I Want It Because Its Not From Here

By Wayne McKenzie and Brendan Moore

2008 Pontiac G8 (Holden Commodore)

Americans like foreign food, foreign destinations, foreign accents, and, you might have noticed, foreign cars. Our affinity for all things foreign has overcome both a once-strong ‘Made in America’ trend and the best efforts of domestic manufacturers and their marketing departments.

The phenomenon is not uniquely American. The person with whom I talk about cars the most hails from the U.K. He and I can spend hours chatting about nothing but cars. It’s always fun, because he is an astute observer and he’s been schooled as an industrial product designer. He attended the same school of design in England as Jonathan Ives, the Brit who is behind the design of the IMacs and IPods. What makes it especially fun for me, though is that he’s not from here. He spent his formative years, car-wise, in Great Britain. We often agree on cars and car-related topics, but, just as often, we disagree. He is not a fan of British marques. He says they are mostly ‘crap’ and they always have been. He makes exceptions for the current Bentley GT and all of the recent Aston Martins, but otherwise he’s not interested. He drives a Chevy conversion van.

I knew a recent immigrant from Bulgaria who loved Camaros, and lots of Germans are crazy for American muscle cars, the more garish the better. It may seem unbelievable to the people in the United States that love their Japanese cars for what they are, but there is a very strong sub-culture of American car fans in the Land of the Rising Sun, an affection that is very expensive in Japan after purchase price, import duties, engine displacement taxes, fuel costs, maintenance costs and parking fees are added up. They love their American cars because those cars are what Japanese cars aren’t. There are people everywhere that seem to want a car from somewhere else.

I love British cars. I’ve had two Jaguars, two Triumphs and an MG and. I currently drive a Saab and my wife drives a VW Beetle, but I really want another Jaguar.

In the U.S., the imports are kicking the Ford and GM’s collective butt. There are, no doubt, engineering, marketing and financial reasons for the domestic automobile industry’s lackluster performance, but I have a plan regarding product that just might increase sales for General Motors and Ford in this country. It’s a pretty simple plan and here it is: As soon as possible, start selling the cars you already make in other countries here, in the U.S.

Think about it. A lot of us like stuff that’s not from here. I think its human nature. It is part of what makes us tick. If car buyers were offered genuine Ford and GM products with a distinctly foreign flavor, I think the American import-buying public would ignore the ‘Ford’ or ‘Chevrolet’ emblem and buy them. Have I mentioned that almost everything that is made somewhere else by Ford and GM gets great fuel economy? Cars in other places have to get great fuel mileage because gasoline (and diesel) is much more expensive in the rest of the world. So, that’s a nice plus for the Big 2, since their economy cars here are always getting dinged for being cheap-looking or boring or both. I’m willing to bet that there are Ford and GM cars for sale right now in Europe that would be a success here in the States. And the extra showroom traffic sure wouldn’t hurt sales of existing models made for the domestic market, either.

Pure genius, right? Well, no. People who don’t follow the auto industry obsessively like I do are not aware of it, but this plan already exists at General Motors and is being born at Ford as I type this.

2007 Opel Corsa (2008 Saturn Corsa)

2009 Chevrolet Camaro

GM brought a rwd Holden Monaro (Holden is GM’s Australian subsidiary) over and called it the Pontiac GTO in 2004. The car didn’t sell well in the States, but not because of performance (400 hp and brakes and handling to match!), but because of somewhat drab exterior styling. The GTO’s last model year was 2006, but it’s very likely to be reborn on the new Holden platform. A new rwd Holden platform that can accommodate both V6 and V8 engines will be the basis for the 2009 Chevrolet Camaro, the new Pontiac G8, probably a new Chevrolet Caprice, and probably a new Buick. GM is also bringing over the stunning Opel Antara GTC small SUV as the new Saturn Vue, and the equally attractive Opel Corsa and Opel Astra models as Saturn cars. The current Saturn Aura is basically an Opel Vectra from a sheetmetal pespective, and the Saturn Sky shares most of it’s pieces with the Opel GT. Saturn will equal Opel and Opel will equal Saturn in the very near future.

2008 Saturn Astra

2007 Ford Transit Connect

On the Ford front, CEO Alan Mulally laid his cards on the table last week and said he thought Ford would bring in the Focus S-Max (produced in Belgium), the Mondeo (also produced in Belgium), and the Transit Connect van, a boxy, little, tough commercial van made in Ford’s plant in Turkey. I guarantee consumers will also be buying Transit Connects in no time flat (a la Scion xB and Honda Element) if they offer a model with enough creature comforts. No word on bringing in any of the Ford Australia product yet, but there is some nice iron down under with a Ford badge on it, so I don’t see why it would not be considered. As an example, the new Ford Falcon (yes, that model name lived on in Australia) is an all-out absolute blast.

2007 Ford S-Max

2007 Ford Mondeo

 

You might have noted that I referred to the Big 2 earlier in this article, and although many people still think of them as an American company, Chrysler is definitely owned by DaimlerChrysler, a German company. DaimlerChrysler sells the cars and trucks that Chrysler makes here in fairly small numbers overseas, but it’s the same stuff we get here. It’s not made specifically for the foreign markets, hence the limited number of sales. DaimlerChrysler does sell cars made for the European market here in the States, and they’re called Mercedes-Benz vehicles. But, putting aside Chrysler’s current nationality aside for the moment, there is a car that will be sold here in 2008 that has been sold in Europe for the past 4 years that we haven’t been able to get previously. That vehicle is the diminutive Smart Car made by Mercedes, a tiny urban vehicle that will be sold through Roger Penske’s United Auto Group, so don’t look for it at your Dodge or Chrysler dealer. Mercedes has no plans to bring anything else over, particularly their very nice, very small A-Class and B-Class cars, which are strong sellers in Europe, but will not be sold here because DaimlerChrysler is wary of diluting the Mercedes-Benz brand in America.

2008 Smart

Yes, it’s going to be a lot of fun for prospective car-buyers in the very near future with a lot more choices available to them via both the domestic and foreign brands. From the domestic makers’ perspectives, it can only help their situation. Because now if you want a car; and that car needs to come from somewhere other than here, you can get what you want (yes, made somewhere else) down at the GM or Ford dealership.

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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