The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Defense of GM Cars

Matt Yglesias - who fills a valuable niche by being a self-proclaimed East Coast liberal elitist (a niche shared with the very different Eric Alterman) - says something very typically elitist about GM cars:
I don't know much about cars and never owned one. But a little while back I was contemplating buying one, and literally zero percent of the people I discussed this with recommended an American brand.
The problem, according to everybody, is that American cars . . . don't work and require constant repairs.
Now let me be very clear: I drive a VW, my second in a row. For my last purchase, I never considered a GM, or other US, car. BUT.

I really like to drive. Yes, "Drivers wanted" is a slogan, but an apt one. Driving a VW is nothing like driving any American car. Nor is it like driving any Japanese car (at least in a comparable model). As VW's market share shows, the taut VW driving experience is not one highly valued in this country. Similarly, the distinctive Honda driving experience - high-revving Civics - is also not much appreciated. Americans like American-style cars - softly-suspended, blandly-steering highway cruisers (large or small). There is not a single car in the top ten that doesn't meet this description (relative to any VW, or most anything sold in Europe, that is). So it's nonsense when car reviewers say - as they do - that GM & Ford don't sell cars that people want. The Camry is, for all intents and purposes, an Oldsmobile.

So why is Camry still here, Olds all gone? Well, Matt points to a reputation for crappy quality: "stuff that doesn't function reliably." But as years of surveys have shown, this reputation is largely outdated (today's GMs are better in initial quality than Lexuses of ten years ago). So why doesn't anyone tell Matt to buy a GM? The same reason GM was still huge in the mid-'80s, 10 or more years after even a plurality of their cars were among the best on the market. Over-lived customer loyalty.

I came from a GM (specifically Olds) family. For 40 years in America, you were what you drove - and what your father drove, etc. In the '70s and '80s, Boomers abandoned the generational loyalty to American makes... and replaced it with loyalty to Japanese makes (and occasionally European). So now you have 30 year olds who can't imagine driving a GM, because they never have. And no one in their circle has, either. It's not informed consumerism. It's tribalism.

It doesn't excuse poor management, or actually poor cars (hello, Cavalier. And good riddance). But the deck stacked against GM in trying to rebuild its market share is tall, and it consists largely of people with the same sophisticated mentality as those who chanted "Ford MoCo" - "Ford NoGo" 40 years ago.


Blogger republicans are idiots said...

Well, I'm in the Northeastern U.S., and I see what the climate here does to cars. You will rarely see a ten year old Honda or Toyota product looking like it was held together with wire clothes hangers or duct tape because the rest of the car has dissolved from the salt and moisture.

Similarly, you won't see a Toyota product being recalled because of something that might cause the engine to catch fire, as has happened recently with certain Ford Explorers.

Finally, you won't see a Japanese make that looks like the designer was on drugs (Pontiac Aztek, most Chevys since about 1998) when loading up AutoCAD. Sure, many of them might be as boring to look at as Oldsmobiles, but at least they're not as gawdawful ugly as many late-model Chevrolet products.

OTOH, if you want to see a really nice GM car, go to the Buick dealer. If they drive as well as they look, and cost the same as a Camry, I'm sold.

4:28 PM

Blogger Stacy Rosenbaum said...

You are right, elitists drive foreign cars out of a sense of STYLE and not because it's a practical decision.

If people actually made practical car decisions, they'd buy a small car that had good gas mileage, and how many of those do you see on the road? Not many.

12:55 PM

Blogger Adorable Girlfriend said...

Pragmatism is all relative.

3:21 PM


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