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Motor Trends

America's love-hate relationship with the Asian automobile. Rudy: deal or no deal? Plus more.

5.9.07

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SHOP TALK
Re: Eric Peters's Why Toyota's Number One:

Toyota is no. 1 for an unexpected reason: They never wear out. My Camry has over 200,000 miles on the original engine, so I've been out of the market for a decade.
-- David Govett
Davis, California

The general thrust of Eric Peters's article on Toyota and its ascension to major player status in the automobile manufacturing world was very interesting as are most of Mr. Peters's columns on the auto industry and related topics. I would only quibble with one part of the article. True, the new Toyota full-sized truck has a larger available engine and class-leading towing capacity. In those respects it does indeed outshine the Ford F-150. That being said I must point out that Toyota is obliged to, in essence, put all its eggs in one basket with its full-sized truck. Ford has several classes of trucks in addition to the F-150 that will tow all you need to tow short of needing a class A commercial drivers license. F-150's are for pretty light-duty work. Need to haul mulch home from the garden center? The F-150 will do just fine. If you intend to haul heavier loads full-time then there's always the F-250 and F-350. I have driven a friend's Toyota Tundra, which is almost full-sized. It's a super nice truck and I wouldn't mind owning a truck made by Toyota. My own truck is more suitable for hauling lumber and farm equipment on a full-time basis. It's a 1986 F-350 with the 6.9 liter diesel motor. It also has 296,000 miles on the odometer. Ford has been making good trucks for decades and some of them (like mine) are still being flogged after 21 years on the road. Toyota has some catching up to do but I guarantee that it'll make every effort to get on a par with the American truck manufacturers. Ford shouldn't take this threat lightly. It can't afford to do so if it wants to retain its position as the number one seller of trucks in America.
-- Bryan Frymire
Louisville, Kentucky.

Almost every automaker has assumed that Americans (all) want big, softly suspended boats. Ford and Volkswagen built special versions of their '80s world cars for the American market, which predictably didn't sell. The first '70s Toyotas we received were sloppy and underpowered; Toyota did not begin to achieve market dominance until it set up its cars more like Honda did.

Okay, the number of SUVs on the road is testament to Americans' (many) love for big. So Detroit builds them big. Japan builds them big, but sets them up to handle well. And Japan gobbles big bites out of the SUV/pickup market.

When will they ever learn?
-- David Thompson

As a third generation auto worker, born and raised in Detroit, I agreed with many of the points raised in this article, but felt the emphasis was somewhat wrong. I've worked for GM, Ford and Chrysler and my assembly line job at Chrysler's Mound Road engine plant during the '60s made me a true believer -- namely that American cars were junk for too long and that's exactly why they lost their market. The guy working next to me on the line was a heroin addict who shot up in the john during break; the union protected his job and Chrysler's customers dealt with the results of his labors.

Quality control was usually a wink and a nod; my supervisor often passed faulty parts on down the line for final assembly. You didn't need a degree in English lit to perform 8 hours of mindless labor on the assembly line, but many of the workers were functionally illiterate and incapable of understanding basic business or manufacturing concepts, let alone Japanese manufacturing techniques. Some workers actively sabotaged the cars; mindless anger and resentment were widespread among the workers and encouraged by the union. Detroit iron had a reputation for terrible quality; the dictum that you never buy a car assembled on Monday or Friday was no joke.

Try to imagine the wonderful customer loyalty the Big 3 squandered by producing low quality product. Once upon a time in Detroit, some families not only bought American, multiple generations of families were loyal to one particular brand; you found only Plymouths or Chevrolets in the parking lots when you attended family reunions. Grandfathers, fathers and sons would buy Fords exclusively and had only good-natured contempt for Chevy owners. The rare owners of Japanese cars were considered alien life forms. Moms, daughters and sisters had cars provided and maintained by those same men loyal to one brand.

When I moved to the West Coast in the early '80s, I found Americans who cared about cars also, German cars and Japanese cars. Their loyalty to Detroit was gone or had never really existed. They appreciated quality and would pay ridiculous dealer maintenance costs, but could also brag that their Mercedes had passed 200,000 miles and was still going strong. Cars don't rust out here and I was amazed to find many 15-year-old cars still faithfully providing daily commuter service, but they weren't cars made in Detroit.

Detroit now has much improved quality in the areas that count, although the cost accountants still retain too much influence on the designs. I like my Chevy pickup truck; it's well made in the engine and drive train, but I'm amazed at the prevalence of cheap, plastic parts and actually broke off an interior handle with a moderate squeeze -- I imagine Governor Schwarzenegger could literally destroy a Detroit made car if he didn't carefully control his still considerable strength.

Today, Detroit is much like San Francisco. Gone is the former customer loyalty and Japanese or German makes are the cars of choice. Will GM ever win back its dominant market share? Why would anyone willingly give up their well-made Japanese car to take a second chance on Detroit iron? I can remember when Detroiters laughed about the tiny, junky, tinny and ugly Japanese cars. Who's laughing now?
-- Patrick Skurka
San Ramon, California

I don't expect the MSM to understand the car business. I am surprised that you would print the drivel supplied by Eric Peters on the domestic auto industry. Repeating the conventional wisdom happens elsewhere. Now, you've succumbed.

Perhaps Mr. Peters should do a report on the wide-open market access our manufacturers have to the Japanese market. Or, he could write of the Japanese government's efforts on behalf of its industry in meeting environmental and safety goals and contrast that with the adversarial relationship our government and our press have with U.S. companies.

He might explain how GM obtained twice the market share of Toyota in China where both companies started even as foreign entrants.

Or, he could just report his blinkered views.

Cheers,
-- Ed Arcuri

I haven't agreed with the last couple of Peters's editorials but this one nails it. Two of his points made me think of something that has shaped my opinion of the U.S. car industry.

1) Toyota's incremental improvements. Late last year there was an article in the paper lamenting the closure of a plant where they built a variety of Oldsmobile for over 10 years. And yet, the car never got above an "average" long-term quality rating in Consumer's Reports. In essence, that was 10 years where very little if any "tweaking" was done to substantially improve the myriad rattles and squeaks that bedeviled this car.

2) What it would take to "get me back" as a buyer. My earliest auto-related memories include my Dad struggling to get the engine on the buzzy, rattle-prone Ford Maverick to turn over on a winter's day, the day that the Chevy Cavalier's battery died outside the dealership when we tired to trade it in, and my mom almost getting rear-ended on a weekly basis trying to get the wheezy Chevy Chevette to make it up a steep hill on the highway.

True, a lot of the problem was that they bought cheap, low-end cars that were the only things they could afford at the time. As far as I'm concerned, that's irrelevant today. All I know is that I've owned imports (Toyota, Nissan, Honda) and would never, ever want a U.S. nameplate in my driveway unless a) domestic nameplates exceeded the Japanese "big three" in quality, and b) these same companies began treating me with the same disdain as the U.S. big three did my parents.

I mention these experiences and my current buying patterns as a 30-something not because I have a personal grudge. It's because these experiences in my generation are common. Check out the people driving around you on the freeway and I guarantee that you'll see a preponderance of 20 and 30-something Americans in their Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas and Camrys, and Nissan Altimas. Look at who's driving the Cadillacs and the Buicks and you'll find more folks who like covered suppers and play bingo.

As an otherwise patriotic, conservative-leaning individual, I think we should perhaps celebrate that the creative destruction caused by capitalism is bearing down on the remnants of the old auto industry. Yes, it's sad seeing families out of work. Yet at the same time, many of these people are the same ones who reliably turn out Michigan for Democrats and provide loyal foot soldiers, in-your-face activists, and petty thugs for unions.

Good riddance to bad automobiles.
-- Michael B.
Los Angeles, California

In the 1980s I bought a Chrysler. It was purchased from a sense of loyalty to American car makers. Lee Iacocca said, "If you can buy a better car, buy it." Well, I should have.

I sold that car within 6 months, several of which were spent with the car in the Chrysler dealer's shop because the engine was no good. The dealer I bought the car from said it had no trade value and offered me $1,000 as a price reduction on a new Chrysler, but said I'd have to keep the lemon. A BMW dealer took pity on me and said he could sell the "junker" in South America for $5,000 or $6,000 and offered me 3,750 on a new 5 series.

That Chrysler was the last American car I ever owned. I have driven Beemers, Lexi, Hondas and Toyotas ever since, though in reverse order. I used to drive my Hondas for 200,000 miles and still get $3,500 dollars on a trade. I now drive a Lexus and love the car. It gets 31 miles to the gallon on the road and requires no repairs. It is my second and for my money it puts any comparable car on the road in a distant second place.

American cars? Yes, I've put a lot of miles on three Ford company cars, almost 300,000 miles, and they ran well. But they got poor gas mileage, and every single item is an extra and to get the items you want as extras you have to buy two or three things you don't want.

Sorry, Detroit guys. In my opinion, you still don't get it. I do have an American car now but just for weekends -- a great gas guzzling muscle car from the '70s. I run it only on the weekends because that gives me the week to work on it so it will run next Saturday.
-- Jason Brutus Kane
Jupiter Farms, Florida

Eric Peters's article was a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I owned two Cutlasses and an Omega. Loved them. If I drove my Cutlass to Vacaville and let it sit in the hot sun for a few hours, the electric windows wouldn't work until the car cooled off -- and of course, it couldn't cool off because the windows wouldn't go down. So we would go back in the restaurant until sunset. I could never demonstrate this problem when I got back home, because it doesn't get hot enough here. Still, if they came out with one next week that looked exactly like my first one and got 11 miles to the gallon -we are currently paying $3.77 a gallon -- I'd buy one.

I currently drive a Chevy Malibu Maxim even though I know Hondas are better. At least I can identify my car in a sea of Hondas and Toyotas.

Which brings to mind -- where are all the clunker/junker "second cars" of old? There are none on the highways in California. Until recently my husband had a 1977 El Camino pickup that looked brand new. Gave it to grandson for graduation. He is prouder of that car than a Lexus.

Back to the spooky absence of old cars on the highway. We are exhorted every fifteen minutes on the radio to give that old heap to some charity and get a tax write-off. But what do they do with it? Not "parting them out" -- no market for that. Or re-habbing those old belch-fires to drive. Nope, only new cars on freeways. My cleaning woman drives a big expensive SUV.

We know they are never going to run out of martyrs in Iraq, but how are they keeping up with the demand for cars to wire up with bombs? I hope our charities, in misguided benevolence are not shipping our discards to people in need of transportation in "Al Qaedestan."

Joking, only joking. Our charities aren't that crazy, are they? I know our crazies are that crazy, but they aren't collecting old cars. Are they?
-- Diane Smith
South San Francisco, California

I fully agree with Eric Peters's assessment as to why GM is having problems...including the fact they don't "get it." I'm currently 48 years old and will never buy a GM car again...ever.

I was 17 when I got my first new car, a 1976 Camaro...followed by a 1979 Camaro...followed by the coolest and fastest car I ever had, my new first-year 1985 IROC-Z Camaro. Problem is my IROC began to completely shut down at random times while I was driving it. That is to say, I would lose all electrical power in the car...so the motor would shut off, the lights would go out (including the headlights), the power brakes and steering would go out...you get the picture. This happened once while going 65 MPH on the Dallas loop at night. Nothing like driving a dark missile w/ no lights while coasting at 65 MPH and trying to get into the emergency lane on the side of the road. GM was never able to diagnose the problem.

Sometimes the car would start up after a few minutes...sometimes it took longer. The last straw came when it happened on a lone state highway in the Nebraska sandhills...with nothing around for miles and no traffic. This was pre-cell phone days, so one was stuck.

GM was never able to diagnose the problem.

I got rid of that car shortly thereafter and have driven Toyota's and Nissan's every since...great cars w/ no problems.

GM lost me for life that day in Nebraska...and that's another 25-30 years of me telling that story and discouraging anyone from every buying a GM car again.
-- Dave Schallert
Parker, Colorado

Not to mention that, among U.S. carmakers, Chrysler alone remains aware of design and styling, which has become another strong suit of the Japanese manufacturers.

G.M., and Ford appear to have established a "Who can come up with the ugliest design?" contest, and repeatedly put the winners into production.
-- Bennett Bishop

DEAL OR NO DEAL
Re: Philip Klein's Rudy Talks to Heritage:

I have no doubt Rudy Giuliani is one tough hombre and he'd militate against both the terrorists and government bloat. If the Republican Party does nominate him, I will support and for vote him. ("Vote for the rightward most viable candidate" -- Bill Buckley)

The general argument put to conservatives is that under these stressful circumstances social issues need to be put to the back burner. After all Giuliani is one of us. ("My 80 percent ally is not my 20 percent enemy.") I do not know how he came up with 80/20 ratio; by my count is it more like 50/50. Be that as it may, no one has exactly put forward an argument why social issues necessarily cannot be pursued simultaneously with the wars on terror and government excess. Instead, we are assured that only Giuliani can beat Hillary "Kali" Clinton on the basis of speculative surveys.

The caution that I have seen no one put forth is the one of historical experience: unintended/ironic consequences. At least since the civil war, prolonged conflict required the expansion of the federal government both in size and power. Once hostilities cease, the needs and necessities of the federal government should contract. The only thing is the left doesn't abate advancing its own agenda during war and sees no percentage in limited government once war is over. Thus we wind up with a more powerful and intrusive state intent on changing the cultural landscape.

In the current state of affairs, does anyone seriously doubt that those appointed to execute the laws and those in the regulatory agencies are poised to advocate broad "women's reproductive rights" and "progressive" agendas for euthanasia, multiculturalism, racial quotas, erosion of property rights, gay/lesbian "grievances," and the criminalization of conservative "insensitivities." While many council the tempering of conservative social concerns for the sake of national survival, the left will do no such thing.

While Giuliani would fight the good fight against our enemies, social conservatives cannot expect him to fight their fight. By the end of his presidency, we may well find leftwing policies cemented into place. The Republican establishment will also return to form pronouncing that the party has "moved on." Social issues will just be "old hat."

Some deal.
-- Michael Dooley
Indianapolis, Indiana

It is amusing to me how no one wants to focus on any disagreement between conservatives and Rudy unless it involves abortion, or "pro-life"/"pro-choice" issues, including stem cells. The other acceptable issue to focus on with Rudy is the whole "gay rights" issue and agenda.

While it is true that I disagree with him on these issues, they are not my issues. I would first like to know how anyone can be declared tough of terrorism, when they want to adopt and promote the George Bush amnesty for illegals program, and the huge guest worker program. Rudy, nor Bush, nor anyone else has any handle on just who is coming across our borders and in what numbers. This is NOT homeland security, people. This is merely the next step in negating the whole concept of national sovereignty.

Then there is the whole issue of 2nd Amendment issues. Rudy's whole attitude toward citizen ownership of guns and ammunition is total anathema to those of us who do not live in metropolises. He is not getting my gun unless and until he can provide me, an average citizen, with my own personal policeman that will be with me 24/7. Law enforcement is a reactive function. It doesn't do me a bit of good to have the best of cops ready to capture and punish the person that kills me. Rudy, read my lips, you don't get my gun, ever. Hey Rudy, you don't get to simply ignore those parts of the Constitution that you disagree with or find inconvenient.

Now when Rudy has absolutely, iron clad, guaranteed me that he has changed those principles of his, I will be ready to talk about his abortion and gay rights agendas to see if we can reach some workable solution.
-- Ken Shreve
New Hampshire

At least in Rudy, the Republicans have a candidate who has not sullied his reputation in the halls of Congress.

His previous conduct/stands on social issues aside, his stand on the federal budget and the global conflict with terrorists make him an attractive candidate to me.

Can he beat the Democrats' nominee? I certainly hope so, because they are a recipe for disaster in this country.
-- R. Goodson
Vero Beach, Florida

EXTRA-CONSTITUTIONALISM
Re: Doug Bandow's Selling Out the Constitution:

The attempt to achieve a desired result using extra-constitutional means isn't new. However, this ruse is a new low in political opportunism, as the contradiction is so obvious even a constitutional scholar can comprehend it. Politics in the U.S. has degenerated to the point where it is fashionable to cite the Constitution only when it conforms to one's political objectives. When the Constitution as written does not conform to one's political convenience, it is equally fashionable to ignore it or to pretend that it means something that it does not. The so-called "Living Consititution" theory has been assumed by all the political players, including republicans who have previously been somewhat less inclined to betray their oath of office.

At this juncture it is apparent that that anything goes, and the Rights of the People as stated in the Constitution remain secure only to the extent that they conform with the convenience of the ruling elite. This is a recipe for a dictatorship or a revolution.
-- Bud Hammons

PRICELESS
Re: John Tamny's Embrace the Wealth Gap

I spend rich. I just earn poor.
-- David Govett
Davis, California

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