We just read Car & Driver's recent salute to five vehicles demonstrating all that's right and good with American car companies. Although they're right to be pointing out five great products, the Amerigasmic rah-rah fest left a bad taste in our mouths. Not because it's slightly sycophantic, but merely because it's too easy a list to create. There's just far too few American vehicles that show off the good, and so many that show off the bad. Frankly, we could do a list of the five cars that make us not want to buy American, but we're much more interested in helping our automakers help themselves by pointing out what's ailing them. Without further ado, here's our continuation of this weeks Jalopnik Automotive Amerigasm with the five reasons why we're not proud to buy American cars.
5. Poor Product Planning
Think of a 2009 or 2010 model that you're excited about. Is it a big truck or a bland mid-size sedan? Probably not. But if you want to buy American, that's mostly what you've got to choose from. Not only are the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram bigger and more powerful than ever, it's increasingly looking like consumers are moving away from them, with the Honda Civic replacing the F-150 as the country's best-selling vehicle last month. Wait, consumers want cars that are not only well-engineered, well-priced and high-quality, but also good-looking, good-driving, practical and fuel-efficient? Who would have thought? Foreign automakers, that's who.
4. Poor Design Choices
On the Ford Flex launch — a good-looking car despite the obvious influence from Mini and Scion — journalists were given a quiz in which they needed to name various silhouettes of de-badged SUVs. It was pretty hard as everything but the Flex in the segment looks like an aggressively styled jellybean. While Ford may have hit the creative design nail smack-dab on the head with the Flex, as a professional auto-writer, I struggle to remember that cars like the Fusion and Taurus exist and only remember the domestic market Focus because it's so laughably bad. It's not that Ford lacks design talent (remember the GT?), it's that they've been seemingly unprepared to use it. The same thing applies to GM and Chrysler. With the exception of awesome halo vehicles like the Dodge Viper and Chevy Corvette, can you think of one model smaller than a full-size sedan that couldn't be confused with a generic rip-off from Zhejiang Province? Can you say the same about Mercedes or Subaru? There's also little design cohesion within brands. Sure, there's badges and grilles, but what the hell connects the Compass to the Jeep brand? Or the Focus to Ford's Gillette-blade design language? I bet you can't answer that. I bet you can with BMW.
3. Getting Retro Wrong
We're incredibly excited about the 2010 Chevy Camaro and the manual-transmission equipped 2009 Dodge Challenger. Why? They adapt each company's history into a vehicle with modern appeal and performance just like the Mustang's been doing since 2005. That sounds like a pretty obvious way to hit a home run, right? So why haven't we been driving those vehicles all decade? Instead we've been saddled with insultingly rose-tinted retros like the HHR. At the same time, the Big Three are ignoring their non-muscle car heritage by letting nameplates like Crown Victoria and Bronco fall by the wayside, replacing them with focus-grouped abominations like Fusion and Escape. If there's one thing American Automakers have, it's heritage, they need to find more ways to leverage that.
2. Health Care and Retirees
It's not all the poor automakers fault. Their inability to make products people want and therefore profits is handicapped by the pensions they owe to hundreds of thousands of old people and the health care needs of both retirees and current employees. Not only does this lead to financial ruin, but it encourages them to move American jobs overseas. This week alone, Chrysler, suffering from slow sales of its minivans, decided to close its St. Louis plant, leaving minivan production in Canada only. Why? Canada's national healthcare system makes each vehicle $1,000 cheaper to produce.
1. U.S. Automakers Are Anti-American, And America Is Too
If we asked you to sum up what America's about with one word, what would that be? Freedom. Yet our automakers believe in giving it to foreigners, not Americans. No, we're not just talking about the condescending nature with which they inform us that we don't really want the well-engineered, high-quality, good-looking, good-driving, practical, economical Euro-spec Ford Focus with a manual transmission, we're talking about allowing foreigners to compete freely in our market. In Japan, they realized that in order to protect their auto industry it made sense to keep outsiders off their soil with expensive import restrictions on vehicle sales. The real problem is, we as consumers are anti-American too. We're happy to buy all these imported cars, but resist legislation designed to protect domestic automakers. I guess you could say the real problem with American cars is Americans.
Editor's Note: In many ways, this is five things American car companies need to do better. If you really think we're anti-American, I'd suggest you take another, more careful look through what we just wrote. If you still think we are a bunch of a flag-burners, feel free to rip
Wes us to shreds in the comments below.