Want To Buy A G6?

july 12, 2005

I was driving to work today behind a Pontiac G6. It is a really good looking car on the outside and I was even tempted by thoughts of getting one if I got a new car. Then I saw something that squashed those ideas and got me thinking about the American car companies and how they are experiencing a steep decline in people wanting to buy their cars. Ford is slipping, GM is struggling. Why? By no means am I some sort of automotive industry expert, but I have my own theory and here it is: What caught my eye on the Pontiac G6 was the door that covers the gas cap. This car has a base price of around $18,000. That is compared with the base price of a Toyota Camry at about $1,000 more. The thing about the door to the gas cap was that there was a little bend outwards, like it did not fit correctly. And on top of that it was the kind of door where you open it from the outside (with that little outward indention to open the door) -- not the kind that you pop from inside the car. The Camry, at the same price has the kind that you pop open from the inside of the car. "So what?" You maybe asking. I feel that this is the kind of small thing that represents why more and more people are not buying American cars. These little engineering oversights might seem small, but if you put a bunch of them together, they can be quite annoying. I have had my experience with American cars. I travelled heavily for two years and got my share of rental cars that were American (Ford Taurus, Chevy Monte Carlos, Ford Explorers, Ford Mustangs). My parents also owned a Ford Taurus and my sister has a Chevy Camaro that I have driven before. I have only owned two cars in my life, a Toyota Camry and a Toyota Solara. Whenever I drove an American car, I was always disappointed by it. Mostly because the engineering of the car was so...plain and seemed like they tried to cut corners. The interiors (especially Fords) never seemed like the designers and engineers tested these things with real people. The Ford Mustang has got to be the most unergonomic and terrible interior I have ever had the chance of having to drive. In my Solara, the cockpit is ergonomic and very comfortable to be in. I am in arms reach of anything that I need. I can drive the car for hours and still feel comfortable in the seat. My wife's Honda Accord also has a damned good interior design and some very supportive seats. I cannot say the same for the Chevy Monte Carlo that I have driven on many occasions. The seat, instead of being a bucket that surrounds my body and supports it, was flat. The cockpit was also flat, making somethings out of reach. The Ford Taurus that my parents owned and the ones that I have driven all have that same feeling that can be summarized in one word: Cheap. That word should not be confused with the word inexpensive. Things can be inexpensive, yet still of good quality. The American cars I have driven are just plain cheap. My friend who owns a Corvette puts it best about his Corvette: It is the fastest $50,000 car with the most annoying 50 cent problems. He has had bolts fall off and all sorts of little problems, that when added together make the $50,000 car feel so much less. I have always noticed, between Japanese and American rentals, that the fit and finish of Japanese cars were perfect. The American cars were near perfect, but still not there. This always bothered me how the American car engineers could come so close, but never close the gap. Things like designing in a gas cap door that pops from the inside of the car to protect the gas in the car doesn't sound like that big of a deal for me -- especially when your competitors (Honda does the same thing with their Accord) is doing it in their sedan. Here's the thing, I do believe that the American car companies have caught onto this. I do believe that they are trying to improve their image. Lately, there have been some very high customer satisfaction ratings for American car companies. I applaud them for their efforts. But, I think they maybe a little too late. In the past American car companies were cutting costs and building cheap cars. All the while the Japanese car makers were building quality cars and selling them at a comparable price point when compared to American cars. What that did was put the public in the mindset that Japanese cars are better than American cars. My parent's old Taurus kicked the bucket early on (under 100,000 miles). Their Camry is still running past 120,000 miles with little to no problems. Cars do not get replaced often with most families, and when they do, families are not will to make a $20,000+ gamble on buying something that has in the past proven to be unreliable. When I have to drive a car for a few years and have to pay good money for it, I'd rather go with something that I have had good luck with rather than one that has a bad past history. So, while the American car companies are improving their quality, the stigma of their past design mistakes will live with them for a long time to come. Will the companies be able to polish their image and convince car buyers that they are building quality cars that have a good attention to detail? I don't know, you'll have to ask an automotive business expert about that. All I know is that unless they wake up and start putting in those small details like gas cap doors that pop from the inside on their cars, people will still see their cars as cheap and go for something Japanese. Would you buy American?