: Have you driven a Ford lately? Me neither.



Jesda
02-10-06, 12:51 PM
This is an opinion piece I just handed in for the school paper. I figured I'd share. The story about the Cavalier door falling off happened, but I changed the details (I didnt actually call and laugh, but I did stay in the house and watch from inside):
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Have you driven a Ford lately? Me neither.

Jesda Gulati, Staff Writer


I want to meet the engineers in Detroit who ‘blessed’ us with the Ford Pinto, Chevy Celebrity, and Dodge Aries, so I can shake them violently and ask, “What the hell were you thinking?”

A couple years ago a friend of mine, who at the time owned a 1988 Chevy Cavalier, came over to visit. As he drove away, I heard a loud clunk, looked out the window, and saw his passenger door sitting in the street. The darn thing had fallen off. A good friend would typically run outside and offer assistance, but it was brutally cold, so I stayed indoors and called his cell phone to laugh at him. He conveyed to me a string of words that are unsuitable for publication, but he eventually reattached his door and drove home.

Unfortunately, the crummy products of the US auto industry are no laughing matter, as one quarter of our national economy is directly or indirectly tied to it. In January, Ford laid off 30,000 employees. General Motors lost billions last quarter. Chrysler was lost to Daimler-Benz in a fraudulent merger years ago. Meanwhile, management at Ford and GM are running in circles like beheaded chickens.

A brief history lesson…
The early 80s marked the end of the Carter-era fuel crunch. Nissan, Honda, and Toyota took advantage of the situation and infiltrated the US market with poorly made but fuel-efficient vehicles.

Hideous contraptions like the Datsun B210, offered in a disgusting shade of orange I remember as “upchuck tangerine”, were known to rust in showrooms. This was acceptable to Americans of the late 70s and early 80s, because rising fuel costs forced them to give up their full-size Buicks and settle for gas-sipping garbage heaps.

This situation forced the Big Three (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) to fend off foreign competition by throwing together small, economical cars in a short period of time. Sloppy engineering predictably resulted in junk. The Chevy Vega comes to mind.

Now, the 80s are long over, but a tarnished reputation remains. Even as Buick, Lincoln, and Cadillac top J.D. Power rankings for long-term dependability and customer satisfaction, sales are rapidly declining as labor costs rise dramatically.

Labor unions bear much responsibility for rising costs. When the United Auto Workers went on strike in July 1998, it cost GM a billion dollars a day. Management finally gave in to the UAW’s demands, partly because profits were high at the time, but mostly because they had no choice. Now, just a few years later, GM is bleeding and the unions are refusing to give up their raises and benefits.

Because of similar union concessions made decades earlier, GM operates a Job Bank. One thousand people show up for eight hours a day and do absolutely nothing while earning $26 an hour. This is made possible because of UAW contracts: when a factory closes, no one actually loses their job. They instead get tossed into the Job Bank, getting paid to show up, eat doughnuts, and read the newspaper.

In theory, these people could go back to work when production increases, but General Motors’ market share has declined from 50% in the 1960s ago to a pathetic 25% in 2004. Production will not be increasing anytime soon, perhaps ever, which means that these people will never have to work again.

GM, as a result of being unable to let anyone go, continues to build cars over capacity, and when inventories are large, the company is forced to offer sales incentives and massive discounts. This causes resale value to steeply decline, which means consumers have to incur higher long term costs of ownership, making imported cars more attractive.

As much as I appreciate and prefer a fair number of American cars, I refuse to contribute to the wealth of greedy thugs like Ron Gettelfinger, president of the UAW. The union will have to give up its perks or GM will disappear, sending the US economy into a downward spiral.

It’s us or them, and they have to lose if the rest of us are going to win.

mccombie_5
02-10-06, 12:57 PM
Good work Jesda!

OffThaHorseCEO
02-10-06, 02:02 PM
damn, i didnt even know it was like that.

thats sucks for gm, so why not fire all of them and hire/train people that arent in a union? sure the initial costs would be huge, but then the union wouldnt have them by the balls

JimHare
02-10-06, 02:11 PM
Not a bad piece of work, but I missed your point.

In the beginning, you seem to be concentrating on the poorly engineered and designed American cars of the early 80s. Your point about the early foreign cars of that same time begs the question - if we bought the crappy B210 and such, settling for poorly made foreign junk, and we also bought the poorly made American crap at the same time, what do the labor unions have to do with that? I don't get the connection.

If the American car manufacturers got a bad reputation from the junk we made in the early 80's, why didn't the foreign manufactures get the same reputation? (Mind you, I'm not disputing the facts - there was a lot of junk produced at that time, on both sides of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.) What I'm curious about, and what I believe would have made a more interesting piece, is WHY the foreign companies were able to overcome THEIR bad reputation, and the US manufacturers were not.

If the facts bear out the (e)quality of construction between a Lincoln and a Lexus, why do American consumers believe that foreign cars are better made? I don't see how labor costs have anything to do with quality perceptions.

Your segue from declining quality into rising costs:


Now, the 80s are long over, but a tarnished reputation remains. Even as Buick, Lincoln, and Cadillac top J.D. Power rankings for long-term dependability and customer satisfaction, sales are rapidly declining as labor costs rise dramatically.

and the role of labor unions in the whole mess:


Labor unions bear much responsibility for rising costs. When the United Auto Workers went on strike in July 1998, it cost GM a billion dollars a day. Management finally gave in to the UAW’s demands, partly because profits were high at the time, but mostly because they had no choice. Now, just a few years later, GM is bleeding and the unions are refusing to give up their raises and benefits.

does not bring the whole piece together. What started out as an examination of the quality and construction of autos from 25 years ago versus today rapidly switched to a condemnation of labor unions as the cause of GM and Fords current troubles.

I don't dispute your points. But you have two different pieces here.

lux hauler
02-10-06, 02:13 PM
People can blame whomever they like for the current American auto industry's situation.....fact is, if they would build cars that people want, people would buy them.

These companies should have seen a down turn coming. Instead of reinvesting their record profits from the 90's, they purchased foreign companies.....they should have been focusing on their core business.

The UAW has alot less to do with how the company is run than most people would think.....I see it day to day.

The industry in the US is in pretty bad shape.....hopefully it doesn't completely fizzle but if it does, it's the company's own fault.

OffThaHorseCEO
02-10-06, 02:22 PM
he makes some good points, which is why its always a good idea to have more than one person proof read it, i thought it was a good piece but once jim examined it and brought out his points i can see the flaws he mentions.

i had this problem when writing in high school, the teachers would always point out that i had written two great papers, in one. they would say i went off on a tangent

o well, i still agree with the facts

1. domestics get a bad rep for stuff that happened way back
2. imports get put on a pedestal and overhyped
3. (now that i know) labor unions may be good for the workers, but in the big picture are bad for everyone

airbalancer
02-10-06, 02:31 PM
I drove a Ford about 3 weeks ago, because if you took a test drive in a Fisson you got a $20 coupon for a restaurant.
I was in it for about 10 mins and it sure is no Caddy

EcSTSatic
02-10-06, 02:38 PM
I drive a 93 Aerostar and it has been the most troublefree car I've ever owned. My wife owned a 2 year old B210 when we got married. I sold it soon after before it all rusted away!

That being said I agree with JimHare. Is this a quality control or a union piece

Katshot
02-10-06, 02:46 PM
I agree with Jim. Very disjointed piece. I agree with most of it but it seems more like notes for a work in progree than a finished piece.
I think there's a number of things that are working against the American automakers, but to be honest poor management is really what put them where they are now. Their present predicament is due to the cumulative affects of mis-management over a number of years.
Oh, and BTW, there's no way a door just falls off as you describe in the letter.

JimHare
02-10-06, 03:38 PM
Jeeze, Jesda I didn't mean to start a firestorm here.. :helpless: :hide:

Don't take these criticisms to heart (and from knowing your online personality, I don't think you will). Like we've said, you have a start on two GOOD works here. So in that respect, you've got something to work with. And we realize that this is just a piece written for the school paper, so it's not like you're getting a grade on it :p

Here's what I'd do, if (and only IF) you want to improve on what you've shown us so far.

Decide on a single thematic idea - consumer's perceptions of poor domestic quality as a remnant of 1980's marketing and engineering mistakes, OR the role of the UAW in the current financial woes of the Big Two Automakers in Detroit.

I'd pick the first one - it's an interesting and more novel idea that can be easily buttressed with a little research. Plus, there is no "right answer", so your opinions, when backed up by facts, are more easily supported.

Some thoughts:

During the immediate postwar period, from about 1945 to even perhaps the early 80's, "Made in Japan" was a decidedly negative connotation about virtually every product with that label. It denoted cheapness, poor quality, bad imitation and shoddy workmanship. There is even an apocryphal story about town in Japan that changed its name to "usa", so products there could be stamped, "Made in USA".. ???

What caused the shift in consumer perception such that products from JAPAN (apart from other pacific rim countries) now are hallmarked by quality, precision, well crafted engineering, and value? (Hint: Business schools infatuation with Japanese corporate practices in the early 80's had a lot to do with it..)

Why does the shift PRIMARILY favor Japan, but not other Pacific Rim countries such as Korea and China? National standards? Materials? Product lifespan?

Finally, you might develop this thought - did the shift into offshore manufacturing of MANY heretofore domestic products have anything to do with either the raising perception of quality from offshore producers, or the lowering perception of value for those few domestic manufacturers still remaining (e.g., the "Sony vs Zenith" argument, brought out when Zenith was the only remaining large scale domestic TV set manufacturer).

You could have the start of a very ambitious piece here...a watershed in the public eye, so to speak...:p

Elvis
02-10-06, 04:21 PM
I agree with Katshot and EcSTSatic about what JimHare said about what Jesda said. It's a leap from build quality to UAW.

A lot is taken for granted about what the reader remembers of 80's automobilia.

Just a few of my own observations,

Ford didn't lay off 30,000 last month, they announced plans to phase out 30,000 jobs between now and 2012. In that period of time a huge percentage will be due to attrition.

The accusation of a "fraudulent merger" needs to be substantiated or not mentioned. (not that I don't agree with your assessment) Same with the rusting B210 on the showroom floor.

It was probably the Chevette and Citation you were thinking of, not the Vega. The Vega ran from 1971-1977, before Carter had a chance to screw anything up.

DBA-One
02-10-06, 04:33 PM
When you write "fraudulent merger" are you speaking of the Daimler-Chrysler deal

Edit:
Never mind. I did a search and found that part. Isn't this a Kirk Kirkeran(SP) claim. He has claimed this in his law suit. Also Mercedes is worth less now than it was before this merger. Lots of people are pissed about this one.

Jesda
02-10-06, 07:33 PM
I deleted a lot of transitional and explanatory paragraphs because it got far too long and technical for the average newspaper reader. For a magazine, it would have been nice in its original, verbose form. For a paper, you have to expect a lower reading level and less patience. Unfortunately, this makes it seem like three essays in one.

Lord Cadillac
02-10-06, 08:00 PM
People preferred the foreign junk over the domestic junk (in the 80s) because they used less gas.. Somebody was wondering about this up there...

These people are still driving foreign cars because - "if it aint broke, don't fix it". Why switch back when they're having good experiences? Until foreign cars start becoming unreliable - or domestic cars become so much more attractive - everyone who switched (from the times when domestics actually were crap) is going to stay...

Jesda
02-11-06, 05:36 AM
When you write "fraudulent merger" are you speaking of the Daimler-Chrysler deal

Edit:
Never mind. I did a search and found that part. Isn't this a Kirk Kirkeran(SP) claim. He has claimed this in his law suit. Also Mercedes is worth less now than it was before this merger. Lots of people are pissed about this one.

Thus, the reason this is an opinion piece.