Taking the current automotive temperature

posted Mar 14, 2010, 5:55 PM by DAVID ZAJANO   [ updated Mar 15, 2010, 10:22 AM ]
The corporate automotive landscape is currently an interesting one. GM is seemingly trying quite hard, but has a lot of eggs in one little electric basket. Toyota is dealing is quality issues stemming from a lethal (no pun intended) combination of electronic programming and parts vendor errors. Ford is enjoying a resurgance and looks to have a very solid product line with more promising models to introduced within the next 24 months. Honda seems to have given up on R&D and is playing things very close to the vest, the company that brought variable valve timing to the masses has seemingly shunned comman rail direct injection and low displacement turbo charged engines. Which is ashame because engineering great fun to drive small cars that got class leading fuel economy and were entertaining to drive all while being dead nuts reliable is what got Honda where they are. The Koreans ,Hyundai and KIA, are now making cars that match the class leaders in terms of features, power, economy, safety, materials and fit and finish.
What am I getting at with all of this? Well I have a theory and more importantly a question.
Once manufacturers gain market share they become complacent and delevopment and then overall quality suffers. True it is easier, and more cost effective,  for the "up and comers" to copy rather then innovate but someone has to foot the bill for further automotive development, whether it be content/feature related or engine technology development. The manufacturers appear to have not learned from history, thus it is repeating itself. Throughout the 1950s and 60's US auto manufacturers dominated the market. Development was so quick that models seemingly lasted only a single year before a re-fresh or overhaul was performed. Engine displacement and resulting power kept going up and up, visually the cars of the era were beautiful. Then the 1970s came...
The gas crisis and economic turmoil openned the door for cheaper more effeicent Japanese imports. The US manufacturers struggled with design (Mustang II anyone?) and had even greater struggles wrapping their brain around the fact that people wanted smaller fuel sipping cars opposed to big block V8s. The Japanese had created a niche in the market, which they in turn cornered and then took a strangle hold on.  Nobody could have foreseen the oil crisis and political crimate at the time, but if the US manufacturers had maintained the vehicle quality fewer buyers would've been willing to jump ship and purchase the cruder rough around the edges early imports.