Don’t Pre-Judge the American Automobile Industry

For the sake of argument, let’s say that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play in the NBA. Danny Ferry was at the time, one of the greatest college basketball players of his day. Michael Jordan was not select as the first pick in the NBA draft after he finished his career with North Carolina-he was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the third overall pick-and the rest is history. When Danny Ferry completed his days at Duke University, he was the first player selected in the draft, but he chose to ply his trade in Europe. After a few years he came back to the NBA and played with the Cleveland Cavaliers as a mediocre player on a mediocre team. This article is not a sport critique of basketball players, but I am trying to draw an analogy. What if an NBA GM issued a statement such as “Michael Jordan is an African American and Danny Ferry is a Caucasian, therefore, I will only draft African Americans from this time forward”? A statement such as this would probably cause quite a stir not only in the NBA, but across the entire country.

If a police officer stops a car full of kids in an affluent neighborhood because they don’t look like they belong there, it is called racial profiling. The ACLU would be on the case as soon as this information became public and the officer could face disciplinary charges.

Neither of the above examples would be accepted in today’s “enlightened” society, but how many times have your heard “I will never buy an American car…they’re not as good as the Japanese”? I’ve never understood society’s acceptance of this type of prejudice. I am not saying this as an out of work auto worker, or a flag waving patriot blinded by the red, white and blue, but as a quality professional with over 25 years experience. I have personally been on the receiving end of upset plant or quality managers in Ford, General Motors and Chrysler assembly plants. I have been in plants where components rolled off the same line and into two boxes-one goes to an American OEM and one to Honda or Toyota.

When I graduated from college in the early 1980’s, the Midwest was in terrible shape. I was an industrial engineer who could not find a job. With minimal experience, I was competing for “entry level” jobs against people with 5-10 years experience; I ended up working through a series of jobs with very limited futures. Right or wrong, I believed that the condition of the American Automotive Industry was at the root of the problems. It is well documented that the “big three” was struggling with the quality of their cars and trying to introduce more fuel efficient cars into their platforms, that just a few years earlier were filled with “muscle cars”. The Japanese really caught Detroit with their shorts down. As a young idealist, I was going to do my part and buy American. Over the years I’ve owned ten American cars, (five GM, three Chryslers and two Fords). And over the years I’ve been extremely satisfied with my American Cars. My favorite of all of the cars was a 1996Ford Escort. I owned that vehicle for 8 years and put over 230,000 mile on it. The car had the original suspension, original motor original transmission and the original clutch when I replaced it. The body looked great, and other then the normal scratches, was in great shape. By the way, I didn’t trash the car, I gave it to my 16 year old daughter who learned to drive on it and also learned to drive a stick shift (a lost art for many young people-but that is story for another time). After much soul searching and self justification, I convinced myself to look at all models of cars-not just American cars. I searched the web, shopped around and finally found a good deal on a Toyota Matrix. Working in the Automotive Industry as a Quality Manager at the time, I was very excited at the prospect of getting a vehicle produced from the acclaimed “Toyota Production System”. If I could be so happy with a simple ford Escort, I couldn’t wait to see what joys were ahead of me as I got behind the wheel of a Japanese masterpiece. The honeymoon lasted about two months, when the first hubcap fell off. A new one was purchased at the dealer, and it promptly fell off. This has been an ongoing battle from the entire time I’ve owned the car. There are other minor issues with the car, but nothing more then an inconvenience. The vehicle has been a reliable car with over 140,000 miles and has never left me stranded, but the allure of a Toyota was overrated. It’s just a car, like my Buick, Fords, Chevys, and Chryslers. There is nothing magic about the name of the rear of the car.

Honda and Toyota and Nissans etc all make very good cars-as does Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. There is no comparison between cars of today and those of thirty years ago. In the mid 1970’s you could look in a newspaper for a used car and find one listed with “high mileage” and it would turn out to be 65,000 and the owner needed to get rid of it before it fell apart on him. Now a car is broken in at 65,000 and may need a new set of tires. Please don’t paint today’s American Automotive Industry with a 30 year old brush. If you do, we may paint ourselves into a corner that there is no easy way out of. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to buy American, only that we need to stop spreading negative “rumors” about the Big Three.