.S. small and mid-sized sedans have relied heavily upon foreign collaborative engineering efforts. For example:

      (1) Focus (1999-2004): Ford U.K.
      (2) Fusion (2006-present): Mazda 6
      (3) Taurus (2007-present): Volvo S80
      (4) Aura: (2006-present): Opel Vectra + Pontiac G6
      (5) Cobalt: Opel Delta platform
      (6) Vibe: Toyota Matrix
      (7) Aveo: Daewoo

      Even the sedans on the horizon have foreign underpinnings. For example:

      (1) Fusion: Next-gen Mazda6
      (2) Aura: Next-gen Vectra
      (3) Astra: Opel designed
      (4) G8: Holden
      (5) G6: Probably a rebadged Aura
      (6) Cobalt: Probably a rebadged Astra sedan
      (7) Verve: Ford Europe / Mazda2
      (8) Next Focus: Based on next S40 and Mazda3

      The domestic manufacturers obviously have the need to collect its international expertise to compete in a segment that North America defined: the mid-sized country cruiser. 2006-07 was catching up with where the Japanese were in 2003. 2010 should be where the domestics do catchup.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The domestics lost much of a generation of buyers by producing sub-standard products in the mid-80's (I know that was a long time ago) and tried to convice us that the imports were crap! For instance, my niece turned 16 in the mid-80s. Her dad wanted her to have a safe, reliable vehicle to drive thru high school and college. Based on his bad experiences with domestics he leased her an new Civic. She beat the snot out of that car for some 8 years and it never let her down. As a result, she replaced it with another Civic. When she got married and the kids started coming she replaced it with a Dodge minivan. It was the worst 5 years of her drving experience - one problem after another with that thing. When her lease was up she replaced it with a Honda Oddessy. She is now on her 2nd Oddessy. You will NEVER get he to look at a domestic again! She will stick with what she knows works for her!
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Perception takes years or decades to change."

      I don't think it's about perception as it is about experience. If you've been burned by a brand or manufacturer, it sure isn't going to be on the top of your list when you go shopping next time. I've had plenty of friends tell me about their car problems and have picked them up at mechanics to give them rides. Much more than not, the more serious problems and repeat visits to correct problems have mostly been with the domestic makes. Everytime I pick them up I have then chant mantras. The last one was "I will never buy another Chrysler product." And in fact, that person went with a Mazda on their latest purchase (at my recommendation.)

      From my own experience, worst cars I've owned:

      1988 Chevy Corvette (Doug Nash 4+3 fans out there anyone?) - Left me stranded on the freeway once. Left a friend stranded in a parking lot once.
      1981 VW Scirocco (lots of fun to drive when the electrical system wasn't conking out.) - Left me stranded on the freeway twice.
      1987 Mustang GT - Great, torquey 5L engine. Had to have the water pump replaced twice. T-tops leaked from the day I got the car. Had to go back to the dealer at least 5 times before they finally got it fixed correctly. My brother's 1998 ate thru 1 transmission and 1 rear differential, and always had some rear bushing squeek that the dealership could never fix.

      Best cars I've owned:

      1981 Toyota Celica. No problems, just routine maintenance.
      1991 Mazda Miata. No problems just routine maintenance. Sold this car just after it's 10th birthday. Was still running great and sold for over KBB.
      1994 Mazda Miata. No problems just routine maintenance. Sold used for over KBB.
      1998 Honda CRV. No problems just routine maintenance.
      2003 Nissan 350Z. No problems, routine maintenance and still going strong.

      So maybe the domestics should go after the newer car buyers that don't have the nasty tastes of car troubles in their mouths. A good start would be to take the Hyundai approach and offer long-ass warrantees (10yr/100K miles, bumper-to-bumper). That does usually work to ease people's concerns about reliability. (Now the car better be pretty well built so that the buyer doesn't actually have to cash in on the warranty. Would be pretty comical to offer that and then see half your sold inventory come back for warranty service...)

      • 7 Years Ago
      Quote:
      the first step will be to keep building good cars


      So true. I know that all American cars aren't crap, but these companies need to establish a track record for quality, which (despite some good offerings) can take a few years before a skeptic like me will begin to trust.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The Cadillac CTS and the Corvette as examples of competitive cars? Please.

      The build quality and the chassis might be quite good, but American cars have a LONG way to go before the quality of interior materials matches their prices. And that is the root of the problem.

      While the Japanese will live up to expectations and the Europeans will deliver something much better (and if it's not interior, it's driving dynamics), most American cars have sup-par interior materials with iffy exterior styling. There are some new models that may break this mold, but it's going to take two more design cycles and exceeding customer expectations before anyone considers domestics on par with the international competition.
        • 7 Years Ago
        For a guy who drives Ford Focus you know a lot about the competition. I will give you one thing the enterior of the current C6 is kind of crappy, BUT it still costs WAY less than anything else out there. Plus if you really want to get down to the nuts and bolts wait till the 08's hit the street. They are light years better than what we are currently driving. BTW my best friend has a Boxter and the interior on that is not that great. I really do not see the HUGE difference that you claim.
        • 7 Years Ago
        You are a moron. Go drive a Vette and an 08 CTS and then write something you idiot.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I own a 06 and it seems to drive fine to me. Sounds like you need a Town Car....
        • 7 Years Ago
        Maybe you should drive the competition and compare the ride of the Corvette vs similarly priced high-performance European cars. The M3 is MUCH better and so is the S4/RS4, never mind the Boxster/Cayman and the Z4 M.

        I'm sure you won't since you are convinced that the Corvette is the 'best in the world' and not interested in finding out if that's actually true or not.

        Anyone who has spend serious seat time in any of the above will tell you that for real world usage, any of the previous are better than the Corvette and they are all within $10k of a well spec'd 'Vette. And their interiors are miles better than the 'Vette.

        Sure, for a track day (and I was there last Friday, with an RS4 as well), the Corvette is better and it's better at 9/10ths on smooth, demanding roads. But I would never use it as a daily driver (unless I was commuting at 9/10ths, which I don't). The manual transmission alone is reason enough (the shift linkage is terrible), never mind the ride. Luckily, I have a bunch of other cars to choose from.

        Basically, if you want to drive at 9/10ths on a track, get a 'Vette (or maybe a Lotus Elise), but if you have to live with it everyday, get one of the European competitors.
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