Friday, March 04, 2005

Yeah, you have fun with that, Cadillac and Dodge. This is something I keep seeing -- American car companies aspiring to surpass European cars domestically and now even looking to impress European drivers. The problem is, I think American companies have a fundamental misunderstanding as to why Europeans like their cars, or at least some of the higher-end ones. Now, of course, I'm no expert on how Europeans like to drive, but after having driven one of their more upscale marques, I think I'm beginning to get a better idea. Actually, I guess you could say two, if you count that Audi (which, as we all know, was a piece of shit, but I'll take it any day over an American car... Except maybe a 'Vette).

It will be available with a diesel engine, the first Cadillac has ever sold.

True, they like diesel engines over there. But they're going to have to do a lot more than diesel engines to impress Europe. I saw a Caddy commercial the other night, one where a Cadillac was driving around this big ballroom with a bunch of Bimmers and Mercedes. Towards the end of the commercial, the Cadillac comes to a sideways-sliding halt, at which point you see the car rocking side to side horribly. My immediate response was "Nice soft suspension, assholes! Love that body roll!"

You can market a car out the ass, but that's not going to compensate for engineering. And while good marketing can almost always beat good engineering, people looking for certain things in a car will know it when they feel it, marketing or otherwise. Hell, I didn't even know what I was looking for, but I knew it when I found it the first time I drove a BMW. And no, it wasn't that "oh, I'm so fucking special" feeling stemming from looking down at the steering wheel and seeing the roundel (as the BMW logo is oftentimes referred). Not that that wasn't part of the overall experience, but no, what hooked me -- even in that "lowly" 325i -- was the handling. I never realized how big of a deal a quality suspension was until that day. Or how nice a 50/50 weight balance could be. Stuff that's in there because people who enjoy driving were responsible for the car's creation.

I was reading a blurb in Motor Trend where they were talking about this one guy who's a VP at GM. He seems like a good guy, a "car guy's car guy" as they put it. But they had this quote from him, where he said something along the lines of how he wants to improve GM quality to the point where someday BMW drivers and such will find themselves renting a Buick or whatever, and they'll say to themselves "Holy mackerel, I had no idea American cars were getting this good." And I was like, yeahhh... No.

Quality issues aside, cars like Buicks and cars like BMWs simply cannot be compared. People buy them for different reasons entirely. If you're getting a Buick, you're probably looking for a luxury car with a smooth, artificial ride where you're not going to feel much of the road. Someone who gets a BMW is going to trade some of that smoothness in exchange for feeling more connected with the road and being able to do shit like take fast corners. Again, it just comes down to a complete lack of understanding as to what makes the brands they're chasing the brands that they are.

Sure, Mercedes has had quality control issues, and BMW has alienated many of its fans with radical new styling on cars like the 5 and 7 Series (the latter of which they're already making minor changes to). But they're still Mercedes and BMW. If American car companies are going to start winning against the likes of Germany and Japan, they need to not only get quality up to snuff but also to understand those markets and what makes cars coming out of those markets as enjoyable to drive as they are.

American car companies are pretty good at being bad when it comes to understanding foreign markets. The classic example being when GM tried to sell the Chevy Nova in Mexico, with the phrase "no va" meaning "doesn't go" in Spanish. All it would take is some simple research for Americans to start making decent inroads in these markets and maybe start making cars that compare. As part of that research, go out and drive some of the cars that you're hoping to be. And I mean actually drive them, not just look at the leather and wood trim and say "we need some of that."

Even with as much as I hate America, it really is sad to see the automotive industry having fallen as much as it has. For me, when it comes to looks, nothing beats older American cars. Man, give me a car from the mid to late fifties. A '57 Thunderbird. A '56 Crown Victoria. A '58 Corvette. Something with a good amount of chrome and maybe some fins. And whitewalls! Gotta mix in those whitewalls. I don't know about build or ride quality, but those fucking cars had style to burn, and we will never have anything like that again.

Those days are long gone, and now we're stuck with, well, the same car companies making shitty cars that also look shitty. No one wants to drive a Ford these days. Okay, maybe some people do, but they don't know what they're talking about. Seriously, I'm fucking dreading the day I have to rent a goddamn Buick or something like that. Hell, I had a loaner 325xi early last week when I took my car into the dealership one afternoon for a few quick things (post-break-in oil change and to get that scraped up wheel refinished), and man, I was fucking pissed. How good is that? I've become such a snob in only a month and a half that I was driving a Bimmer and was unhappy about it. And how could I not be unhappy? That thing had an automatic and sixteen-inch wheels. Sixteen! How do people live like that?

So yeah, best of luck, American car companies.

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