GM car shopper
David Zalubowski  /  AP
An unidentified shopper scans a long line of unsold GM vehicles on the lot of a dealership. Many readers said U.S. made cars are inferior in quality to those made by the Japanese.
updated 1/16/2007 10:24:18 AM ET 2007-01-16T15:24:18

What will it take for the Big Three to beat their Japanese rivals?’s readers have a few ideas.

The U.S. automotive industry is struggling to compete with strong Asian rivals like Toyota, Honda and Nissan. And so with the 2007 Detroit Auto Show under way, we asked’s readers to weigh in on Detroit’s problems and offer possible solutions to put the Big Three back on track.

One message came through loud and clear: Give us economical, well-styled vehicles that don’t break down.

“Economy, durability and quality are the key points I consider when buying a new car,” wrote Richard Smith of Port Ludlow, Wash. “The Big Three U.S. automakers are not addressing these points aggressively.”

Gustavo Oliva of Miami, Fla., echoed these views:

“Everyone knows what’s wrong with American brand cars. One word says it all — reliability,” he wrote. “Toyota, Honda, and Nissan vehicles last a very long time past 60,000 miles without any problems. Toyota’s cars can last up to 200,000 miles or more with very minimal problems, and this is a huge plus for individuals who keep their cars for a long time. My car is a Toyota Solara, and at the present moment has 165,000 miles on the clock and hasn’t given me any problems. So I will continue to buy Toyota for its reliability.”

Toyota, Japan’s largest automaker, will certainly be tough to beat. The automaker took a bigger share of the U.S. vehicle market in 2006, recording its best year ever in terms of sales, even as big U.S. automakers like General Motors and Ford saw another year of sales declines.

What’s the reason for Toyota’s success? Product, notes Burnham Securities analyst David Healy. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Healy said the Japanese automaker has benefited from its reputation for quality and fuel efficiency, and it has worked to learn U.S. consumer tastes.

“Toyota’s drive, I think, to becoming an American company has given them a feel for this market over the years that can’t be beat,” he said.

Reader L Richard Heward of Utah said American car manufacturers must work to overcome the perception that their cars are inferior in quality to those made by Japanese automakers.

“They must beat the perception of inferior quality,” he said. American car consumers don’t necessarily want a car that looks like a Japanese model, but they do want one that has superior quality, he added. “Then and only then will you see the American automakers make a true comeback.”

For Jorge A. Gonzalez of San Antonio, Texas, the problem of quality is less perception and more reality.

“I purchased my new Chevy Suburban in 2004 and so far the passenger window has broken twice and some parts of the vehicle started rusting within six months of my purchase. Just recently the speedometer stopped working,” he wrote. “I think when someone spends $50,000 on a vehicle these types of problems should never occur. Before I purchased this vehicle I drove Japanese cars for over 20 years and nothing like this ever happened. The poor quality of American cars in the early 1980s drove me to the Japanese, and it’s hard to believe that after all these years their vehicles are still not up to par.”

Dave in Las Vegas reported a similar issue.

“I have owned two Fords, two Saturns and one Dodge — all of them were purchased new and all of them made several trips to the repair shop during their first three years,” he wrote. “Now I own a 2006 Toyota Highlander, and after one and a half years in service I cannot find a reason to take it in to the shop.”

“If American automakers want to compete with foreign automakers they need to build a better vehicle and provide a warranty that will show that they stand behind their quality,” Dave continued. “While it may take a while for the American automakers to get a good reputation for quality, building vehicles that are reliable will help turn the American automakers’ dwindling sales around. Toyota didn’t get its reputation overnight — their cars have stood the test of time. And that is what American automakers need to do.”

Jim Jenks from Kitchener, Ontario, said the quality of the Big Three’s dealerships should be improved too.

“I bought North American cars for 30 years, and I tried them all — GM, Ford and Chrysler — and when something went wrong the dealership couldn’t wait to blame me, or point their fingers in a hundred different directions,” he said. “My last two cars — plus my wife’s most recent one — have been Toyota, Acura and Honda, and the service is prompt, pleasant and most importantly it’s done correctly the first time.”

A number of readers like Justin Cunningham of Washington, D.C., suggested the Big Three copy Japanese carmakers. “I think all Detroit has to do is look at what the Germans and Japanese have been building,” he said.

David Rogers of San Bernardino, Calif., said the Big Three should do what American imperialism has done best over the last century: “Flood the market until you dominate it, driving out competition with quality products, and then raise prices to maximize profits,” he said. “It sounds like the Japanese learned well from the Americans, just like the Chinese are doing to us now with manufactured durable goods,” Rogers said.

Greg of Ogden, Utah, said the Big Three should overhaul their business models.

“What would it take to get me driving an American-built car again? It would take completely different companies to the ones we have now,” he said. “No excuse about having to pay higher wages and medical and dental costs that other companies. The Big Three have to get back to basics, work harder, smarter and be honest. U.S. companies have operated on a very short-sighted business model that emphasizes management bonus payouts and return to shareholders for the past few decades and it is coming back to haunt them now. Just build your best car and damn the bean counters.”

Another solution for the Big Three’s problems is universal healthcare said L Kinser of Indianapolis, Ind. The federal government needs to provide health care for its citizens like other industrial nations do, he said, and to rein in pharmaceutical profits instead of making corporations pay for healthcare. William Dague of Kokomo, Ind., said onerous union contracts “containing provisions which are absolutely impossible to sustain” should be trashed.

A few readers like J.P. Stoecklin of Vancouver, British Columbia, said U.S. carmakers should focus on fuel efficiency and environmental issues. They should produce more small cars like the Fit, the Versa, or the Yaris, he said.

And John Pope of Edgewood, Wash., pointed out that U.S. automakers have a golden opportunity to meet the surging need for environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient vehicles.

“If I were any of the Big Three automakers I would rebrand myself with cutting-edge and bold steps toward this end, and why not?” he said. “They continue to lose ground to their foreign counterparts, so there is not much to lose and everything to gain. This is the way of the future and cars such as the Prius are too expensive and weak to fill what is currently still a small but growing niche. If they can take the lead there while still turning out popular new designs, they’ll have it made. That’s why the time is perfect for the Big Three to take an intelligent step and rebrand.”

Note: Some reader comments edited for length and clarity.


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