Monday, November 21, 2011

Bill's OT discussion

OK Bill, I will bite.

First, I am not a "car guy" by any means, but I do take interest in
the car business, especially the engineering and manufacturing side...
So this is mostly off the cuff so forgive any data I have wrong.

Depending on what articles or sources you read, you are not as wrong
as I wish you were. But I assume your email was inspired by a personal
experience, and anecdotal evidence is not reliable data when speaking
of a car manufacturer's overall performance in terms of millions of
units. But you may remember that Toyota, one of the best in terms of
reliability, has stumbled recently as well (gas pedal for example).
North American manufacturers have had a bad reputation to overcome
(much of it a hangover from the 70s and 80s, and probably part of the
90s), even though in the last ten years they have all vastly improved.
If someone has an unusual problem with a Camry they think, "That's
weird", and if its a Chevy they may say "Crappy American car..." But
statistically, German manufacturers may surprise many with their
overall POOR reliability.

To be specific, I think where Honda and Toyota have succeeded, based
on my observations in traveling abroad and car articles, is they don't
try to do too much. They don't have 30 models with half of them being
very similar. The Corolla and Camry are some of the best all time
selling cars, and they have them dialed in. Stick to a few good
models, and keep your R and D money in making those better, and keep
your quality high on those few models (ditto on Accord and Civic by
Honda). And doing this you can keep your costs on those models down
while keeping quality and reliability high. The worst new car to buy
is one that has been newly revamped or is the first year in that
model, let them work out the kinks for a couple of years. I think they
have the kinks worked out of the Corolla, Camry, Civic, Accord...

Now you see those competitors from North American manufacturers
copying that Japanese philosophy and it is working: Ford Focus and
Fusion, and Chevy Malibu and Cruz. Make cars that can you can sell
millions of globally, not just some funky SUV for the US market.
Mega-cities such as Bangkok are full of Corrollas and Camrys (many of
them green and yellow taxis) for example. Make a couple of cars that
you can sell millions of, instead of a million cars that you can only
sell a few of.... Keeping a few models from an engineering perspective
has to help reliability, as well as keeping parts more universal, etc.
That is why you saw several manufacturers sell divisions or abandon
them, Ford selling Volvo, Saturn being no more, and losing models that
were very similar or not big sellers. North American manufacturers
have also been over-indulgent in R and D to produce a car that sells
50k units, instead of working on the next Corrolla/Camry/Civic.

Not related to reliability but to doing your market research, Ford
just came out with the first car designed and manufactured in India,
specifically for the Indian market. They did their research, found out
what Indian drivers wanted in a car, and then engineered and built it
there for that market. That is smart. Know your audience, your market,
and realize a billion people with a growing middle class will want
dependable and affordable cars.

GM now sells more cars in CHINA than in the US:

The trade imbalance isn't ALL bad news....

Back to your point. I think if you do your research, there are plenty
of highly rated North American made cars and trucks out there. Though,
as most data shows, and I cede to you your overall point, they are
still chasing the Japanese in overall product reliability.

Keep in mind many foreign brands are partially made or at least
assembled here, so they must think enough of us to at least put them
together for them :)

For the record I have owned Japanese and American. My first car was an
Acura that did me great, my Mazda B2500 beater pickup is still running
strong (manufactured in New Jersey by Ford), and my current Ford
Escape sips gas for an SUV and has had hardly an issue.

Everyone have a great and safe holidays!
Andrew Kester, PE

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