2008-01-09

My take on American cars... like it means anything

I really wish the quality of the big three's products would rival those of the top tier Japanese manufacturers. It's not that we can't design solid, reliable, easily maintainable cars. Many of the light trucks that the big three make will turn 250000 miles without much more than an oil change or two. Thing is that up until recently, the engines have all been small block motors by their respective companies, which have been in production for 30+ years. GM's small block is nearly, if not over, 50 years old. Same for the transmissions.

That's great. All of the problems have been worked out. These drivetrains function nearly flawlessly. I have read that the GM 350/5.7 liter small block is getting all the power out of it that is possible without force feeding it.

Thing is, it's big. Huge. The smallest factory produced vehicle (That I know of. I've seen kits that put small block motors in some crazy vehicles. Mazda Miata for one.) that one of those is shoehorned into was the Monza, which made maintenance an absolute nightmare.

Why can't they take something like that, and lop one bank off of it? It'd still be big, don't get me wrong, 2.5 liters in 4 cylinders is quite a bit of displacement, but at least at that point you could put it in something econobox size, have a huge parts bin, and a reliable engine. Shure, it'd shake like hell, but that's the nature of a 4 cylinder engine. You could even put an overhead cam head or two on it to make it more efficient, and even put that assembly on the big brother. Best of both worlds.

But even if you went with that, you still have all of the other problems that come with the typical American car: Lousy fit and finish, cheap parts, and designs by bean counters. It just sucks. When you go up the food chain, it gets a little better, but I can get a Honda Fit for less than $16k. Which I would think probably has much better fit and finish wise than ANYTHING I can get from a US manufacturer in the same price range. Probably more fun to drive too.

Part of the problem is that the manufacturers have allowed themselves to be dictated to by the UAW. It is my understanding that a good portion of the profits that GM gets from each sale goes to prop up a very heavy pension and medical care load. Daimler-Benz just spun off Chrysler to a private equity firm because they couldn't pull a profit out of Chrysler after 10 years of hard work. Ford is said to have, and I quote, "bet the factory" on their new Edge station w-.. err.. "Crossover SUV". Pardon me while I chase my eyeballs down the hall.

Perhaps I have just had too many bad experiences with American cars and I'm jaded. Perhaps the quality of the American automobile has improved in 10 years. Perhaps the bean counters have let the engineers design good cars recently. I've been hoping for that to happen over the past 15 years, and have yet to see it happen.

My next car will most likely not carry an American nameplate, and that makes a part of me very sad. I like to think that no one touches US engineering prowess... and in some fields, this is completely true. Just not in the "Volkswagen" category.

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