The perception has been around for decades; American-made cars and trucks are junk compared to their foreign-made competition. Craig Deserf is the general sales manager at David Taylor Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac and GMC here in Houston. He remembers those days, but says things have changed.
“I recall when I sold cars in the early ’90’s, you know you start-up a Sedan DeVille and it sounded like a ’69 GTO as far the manifold and exhaust. It was hard to sell up against imports and Lexus, but we probably trade for, close to 50-percent of the cars we trade for now are imports.”
Deserf says David Taylor has also seen a major dip in the number of vehicles brought back for warranty work claims. According to JD Power and Associates, that trend is happening everywhere. Since 2006, warranty repairs at GM dealerships have been reduced by almost 50-percent. Dave Sargent is the vice president of research at JD Power and Associates.
“Now there are very good Japanese products and Korean products and all brands these days have a number of very, very good products. Really all we’re saying is that the perception that somehow the domestics are not able to built good-quality vehicles simply doesn’t hold-up anymore.”
But the perception is hard to shake. Sargent says once a consumer decides domestic vehicles are poorly made, it takes a long time to change that opinion.
“A new vehicle is something that the average consumer may only purchase every four or five years. So, if someone had a bad experience with a domestic product and then switched to an import, it may be 10 years before they’re actually ready to go back into the market to buy another vehicle. It does take a long time to shift the perception.”
Here in Houston, improved quality could mean job security for people who work at new car dealerships. Walter Wainwright is the president of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association. His organization represents 190 dealerships in Houston that employ 30,000 people.
“There’s no question but what most reliable sources today will say that the quality gap has been significantly closed, that we have the most efficient, more fuel efficient vehicles, durable vehicles built to drive well, perform well. Frankly we’ve go the best vehicles on the road today, both domestic and import we’ve ever had.”
Wainwright says it doesn’t surprise him that the CEO’s of the Big Three automakers are pointing to improved quality as a reason they’re worthy of a bailout.