Well, I haven’t heard too many people say this since the late ‘70s: American cars are better than Asian cars. No, really. Associated Press and GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media conducted a survey of 1,000 adults in early March. The results showed that 38% of Americans said that they think American cars are the best-made vehicles and 33% said Asian cars are the best. The same survey done in December 2006 showed that 46% of Americans thought that Asian cars were the best and just 29% favored American cars.
This is especially good news for Ford and General Motors, both of which are in different stages of a turnaround. Chrysler gets a bit of a boost here, too, though the company’s product line has yet to get the same kind of overhaul as its two larger Detroit rivals have done. Making some hay of this kind of sentiment will be tougher until Chrysler has some new cars to tout. All three can capitalize on this newfound respect if they continue to build better models and if, a big IF in GM’s case, they can market the cars well. They also need to show better business results.
There is one big question. How long will this last? The survey was done March 3 though March 8, when Toyota’s recall news hit a fever pitch. Toyota has been the talisman of Japanese industrial superiority. When its brand image takes the kind of body blows Toyota has sustained in recent months, you can bet the others will feel some of the pain. Remember, too, that Ford was also putting out good news. The Dearborn, Mich., automaker is firmly in the black and sales are surging. A lot of the change in consumer attitude comes from reversing fortunes at Toyota and Ford.
GM could burnish its image further in mid-May when the company will release its first-quarter earnings. Already riding a high from the fact that it paid off $8.4 billion in government loans about five years early, GM could look sharper still by reporting a tidy profit, which is possible. It may only be an operating profit, with one-time charges and problems in Europe still dragging earnings down. But the company is expected to show a profit.
This could be an inflection point for Detroit. After years of losing to Japan, GM, Ford and Chrysler became a symbol of American failure. While Google and Yahoo showed the way to the Internet and Apple has dominated Sony in portable music players, Detroit continued to strike out. If Motown carmakers put out a few more hot cars and keep improving quality, they may be able to finally steal back respect and a lot of customers.