What's Not Wrong with the Big Three

I've spent my working lifetime in the automotive world, from repair to technical service management and marketing. After a successful career in the industry, I began reporting on the business and the vehicles the companies produce.

Each week, I'm tasked with driving a new vehicle and revealing my findings for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the web. Whenever someone I meet learns that there's a living to be made doing this, they quickly ask how they can get this gig. My usual reply is that they will have to wait for my demise or the arrival of senility. I must stop making those remarks before someone helps speed my earthly departure.

Nearly every adult has an opinion about cars and, more recently, about the auto industry. And these same folks are willing to share their opinion with anyone who will listen. That's fair enough and I'm always interested to learn someone's opinion. But when I read or hear an assessment of automotive products and their producers through media outlets, I expect a bit higher standard -- some basic fact-checking comes to mind.

The other day, I flew down from San Francisco to Los Angeles to attend the press preview for the L.A. Auto Show. I rented a Nissan Altima Hybrid, the perfect sedan for Southern California freeways where there's always plenty of free parking. I'm a talk radio listener, so I tuned into L.A.'s electronic chattering class who were busy dishing our domestic automakers.

The storyline goes like this: Domestic cars do not posses the quality of the imported brands, especially Japanese makes, and the hapless fools running our car companies just won't build what buyers want. The first notion is based on evidence from at least a decade ago and the second assumption must assume that nothing has changed in Detroit since Michael Moore produced his film Roger and Me.