When it comes to quality, talk is cheap. A manufacturer’s products ultimately have to walk the walk if they are to convince customers to part with their hard-earned cash. For years, this has been a problem for the Big Three. Quality has become synonymous with carmakers whose headquarters lie outside the United States.
However, a recent analysis by Justin Hyde of the Detroit Free Press shows that this, like so much in the automotive industry these days, is changing. Specifically, in 2007, U.S. automakers issued the lowest number of safety-related recalls in years, a trend that’s expected to continue.
This is good news. Amid all the discouraging talk of layoffs and plant closures, the fact that recalls are dropping shows the Big Three continue to be serious about changing the way they do business: That U.S. automakers not only want to keep making cars, but are willing to do the hard work necessary to make that happen in a global economy.
For all the talk of healthcare, labor and pension costs, there’s no getting around the fact that executives at GM, Chrysler and Ford have been their own worst enemies when it comes to succeeding in a global marketplace. A culture of low expectations created a generation of consumers that assumes the only “good” cars are ones made by the likes of Honda and Toyota.
Not that the Big Three don’t still have a lot of work to do. While GM, in particular, has made great strides, cutting the number of recalls to 668,214 cars and trucks in 2007, it still fell slightly behind Toyota, which recalled 640,279 vehicles during the same time period. Chrysler had 1.5 million recalls. Ford had 5.5 million, although the company says 3.6 million of those were to clear up confusion with regard to a cruise control switch that had caused problems in other vehicles, so that this recall technically wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Nonetheless, the fact that the Big Three are even close to their competitors would have been inconceivable not that long ago. Similarly, the fact that Ford is going out of its way to ensure its customers are comfortable with their new vehicles is a far cry from past practices.
Clearly, U.S. automakers in particular, and U.S. manufacturers in general, have figured out that the old standards no longer apply if they are to succeed in today’s marketplace. It took a while for that to happen-some might say too long-but it has happened, and that’s good news for the U.S. economy.