Yesterday, over at The Truth About Cars, Mr. Farago has drawn a line in the sand. Fed up with his writers being berated for favouring Traditional Imports over Traditional domestic, Farago has let his readers know that he will no longer accept comments from those who seek to flame the writers for their opinions. These guys know their stuff and the boss is going to stand behind them. Good for you Farago, your team deserves the support.
Now, it’s time for my 2 cents. Or maybe 10.
Like most car guys, I’ve grown up around the Import vs. domestic battle. When I finally joined the car industry, it made sense that I should work in Chrysler store, because I had grown up in a loyal Chrysler household. When I made the switch to a European import store I began to see the difference between manufacturing philosophies. In my time, I’ve worked for Japanese, American and Swedish dealerships and as a result, I’m often asked for my opinion by friends and family who are researching a new car purchase because I’ve seen the products in action.
Last spring, a good friend was in the market to buy a new SUV. The wife was interested in the Honda Pilot and the hubby was into the Cadillac SRX. I was asked which I would buy and why. Perhaps a difficult choice. With GM incentive pricing, the out the door price of the two trucks were pretty closely matched. On the plus side, the Pilot is a Honda. Enough said really, but that means that it’s a well engineered vehicle that will be reliable for a long time and will hold it’s value. The SRX though was a different story. Like it or not, the exterior styling is more agressive and exciting. For an SUV, the thing goes like a scared cat and handles great to boot. The emotional part of this car guy says go for the Caddy. But wait. How will the Caddy feel in 3 years? What about 5 or even 10 years? This is a family who keep their vehicles a long time. In 5 years, the Pilot will feel like new. I suspect, I said, that the SRX may feel like a worn out shoe in a few years. The folks agreed and in the end bought a new 2006 Honda Pilot.
While sitting by the campfire a few weeks ago on summer vacation, I was skimming through the latest Road and Track and came across a Long Term test on the Cadillac CTS-V. Now it’s not an SRX, but it is the flagship of the Caddy fleet and one would expect that it would give some indication of other models in the lineup.
Here is what Road and Track had to say about the CTS-V:
WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve just hit the magic 50,000-mile mark in our CTS-V, and the car really is starting to make us wonder about its long-term durability. The power is great, the engine is reliable and nothing mechanically important has broken. No one has been stranded by the CTS-V, but we are wary of the strange noises coming from the rear end.
Our mechanic has inspected it twice and assured us everything is mechanically correct Ã¢â‚¬â€ just worn. Clearly the car is well beyond being broken-in. If one can ignore the doubt-inducing noises, the CTS-V is still a blast to drive and looks good.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I must say the CTS-V still packs a punch at 50,000 miles. But what in the heck is going on with the suspension and drivetrain? It has squeaks and groans worse than my 1950 pickup. I doubt if a comparable BMW or Lexus would have a similar problem at this mileage. This is what Long-Term Tests are for Ã¢â‚¬â€ to see if these things develop. If this is the best GM can do, then thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a shame. I also detect more driveline slop than the last time I drove the car. If I owned this car, I would not be a happy camper.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Now, we must understand that a long term tester for a car magazine does not have an easy life. Every trip up the street for a coffee is like a mini lapping day. The car probably has several lapping days under it’s belt too. As such, you have to cut the car a bit of slack, but the reality is that the R & T people put a lot of miles on a lot of cars and don’t consider this to be acceptable. Really, the car has 50,000 miles which is probably about 2 years worth of driving for most people. A 2 year old flagship model that has unexplained noises and driveline slop is really pretty pathetic. The R & T folks seem to have confirmed my suspicion that the Pilot was a better buy.
Back in the mid Nineties, I remember plunking my butt in a late model Chrysler of some sort, I think it was an LHS. The car had 60,000 km on it and the shocks were blown, the digital dash didn’t work and the driver’s seat was a mess. The foam cushion was crushed and the finish was worn off the leather. I was blown away that this car that cost about 8 grand more than a Volvo 850 Turbo at the time felt like such a pile. The 15 year old Volvo I was driving at the time was a nicer car to drive, it just didn’t look as good.
The days of buying Traditional Domestics just for the good of the unions are long gone. There is absolutely no reason why the consumer should have to pay good money for a car that is a pile of crap. As Farago says, it’s not good enough for the car to be reliable. There is no reason for any car to break down and most don’t. For me, the difference is not in the first year of ownership, but in what the car feels like in 2 years, 5 years or even 10 years. The Traditional Imports build cars that not only last, but they feel newer longer.
It’s time for the Traditional Domestics to open the purse strings a little bit and allow their designers to use materials that will ensure some longevity of feel.