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American auto industry crashes

Posted Monday, June 1, 2009, at 9:56 AM

The Volkswagen GTI. Could cars the size and shape of this one eventually become the norm in America? (Volkswagen of America photo)
General Motors is officially bankrupt today and Chrysler Corp. rolls into the future under the guidance of Fiat. Only Ford is strong -- up to a point. Hopefully they won't be the next domino to fall.

But it's hard to say the American auto industry is dying when most of the Japanese, Korean and European brand vehicles sold in the United States are made in this country by American workers (who spend their money in America) and we don't see those companies going under.

I can speak from experience that most of the Japanese-made cars I've owned in the past 30 years were built better than their American competitors.

Maybe the engineers and executives from the remaining American-based manufacturers will learn something from this mess about building quality into their vehicles.

I'm also somewhat concerned that the feds will force GM and Chrysler -- and maybe Ford -- to cut back on trucks and higher-performance vehicles and market primarily weak-engined, cramped slugs that no one wants. The Obama administration appears to me to be leaning toward forcibly moving Americans into smaller vehicles. That could possibly -- emphasis on possibly -- happen if trendiness, power and room are emphasized and promoted, not forced.

It is possible to make a high-quality, option-loaded, powerful and energy-efficient small vehicle. European and Japanese companies have proven it in their home countries. Pick up a copy of British-based Car magazine next time you're at a bookstore in Tullahoma, Murfreesboro or Nashville. Read its content and you'll see cars from the European point of view -- and read about what the American auto industry could be.

Example: Volkswagen. I'm considering a GTI as my next purchase. It's a small, two-or-four-door hatchback (think VW Rabbit with guts and attitude) with a high-performance engine, leather seats, world-class handling, great sound system and loaded with the amenities of a large car. Testers say GTIs have the feel, quietness, options and solid build of larger cars. Some experts consider them among the best cars on the road.

GTIs also have flat, abruptly-ending rear ends, and a few people whose opinions I highly respect think they're weird-looking. Definitely something to consider, but maybe some people need to open their minds a bit.

But I like VW's current model mix and respect them for building their new plant in Tennessee.

Smaller vehicles may be in our future -- if done right. But I don't have a lot of confidence in government officials sticking their noses into American vehicle production.

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As far as quality, I currently own a 2005 Chevy car and it has been great so far and I have never had a problem with it unlike the Mazda I owned before it which cost me thousands in repairs and was a headache to own. I also owned a Plymouth before the Mazda and I never took care of that car like I should and it kept running for years with never a problem. I actually had the Plymouth still when I bought the Mazda and was glad that I kept it for a few years because I needed it when the Mazda would act up. I think people buy a Honda or Toyota just for the status factor . . . because Ford actually has the highest customer satisfaction rating of all car companies including Toyota and GM produces some good vehicles also including the car I have. Of course I also love Hyundai and owned one at one time and it was a great car and had a great warranty.

Really it is about perception more than reality.

-- Posted by jaxspike on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 10:10 AM

Also, I hope small cars dont become the norm because I like room in my vehicle and dont want to feel squeezed into a box. I cant stand vehicles like the Prius and Insight and will never buy one myself.

-- Posted by jaxspike on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 10:12 AM

I don't like the idea of governmentforcing anything, but I am certainly disturbed by the attitudes of some people toward fuel consumption.

Americans should voluntarily be willing to abandon any vehicle, for personal use especially, that undermines our efforts to reduce emissions or to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Earlier today, I read an article where a Houston mother, while fueling her behemoth Suburban, rebukes Obama's ideas claiming that 'she had to get her kids places'. She also felt that because she could afford to put gas into that bottomless pit that she had every right to continue to overconsume a resource that is limited in quantity and is a pollution nightmare.

We all need to be more progressive in our attitudes and consider that if we change voluntarily and make the right choice the government has no room to legislate.

-- Posted by gottago on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 12:47 PM

When I buy a vehicle, resale value is an important factor. With a Honda or a Toyota, it's always going to be there. It's not about 'status' for me.

-- Posted by onenamil on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 2:02 PM

Well it is sad to see GM coming to a close..it is even sadder to see Saturn in Spring Hill closing. I know it will affect many people and businesses in that area and probably a lot in this area also.

About VW..I like the look of the VW New Beetles, although I have to say most people who have the New Beetle and the VW Jetta are none too happy with their cars.

The reviews on both cars are horrible. Parts and service is outrageous.

I wish I had read the reviews on VW's before

purchasing one.. :>(


-- Posted by Dianatn on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 2:28 PM

I'm a Nissan fan myself. Its been the best car I have ever had.

-- Posted by honda14 on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 3:08 PM

As has been mentioned before,the automotive industry has re-invented itself before when necessary.

(Look at WWII.)

If public transportation were emphasized,our communities were made more walkable and restricted drivers were limited to something more akin to NEV's than NASCAR entries,we'd reduce our reliance on conventional cars and all that supports them.

Alternative fuel cars,trains,buses,bikes,NEV's,etc.could improve our lifestyles,make us less dependent on foreign oil and cut down on the demands we make on our highways.

We could improve our air travel as well by shifting other workers and factories over to aeronautics.

If we insisted on making the best versions of necessary things at affordable prices,we might lure back the American consumer and court buyers from other countries.

We might come out ahead if we decide we're too poor to subsidize the shoddy and faddish and produce nothing but the efficient and user-friendly.

No junk,no planned obsolescence,nothing that doesn't show respect for the customer and give its creator a well-deserved sense of accomplishment.

Yes,there will be hard work and high costs involved in recreating our workplaces and re-educating our workforce but what will we wind up paying if we don't?

We face challenges now as important as those we tackled in the !930's and '40's.

We have goals that may seem as far out of our reach as the stars.

But,we can heal our economy,educate our people,make our streets safe and earn the respect of our fellow nations.

We can accomplish no less than we've done before but we'll need to believe in our ability to make things right,rely on one another and trade in pessimism and selfishness for hope and diligence.

-- Posted by quantumcat on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 3:24 PM

quantumcat wrote:

"No junk, no planned obsolescence, nothing that doesn't show respect for the customer and give its creator a well-deserved sense of accomplishment."

Well-written summation of the American auto industry at some points in its past.

-- Posted by David Melson on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 3:30 PM

As always, quantumcat, well said.

-- Posted by gottago on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 4:08 PM

I have backed off participating in any blogging for a while now. I read the Gazette daily since some of my family do still reside in Shelbyville and it has kept me up in "their" local news. I find it appalling that some of you are beside yourself with joy that the auto industry is suffering and especially that GM is falling hard. What do you do for a living? Is your job a benefit to anyone besides you? Does the company you work for give back to the community? Will they dump you when you become a burden to them? It is only clear to me in one aspect right now. Mr. Melson, your atticle is printed in the Gazette, do you get paid for that job? My point here is simple. If everyone stopped right now, right at this very minute, purchasing, frequenting or investing in the job you do, would that hurt you? Maybe we should all stop reading the Gazette, your articles would become worthless and your job unimportant. Or maybe the paper could hire someone from Japan, China, Germany or Mexico to take your place. They may not be as good as you think you are, or as worthy as you think you are but hey, this is a dog eat dog world isn't it??

I find it so sad that so many find it the norm to throw gas on the fire, then to defend the workers and companies of this country that YOU SAY you are so proud. Pretty hipocritcal don't ya think?

So raise that flag high and the next time you need a good "YEP, I told em so" moment,pat yourself on the back. After all, it is so much better to watch someone ELSE fall isn't it?

p.s. to those of you so thrilled with those foreign cars you own, do you also buy vegetables from Mexico, clothing and toys from China, electronics from Japan and meat from Spain. If not then shame on you. What kind of an American are you!!!

-- Posted by up north on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 5:15 PM

If you are going to buy a Volkswagen, make sure it is a diesel. VW gas engines are not reliable.

-- Posted by nathan.evans on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 5:19 PM

Up north,

There is no denying that the loss of one major employer has a domino effect on the entire economy. But GM refused to see the writing on the wall regarding rising gas prices (they have been rising since 2000 with a slight retreat from 01-03 and them back up again) and continued to milk the SUV cash cow with no real rising stars that had any chance of becoming 'the next big thing'.

The foreign auto makers did see it and produced a worthwhile and sustainable product. Couple that with greater management of costs and the foreign automakers are in a position to at least make it through.

-- Posted by gottago on Mon, Jun 1, 2009, at 5:56 PM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.