04 March 2007

Toyota soars amid more domestic woes

I picked up two automotive news articles yesterday, which further confirm the woes of the domestic auto industry.

In the first, Toyota announced its eighth US assembly plant in Mississippi, with the blessing of local residents and even prominent politicians such as Trent Lott. While Lott's blessing further cements Toyota's image in my mind as a reactionary anti-labor company, Toyota also has wide support from, among others, the mostly Democratic California congressional delegation, partly because Toyota has assembled Corollas in California since 1988, and partly because Toyota has so many customers and suppliers in California. Michigan's congressional delegation is crying foul over Toyota's continuing to build half of its US-market cars in Japan, but that cry isn't going far.

The second story is somewhat related: Toyota and Honda are so popular, because their cars are the most reliable on the market (no surprise). Buying Japanese, in general, is still the best way to get a quality car, based on the findings of Consumer Reports. Actually, let's make that "buying Asian," as the report also says that the Koreans have caught up with the Japanese on the reliability front. The surprise came from the low reliability levels of the Europeans, including Mercedes-Benz, once a hallmark of reliability but now dead last in the rankings among 36 makes. A 10-year-old Lexus is probably more reliable than a brand-new Mercedes, they say. (I guess my next car won't be a Mercedes.) The European luxury cars need to get simpler and easier to service in order to win back customers. In all, Asian cars have 11 problems per 100 vehicles, Americans 16 per 100, and Europeans 19 per 100.

I live in a community where only Pat Buchanan supporters drive American vehicles; everyone else has switched to imports long ago, and so have I, with the retirement of my nightmare Ford Contour. And all of this is for good reasons. The Big Three need to change their culture fast, if they want to matter at all. At least GM is trying with its revamped Cadillac line, but Ford and Chrysler are nowhere to be found. And blaming the UAW won't work either; Mazda uses UAW labor, but doesn't have the problems of the domestics.

MSNBC on Toyota
MSNBC on Car Reliability Ratings