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The Anti-Detroit Bias


The hecklers are out. Last week, I gave General Motors a well-deserves lashing for its lame response to the company’s own mediocre (and that’s being generous) performance in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. GM says the survey just doesn’t matter. Readers of the blog had two basic complaints: One, it’s the just import-loving media bashing poor ‘ole Detroit. And two, I didn’t mention Ford’s strong performance.

Actually, I wrote a separate item for this blog on Ford’s performance shortly after publishing the item about GM. I didn’t address the company’s improvements in the same piece because, the last time I checked, no one works for Big Three Motors. GM and Ford are two separate companies. If they were one giant auto company, gads would they have bloated overhead. But I checked, and they’re still separate companies. I think many people have a tendency to view the Big Three together.

Sometimes it’s appropriate. In this case it isn’t because they had very different results in Power’s quality study. If the conversation is about healthcare costs, or union negotiations, or struggling brands, maybe you write about them as a group because they have similar problems. But here, I wrote two pieces and did give Ford the credit it deserved.

Now to the first complaint. Look folks. I have favorite sports teams. I don’t have a favorite car company. I don’t drive a Japanese car, either. But when Honda and Toyota beat the domestic brands just about every year in these surveys—even if by a slim margin—you have to give credit where it’s due.

The U.S. carmakers have narrowed the gap considerably. It cannot be said that they make unreliable automobiles. But when you compare mass-market American brands like Ford and Chevrolet to Honda and Toyota, they rank lower. That’s true in J.D. Power’s long-term study, too. Cadillac and Buick did beat Toyota brand in the four-year Vehicle Dependability Study last year. But they still trailed Lexus. The big sellers like Ford and Chevy didn’t beat Toyota or Honda.

One more point. If every company’s quality is equal, which GM argues because the problems per 100 vehicles are close, then you’d think the winner every year would just about be generated at random. They’re all so close that the vagaries of a consumer survey would turn up Chevy one year, Honda the next, and so on. It doesn’t. So we must conclude that the Japanese brands which domestic loyalists love to hate—Honda and Toyota—are just a bit better. That’s not bias, it’s just a reasonable view of the facts.


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