Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What a bailout can't fix

It's time for my wife to get another car.

Yes, that faithful 2000 Saturn that has served us well since we drove it off the lot with 27 miles on it is looking a bit ragged these days. The old gal has 135,000 miles on her and she's starting to show her age.

We were out car shopping a couple of weeks ago when we saw one of those mom and pop lots on the side of the road. So we stopped, looked around a bit and saw a 2007 Chrysler Pacifica.

The mileage was low on the car and the asking price was so small that they might as well have been giving the car away. Furthermore, the vehicle has everything my wife wants -- three rows of seats (so we can separate our two kids on trips), plenty of leather, decent gas mileage and an interior that's so clean that the thing looks new. The previous owner obviously liked a little luxury and got a staggering array of options when the car was originally purchased.

We test drove the car and the thing felt solid as a rock, was comfortable and hugged the road impressively. I have a preference for foreign cars as I drive a Toyota and love the thing. Also, I've never had an American car that made it past around 140,000 miles, but that's not true of a couple of Japanese cars I've owned. Regardless, the Pacifica had everything my wife wanted so I thought we might have found the ideal car for her.

"What do you think," I asked.

"I like it."

"Want to get it?"

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"It's American."

My wife is probably going to wind up with a Toyota Highlander or some form of Honda, although we may pay more for the car we eventually decide to buy.

See a problem here? The Pacifica looks great, drives great and suits my wife's needs perfectly. The thing is priced to sell, too, but we're staying away from it due to our experience with American cars. We don't trust them to hold up to normal use and worry about whether Chrysler, GM and Ford will even be around in a few years to service their vehicles.

There's a general perception out there that American vehicles are garbage and that perception, sadly, has been well earned. Oh, the government can throw away billions of dollars on bailing out the American auto industry, but the feds can't do a thing about what consumers want to buy and drive without engaging in some form of severe protectionism (it wouldn't surprise me if the government did just that -- they killed the Volkswagen Beetle in the U.S. that way, after all).

The only group that can change the public's perception of American vehicles is the U.S. auto industry. Sadly, that bunch doesn't seem to be doing much at all to restore our faith in the vehicles they manufacture.

After all, what have we seen that suggests the American auto manufacturers will engage in anything but their normal practices that pushed them close to bankruptcy? Nothing, except for some token things such as promises to get rid of some corporate jets and some noise about the Volt, an overpriced electric car that will hit the market in a couple of years.

It doesn't appear the industry is a bit serious about the radical changes that will have to be made if the public is to rally behind Chrysler, Ford and GM again.

By the way, that pristine Pacifica was still on that little used car lot -- apparently, other people are approaching American vehicles with caution these days, too. Who can blame us?

7 comments: said...

I am not much into cars, but I learned a lot from this recent auto bailout of the Big Three in Detroit.

I was furious the federal government got involved in the free market and decided right then and there, we would not be buying an American made car any time soon - if ever again.

Da Old Man said...

I agree and wouldn't take a chance on an American made car. Chrysler has been on the ropes for years, and don't think it will get any better.
My last American car, a Plymouth van, I gave away. After all, it was nearly 10 years old, and needed more in repairs than it was worth. It only had about 120K on it. My 19 year old Camry with 170k was snapped right up for nearly what I paid for it 3 years before, and the guy who bought it was thrilled.

mcangeli said...

Unfortunately thats true. I have a NIssan Xterra with just under 100k on it (next to gas stops should cure that) and the truck is still going strong. My wife has a Honda and we're not going to be replacing that for a while. They've lasted well and have needed less service than their american counterparts.

Beth said...

My husband said, it will be awhile before he will start buying American cars again. My car and his truck are both Toyota , and we're loving it.

Karen said...

I love my Pacifica.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Paul -- That's a good enough reason not to buy anything made by the Big 3, indeed. If a company can't compete, it deserves to perish. That's what free market capitalism is all about.

Frankly, denying consumers the power to decide which companies thrive and which ones don't is ludicrous. God we average cats don't have much power in this country anymore. We ought to at least be able to put pressure on companies to sell the goods and services we actually want to buy.

Da Old Man -- I visited with a friend of mine who bought a Pacifica back in 2004 for $30,000. She traded it in last year and got $9,000. The loss of resale value, in and of itself, is alarming.

There's a reason American cars depreciate so quickly and Japanese ones hold their value, you know?

McAngeli -- The same is true of my Toyota. I loved the 1998 Ford ZX2 (a.k.a., a go-cart for adults) that I had before my Toyota, but a lot went wrong with it. The brakes and rotors wore out on a regular basis (those cheap rotors warped very easily), the clutch was flimsy, the transmission was "notchy" and crude and the body integrity was pitiful.

The Toyota, on the other hand...

Beth -- It looks like we're switching over to all Japanese vehicles, too.

Honestly, I wonder whether the term "Japanese car" is accurate in the traditional sense. Most of those things are made here in the U.S., so the expansion of Toyota, Honda, et al in this country has actually created more jobs in the country.

Karen -- Glad to hear it and I honestly hope it serves you well. I'm done gambling on American cars, however, and my wife feels the same way.

JamesW said...

I notice that many employees of these companies are posting on various economic websites saying that the companies are, in fact, poorly run. They don't want to lose their jobs, and the fact that they would still post comments indicates the truth of their posts. I have had horrible experiences with multiple Chryslers which couldn't hit 60-100k miles without endless repair bills. My Nissan/Toy/Honda experiences include only 2-3 minor problems which had nothing to do with vehicle operation and which cost a grand total of $0 to fix.