Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Big Three That Once Was a.k.a. Dreaming of Cadillacs

I've written about cars in previous posts, but it seems timely to write more about my experience with American cars now that the Big Three American car companies, Ford, Chrysler, and GM, are on the brink of collapse and begging for the U.S. government to keep them afloat.

My wife and I, like most Americans, have been driving since we were 17 or so. Getting one's license and driving is truly a rite of passage in the U.S.

(Digression: What counterparts do HK teenagers have to look forward to as they creep towards adulthood? What such rite of passage do they get? Most don't even get to go away to university and many live at home until well into their 20s and 30s...Poor kids. I hope they get to at least smoke or drink a bit.)

Since I was a kid, I was a believer of American cars. I don't know what made me this way. But if I have to pinpoint something, it probably was a belief that was handed down from my parents, who have always bought and still only buy American cars. When I was a kid, the best and most impressive car that anyone we knew drove was a Cadillac. Back then, especially among my parents' friends and their circle of Korean immigrants, a Cadillac was a crucial component of the American Dream.

My parents never really got that Cadillac, but the view that American cars were top-notch was instilled in me firmly.

Anyway, after university, in our first years of grown-up life, So Jene and I schlepped around in a used Plymouth Laser that was handed down to her. It was a small hatchback with its share of dings and dents. Still, it suited us fine for a while until the transmission gave out at just around 70,000 miles and we were forced to ditch the car.

After that, we bought a new Saturn and drove that around for six years and a little more than 100,000 miles. During that time, so many things went wrong with it that shouldn't have that it undid my programming and preference for American cars.

What's more, every mechanic I took it to, said the same thing: "American cars are junk. They're the only cars we work on nowadays."

Even the Saturn mechanic shared this sentiment.

Sure these guys could have been exaggerating. And sure my experience could have been an anomaly, and sure there are lots of other possibilities and explanations... (After all, they could all have been on the Toyota payroll!!!)

But, the experience soured me on American cars.

So, when it came time to buy the next car, I bought a cheap little almost-20-year-old Toyota Corolla for $700 cash. It was a drastic move. But at that time, I was the only one using the car, and I figured all I needed was basic transportation.

This little Toyota, which didn't look like much--but then, neither had the Saturn-- ran better than the Saturn, which had the absolute worst turning radius, and was overall, a better car.

Ditto for the used 20-year-old Volvo and the 25-year-old Mercedes that followed. These used cars, which cost very little, were built and designed so much better than the GM Saturn. And they were far far more durable.

In fact, the Mercedes, which was the last car we had in the U.S. before we moved to Hong Kong, had 280,000 miles and was still running strong.

If an American car lasts 100,000 miles, you've had a good run.

Having said all that, I'm not saying whether the Big Three should be bailed out or not. That's a different question.

All I'm saying is cars made by these companies have proven themselves to be junk, and these companies have burned American consumers for a long long time now.

So, if a bailout is granted, it'll be for the now distant memory of the once grand American automobile industy, and absolutely not for any love that anyone has for the cheap inferior cars that these companies have been dumping on consumers for far too long.

I end this rather serious and depressing post with a completely unrelated random photo of yours truly outside the main Sumo center in Tokyo. Enjoy!


Winifred said...

I'm an unusual American, I never got a license to drive until I had lived in Hong Kong for more than 12 years. The Hong Kong School of Motoring succeeded where Driver's Ed, my mom, my dad, my step-dad, and my friends could not.

re: family cars. My main memories were a Ford station wagon w/ fake wood panels on the sides. Then there was a huge red Chevy named "Jack". Then, a much beloved Chevette (which I don't think is made any more) that was tiny but got about 40 MPG in the 1970s.

Finally, in the 1980s, my parents turned to foreign cars w/ good gas mileage. There was a white Rabbit for a while, then some Hondas. In the late 1990s they became very fond of Subaru station wagons (so practical in the snow and for carrying so much).

Here in HK, we bought a Camry in its teens and it lasted until its 20s. Now we have a Honda that's younger (only about 7 years old) that also seems quite decent.

mao365 said...

You got your license in Hong Kong. Wow! I guess maybe that's better as maybe there's less confusion about driving on the left side of the road and all that.

grover said...

Your story sounds quite familiar.

Growing up we had:
Plymouth van
Medium Ford
Little Ford
Tiny Ford (started driving on that)
Little Ford #2

Meanwhile, I watched friends' families: Toyota...., Honda..., early Lexus... They never had any need to change vehicles due to shoddy workmanship.

Still haven't driven a single time in HK, and I am looking forward to getting a (non-Big 3) sports car if I return stateside.