Crappy Cars

When I read about the Chevy Cobalt as a “death car”, I am reminded of those days in the 1970s when the auto industry here in the United States began to lose out to the Japanese, in large part because we made crappy cars, which either had serious design flaws or were in the repair shop on a regular basis. All that talk about American engineering and innovation was called into question as Japanese cars, particularly the Toyota, became the car of choice for Americans.

Because the corporate types at GM knew about the ignition switch problem on the Cobalt back in 2001 and did nothing when the deaths started to become more than a coincidence, GM is now facing years of litigation, financial payments to those who lost loved ones and new questions about whether our largest auto maker makes crappy cars, and worse yet puts profit over safety. By the way the fix for the ignition problem was a replacement part that cost less the 60 cents.

Now Toyota has had its share of recalls in recent years, but along with the German and South Korean cars, the non-US car makers have established a reputation for building safe, long-lasting and garage repair free automobiles. The Chevy Cobalt fiasco will do nothing to diminish the reputation of the Japanese, German and South Korean car makers.

This crappy car syndrome that rears its ugly head too often in this country is a sad mystery. Why can’t we make a car that goes beyond 100,000 miles with minimal repairs? Why do all the really safe cars come from foreign countries? Why are Americans going to the Toyota, Volkswagen and Kia dealerships first before they head to one of the Big Three car lots? And finally, how did such a simple problem in the Cobalt occur in the first place?

GM will eventually get through this Cobalt crisis and probably start a new round of quality control efforts, but there will always be the lingering question in the minds of many Americans and those abroad about why the country that for years led the world in auto sales continues to make crappy cars.

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