Many of you are thinking, ah but that’s normal. They were too narrow-minded, and only made what the american public wanted -big SUVs-, and with eco-narrow-mindedness upon us, people don’t want their cars any more, and are buying small Japanese and European hatchbacks. Simple no?
The problem dates back to the end of the Second World War (yup, 65 years ago). The United States of America came out the overall winner, and american pride was at its all-time high. Studies suggested that what 80% of Americans wanted after the war was a new automobile. GM, Ford and Chrysler made the most of it offering as many different vehicles as they could, and sales went sky-high. Again, simple, no?
They “made” different vehicles, but in reality you had one car, that was rebadged in a minimum of three brands, and hey presto, build one car, sell three! Whether you bought an Oldsmobile or a Buick, you were getting the same car. Risky you might say. You are right. However, during that period, the Big Three discovered something about the American People.
The common American did not give a crap about the actual product. If you marketed the product to a certain lifestyle, that they aspired too, they would buy it, regardless to whether it was actually any good. Sell it cheaply and you have the check already in your pocket. You were young and going about in the world, you bought a Mustang. You considered yourself upper-class, you went for a Cadillac. When Muscle cars came about, things got worse.
During Preston Tucker’s trial, it is claimed one of GM’s representatives said “What is the use of innovation? It costs money!”. Sums it up pretty well to me. Fordism was the norm. Build as much as you can and sell it as cheaply as you can. Who cares about taste, or quality, or even individuality.
If the product is selling, why change it?
Then the oil crisis hit them, and they started building small cars, based on the European ones. Think they would have learnt their lesson by now?
In the 80s, things went in overdrive. Take a look at a GM catalogue from that period. It’s as if they had 4 cars, and just changed the badges to make it look like they had 80. Again, with clever advertising, these cars sold all over the US. Protectionism did not help either.
Then we come to the fatal blow: The economic “crisis”. Americans did not want big cars anymore. They turned to Japanese and European hatchbacks, and went “Hang on, these cars are actually GOOD! What do you know, cars CAN go around corners”. They weren’t interested in how many cupholders the car had anymore, but what choice of engine they could have. Ironically, it was the foreigners who offered them the real choice, not the choice of “should I have the Buick or the Saturn”. Now you could choose your brand, and what engine you wanted, what body style you wanted; a car catered to your taste.
Ford managed to survive because they had their European division, and so started selling their European cars to the Americans. GM tried the same with Opel. Chrysler, well, their screwed.
You see, Europeans aren’t interested in the quantity, but in the quality. As the world gets more evolved, so do the Americans.
Think I’m wrong? Look at McDonalds. By 2002, their policy of “mass-selling and to hell with taste” led them to huge losses. They had to rethink their strategy. Tailor their offer to the demand. No more everything for everyone. Had they not focused more on quality they would have ended like Chrysler, a Fiat whore.