Skip to content

On American cars, at least this quarter

Monday, 15 August, 2011

The convo on Twitter goes as follows:

GT: Did the Chevy Volt not sell to Americans because their target demographic grew up in a world where you didn’t buy American-made cars? Yes.

AS: Are you certain its not because it is a $40K Cruze styled like a Wal-Mart stereo?

GT: I have yet to see anything environmentally friendly that has looked ‘hot.’ I have read that’s not what greens are looking for.

First of all, I actually found myself at a Walmart [sic] this weekend and took a moment to actually look at the radios and such on offer. I was mistaken in my assumption that these noise machines were as obnoxiously and needlessly decorated as they were in the 1980s and 1990s. They tend to be excessively plain, and very few. The store offered only one AM-FM radio and it was a particularly stark $19 Emerson-branded unit which would be fully recognizable if I took it back to 1965. I suspect this is because the folks who are shopping for a radio today are primarily interested in being able to read the analog dial without their reading glasses.

What I intended to imply about the Chevrolet Volt was not that it was “hot” and therefore desirable, but rather that it was needlessly decorated and, not only in this way, unappealing to the core demographic of thirty-to-fifty-something tech weirdos. The real killer was the story going around soon after the first retail deliveries which pretty much read:

You know that cool thing we said this car would do that makes it so different from the Prius? Uh, yeah. It doesn’t actually do that.

You also have the issue of having to buy one from a Chevrolet dealer.

About the target demographic not buying American cars: Now that Honda is having parts-supply issues, and Toyota has those issues and the lingering suspicion regarding its throttle control, someone had to be a winner for the heart and mind of Joe Golfer. Joe Sixpack isn’t in the market for a new car this decade. The winners are Hyundai, not really a surprise with the Sonata being the best regarded car in its class,  and Ford. I know Ford isn’t doing well with the MySync issues, but the rest of the car is brilliant. This isn’t just me saying, they are moving all the Fusions and Fiestas they can ship. I don’t know what’s up with the Focus.

Around here, I don’t see many Fiestas but Austin is all about the a and c segments. Every other car is a Civic, Corolla, Cavalier [sic] and 20% of all the Fiat 500s sold so far have been delivered through Maxwell’s Fiat of Austin (which is in a mall, by the way). I’ve seen more Cinquecentos on the road than Volts by a couple of decimal points. Then again, Austin was crawling with Smarts until the most beloved smart center in North America had its ticket pulled. I can’t imagine where they went.

As a noted apologist for American cars, I remain shocked Ford is getting all this business. The car business is really screwed up right now, with values all over the place and trade-in value often being more than private sale value. Some new cars are selling for less than the “value” of a same-model three-year-old used. Nobody knows what’s doing, least of all me. If I had an alternative I’d seriously consider selling the $5500 Corolla I bought for the $8200 it is now “worth”.

In this madcap environment Ford, Hyundai and Nissan, as of last month, are doing monster business. The target demos are not categorically neglecting American cars, as Ford is in there someplace. GM is another matter. I’d like to just look over a Volt, but I feel like I need a shower just driving by a Chevy store.

  1. Graeme permalink
    Monday, 15 August, 2011 8:51

    I am trying to find the article I read about hybrid owners who want recognition for being green. Supposedly, they like stuff that stands out so they can be noticed for the choice they make. That fits with the research that says people reward themselves for good behaviors by indulging themselves in bad behavior, though I guess vanity is a pretty minor sin in this age of reality TV.

    Your comparison of the Volt to a radio is a good one. It is overly styled. I think that was done on purpose to appeal to those consumers.

    I admit at this point I actively hate car culture, so I don’t have anything but a 100,000 foot view. My opinion is definitely of a ‘drive by’ nature, and I may be projecting my assumptions. Still, I don’t think it’s coincidence the models that are beating the Volt are foreign.

    But I see Minis, 500s, Smarts, etc. in SF. Lots of cubes. No Volts. (Of course, we also see Ferraris, Lotus, & Lamborginis on the street with a regularity that would have floored a 10 yr old version of me. Still, no Volts.)

    I do think it’s because it’s American. I’d be glad to be wrong, but… We’ll see. I’m sure they’ll keep trying. Until they don’t?

    Even without the Japanese supply chain issues (which I’m told will end soon or are ending), I think cars sales will grow slowly for awhile for the same reason the economy is stuck in the doldrums: easy credit over the last decade. The oughts were pedal to the metal throughout. Nothing but stimulus to consume. Well, people did. Now, however, they can say no. Either they bought when the outlook was sunny, or they can’t afford shit. Cars will always sell in America, but I think you’ll be looking at a crazy market for some time to come. Yes, I blame Alan Greenspan.


  2. Monday, 15 August, 2011 16:14

    Part of what is driving the madness of car prices today, is the phenomenon that almost no one is buying a car as casually as they did five years ago. Trade-ins are almost exclusively coming in with 300k miles, and folks are dropping 20-25% down and financing on their own. Used sales are hurting because of all of the “restorable” cars entering the system. My Corolla needed tires, clutch and TLC and was priced accordingly. Dealers are accustomed to merely cleaning cars. Buy-here-pay-here is becoming a substantial part of the broken market.

    With today’s 30-ish, 40-ish car buyer trained to buy a Toyota or a Honda, and those cars not available, they are expanding their focus and buying the three brands mentioned above. I think Nissan has an edge, despite their reputation, because they are “Japanese”. These shoppers otherwise have no interest in where their car is screwed together or where the corporate headquarters happens to do business. (Remember, Nissan is actually French.) They care about the reviews and whether the guy down the street or in the office across the hall had a bad one. In this environment, the Americans could do well because being American is no longer a sin.

    The impression that middle adopters, if you will, like something that looks unique for their additional investment has been around for years. Going forward, a hybrid or whatever else may be coming can only sell in a mass market if it offers dramatically higher fuel efficiency than similar cars, including those by other manufacturers. In the current market, a car that achieves 50 MPG can seat four hardy Americans and looks like ass might be the only non-relative hit of the decade … no matter where it is built.

    In any of this, the Volt fails.


  3. Graeme permalink
    Friday, 19 August, 2011 9:16

    Interesting… Talked to my dad yesterday. Still no Hondas to sell.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: