I’ve owned cars from foreign companies (though sometimes built in the U.S.), mainly Honda, and I’ve owned cars from U.S. companies. The quality differences have been significant. It isn’t just the cost, it is the stress and wasted time of taking cars for repairs.
In 2002 a friend wanted to borrow our Consumer Reports auto issue to do some research. I happened to scan the “used cars to avoid” section and was saddened to discover that I owned two of them, both from U.S. companies: a Ford Windstar and a Cadillac Catera. They had many problems but I didn’t realize how badly they compared to other vehicles.
We traded those in and bought a Honda Odyssey and a Honda Accord, and other than a failed transmission in the Odyssey, both have been very reliable and low-maintenance and are going strong at nearly 10 years of age.
The Consumer Reports Company just rated the reliability of 28 makes of automobile from around the world. No American car manufacturer scored better than 13th in ordinal ranking. Ranked on a Lickert Scale from 1 to 5, Jeep, the best American competitor, scores approximately 3.0. No American car does better than average at staying in one piece. This raises a fair question: did we really save GM and Chrysler or did we just screw the bondholders to put off the inevitable?
Much-hyped and manfully-bailed General Motors finished 22nd out of 28 world manufacturers.
Not surprisingly, the biggest problem in terms of cost and quality has been unionized labor. Entitlements are very destructive.
This harkens back to the “Lordstown Syndrome” that ironically afflicted this very same plant back in 1971. GM modernized their line until it was the fastest in the world at that time. This led to an explosion of labor unrest from employees who felt they were being driven too hard and paid too little.
The brand new production line was the fastest in the world, cranking out 100 cars per hour. Lordstown workers protested the speed of the line, and the lack of control they held over their own work. As Jefferson Cowie describes, “The workers balked at the speed and discipline by working strictly to rules, letting production slip by unfinished, pushing absenteeism and turnover to new highs, taking drugs and alcohol on the job, and engaging in a wide array of sabotage on the job.”* The situation led to a long strike, beginning in March 1972, and the press coined the term “Lordstown Syndrome” to cover the dissatisfaction many American workers felt toward the quality of their jobs in the early 1970s.
Defenders of the bailout of GM, and the socialization of American industry in general, would point to Ford Motors falling from 10th to 20th place out of the 28 manufacturers rated. They would pointedly ignore the fact that Honda manufacturers Civics in Ohio (not too far from Lordstown.) Honda Motors finished 5th in reliability without any “assist” from President Obama or the UAW.
That is Honda used workers from virtually the same socio-economic and cultural pool as GM except for two vital differences. Honda has no bailout backstop and Honda doesn’t have a UAW shop. Honda cars and Honda factories work. GM cars and GM factories do so with much less predictability. American labor can and does build very reliable cars. They just don’t seem to build those cars as members of the UAW or employees of America’s Shrinking Three Auto-makers.
This reprises my initial question. Did we really succeed with the bail-out, or have we just incinerated money to postpone Darwinian Evolution in the automobile industry?
Unions are even more destructive in the public sector. Sadly, Ohio is about to take a big step backwards and reward the unions with more wasted taxpayer funds.