Route 66 News

Only in America

Here’s a letter to the editor by Larry Matulich, which was printed in the Marysville (Calif.) Appeal-Democrat:

Is there still a Ford in America’s future? Not only is the question for one American car company, it goes for GM and Chrysler too.

The future of American truck and car brands like Ford, Chevy and Dodge, and many others, now really rest in the buying decisions made by U.S. consumers in 2009. And not what the politicians decide in Washington, D.C., on a big loan for the big three automakers.

Personally I still drive an Oldsmobile, a great GM car, that is still going strong with over 200,000 miles on it. With the price of gas under $2, now is the best time in a generation to buy that bigger American-made vehicle and hit the road for a trip. I just returned from a 6,000-mile trip over the old Route 66 route to the Midwest. It is great time to see our beautiful country, and to keep these American companies in business.

Remember in World War II it was Ford that built the planes for us that won the war, and it was Mitsubishi that built the planes for Japan’s war effort. Support America now. Buy American.

I’m compelled to comment on a few things Matulich writes, plus air a few other thoughts:

  • I’m optimistic Ford will survive the economic slowdown. It had already made cutbacks before the current meltdown, and its cash position is far better than Chrysler or GM’s. And, according to Consumer Reports, Ford is building more reliable cars.
  • Matulich says it’s the best time “in a generation” to buy a large American car because of lower gas prices. However, I remember gas dropping to less than 70 cents a gallon in the St. Louis area in the late 1990s. Of course, we know what happened after that — oil prices began a long, upward trend. The current low prices will be temporary, also. So it’d be foolish to buy a big American car when plenty of smaller, fuel-efficient American cars are available.
  • I find it ironic that Matulich praises his Oldsmobile — a brand that was phased out in 2004.
  • Americans in recent decades grew weary of Detroit vehicles that were terrible at worst or OK at best. So, many frustrated Americans eventually bought cars from the quality-conscious Japanese. It will take a long time — or radical changes at the corporate level — for the Big Three to overcome that erosion of market share.
  • I made an effort to buy an American-made car — a Saturn — during the early ’90s. It was still a very good car when I traded it in in 2003. But my next car was Japanese. I was reluctant to switch, but it was hard to ignore  when guys at the Saturn dealership grumbled about the line’s sliding quality after it was taken over by GM. One of the reasons I initially bought a Saturn was it didn’t have GM’s crappy fingerprints on it. Ceding Saturn to a mediocre overseer was no way to retain brand loyalty.
  • No one is making money at cars now. Even Toyota will finish in the red for the first time in its history. The difference is Japanese automakers have enough cash on hand to ride out the hard times.
  • Interestingly, the Japanese don’t want the Big Three to go belly-up. Detroit automakers going bankrupt would badly hurt Japanese automakers because it would cause many parts suppliers to go out of business.
  • Matulich’s “they bombed Pearl Harbor” argument against buying Japanese is a tired thread amid the 21st century. Japan is one of the United States’ strongest allies and has been for decades. Ditto for Germany. Those former enemies changed for the better, and time marches on.
  • Between the first time I bought a home in 2001 to the next one I purchased in 2004, I saw a marked (and disturbing) relaxation of mortgage-loan standards. I qualified for a maximum loan amount that was far beyond my ability to pay. Fortunately, I had no intention of getting a loan that big. Look no further to this story about the now-defunct Washington Mutual to see how far loaning standards plummeted in recent years. And there were reports about the danger signs of a housing bubble three years ago. This atmosphere of lax regulation and cavalier attitudes is the reason we’re in this economic mess today.