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car rant

I saw something on TV the other day that frustrated me.

before the Emmy Awards last night (I didn’t actually watch them) I noticed that The Buick Rendezvous is the official vehicle of the 2004 Emmy Awards. I am sure that securing this distinction cost GM a ton of money. The Rendezvous is a luxury crossover vehicle that rides on the same platform as the hideous looking Pontiac Aztek. Although the Rendezvous is somewhat better looking than its atrocious sibling, I wouldn’t call it attractive.

in addition to being the official vehicle of this year’s Emmy Awards, Buick has set up their own golf site. Buick’s primary demographic is people over 60 years old; with this site they’re attempting to entice younger buyers to buy their vehicles. The term ‘younger buyers’ may be a bit misleading in this case – Buick is aiming for the rapidly growing 40-50 year-old age segment. As a large portion of these buyers are looking for luxury SUVs and crossover vehicles, Buick has created the Rendezvous to match. They have chosen to pay Tiger Woods a great deal of money for his association with the Rendezvous – a 5 year deal worth 5 to 6 million dollars per year.

I don’t understand how American automakers haven’t learned a thing or two, as the Japanese did half a century ago, from the lessons of Dr. W. Edwards Deming who revolutionized post-war Japan’s industrial segment. Here is someone who took a nation known for creating cheap, inferior products and instilled within them the importance of quality. Nowadays Japanese automakers create some of the finest cars and trucks on the market. Very rarely do you see Honda or Toyota paying tens of millions of dollars to celebrities to endorse their cars. They simply don’t have to – they put their money where it counts, in creating attractive quality vehicles.

the Buick Rendezvous, on the other hand, as with most GM products, is of inferior quality. Cheap materials are liberally used throughout this luxury SUV. Compared to other luxury SUVs on the market it is underpowered, outclassed, less luxurious and less attractive.

in the face of overwhelming evidence, GM can’t seem to grasp the fact that more than ever, today’s consumers are drawn to comfortable, powerful and fun vehicles backed by quality construction. The Chevrolet S-10, another GM product, has stayed practically the same (with no significant upgrades) since 1994 (actually late 1993) when its current iteration was first introduced. That’s 10 years! The automotive industry has come a long way since then. Compare this with the Honda Accord, a Japanese car that, similarly upgraded in 1994, has received 2 significant (and 2 minor) upgrades since then. It received an upgrade earlier this year not because it needed one – its previous model was still selling extremely well – but because Honda goes to great pains to upgrade their models every few years to ensure that their brand remains a fresh and attractive choice to buyers.

if GM spent 30 million dollars to learn the lesson that quality is important, a piece of information that I’d gladly tell them for free, it would be money extremely well spent. As it stands they are using it to pay Tiger Woods for an association with their Buick brand to help sell vehicles that are inferior by design. And who knows how much more money GM shelled out to flout the Rendezvous as the official vehicle of the Emmy Awards. Here’s hoping that GM decides to reevaluate its priorities in the future.

22. Sep, 2003

16 Comments

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  1. drutstein
    22. Sep, 2003 at 10:53 am #

    Hondas Schmondas

    Earlier this year Daisy was looking to buy a new car and ended up buying the new Toyota Corolla. She really likes it, but initially she wanted to get a Honda Accord. She had an old 1987 Accord that she was replacing and she still loved her old car, but it was pretty much on its last legs. The funny thing is that the thing that turned her off from buying a new Accord was that it was just so much bigger than what it used to be. She looked at the Civic, but wasn’t impressed by it. In her words, “It just didn’t have any personality.”

    • rnb
      22. Sep, 2003 at 11:01 am #

      Re: Hondas Schmondas

      I’m looking to buy a new car. Looking at VWs and Toyotas mostly.

      Help.

      • sisterthemoon
        22. Sep, 2003 at 11:20 am #

        A third party…

        Forgive me for jumping in here… 🙂

        Right now, I drive a Toyota Camry. Before that, in 2000, I had a three year lease on a Toyota Corolla. Before *that* was a long dry spell in which I took the bus a lot, which isn’t really relevant, so… Ahem.

        My first car was a 1980 Toyota Corolla liftback. By the time the clutch gave out (because we’d push-started it for over a year) in 1995, it had more than 400,000 miles on it. The starter was the only thing in that car we ever had a problem with, and that didn’t happen until 1994, 14 years after my folks bought the car. We were really religious about the regular maintenance (oil changes and stuff), but that’s pretty typical of everyone I’ve known who’s had a Toyota for any length of time.

        Edmunds (http://www.edmunds.com, a great car site) said, of the Corolla, that you could weld the hood shut because it’s that reliable. I dunno about *that*, but…well. Consider it brand loyalty, I guess: my mom and I drive Camrys, my mom’s boyfriend drives one of the pick-ups, my father-in-law drives a Tundra, my brother-in-law drives a Corolla, and my husband is going to buy a Tundra or a Highlander as his next vehicle.

        So, yeah. I’d recommend a Toyota. But check out Edmunds, it’ll give you all kinds of information, and I think it’ll allow you to compare cost, options, safety ratings, stuff like that.

      • drutstein
        22. Sep, 2003 at 11:26 am #

        Re: Hondas Schmondas

        What about the Prius or the Hybrid Civic? If I wasn’t such an asshole, I probably would get one of those cars.

        • esmerel
          22. Sep, 2003 at 11:34 am #

          Re: Hondas Schmondas

          The hybrid civic’s a sweet little car. bought one about two months ago. Excellent gas mileage, good pick-up, very smooth little car.

        • centerfire
          22. Sep, 2003 at 12:12 pm #

          Re: Hondas Schmondas

          The hybrid cars seem to me to be an answer to a question that nobody asked. I guess they sell well to the, “Hey, neat!” demographic, but under practical driving conditions the gas mileage isn’t so dramatically better than that of your average compact, so you’re not saving significantly on fuel bills. Also, the hybrid engine is ipso facto inferior, performance-wise, to pure combustion engines. Further, in order to improve fuel efficiency, the cars are manufactured out of lighter-weight materials, which means that they’re that much less safe in collisions. Finally, most of the hybrid vehicles look pretty dorky — I think the hybrid Civic is the only one I’ve seen that has what you and I might call normal body styling.

          On the plus side, if you buy a hybrid the fedgov rewards you with a one-time $2000 income tax deduction for having been properly brainwashed by the environmentalists.

          • drutstein
            22. Sep, 2003 at 1:03 pm #

            Re: Hondas Schmondas

            Well it’s a good thing I went with the Mustang GT, then.

          • xymotik
            22. Sep, 2003 at 1:43 pm #

            Re: Hondas Schmondas

            No, the federal government rewards gross inefficiency and polluters far more.

            The $2000 tax break simply pales in comparison to the greater than tenfold tax break you can get for buying one of 38 light trucks that weigh 6,000 pounds or more (including the Cadillac Escalade, Dodge Durango, Ford Excursion and Lincoln Navigator).

            One example: a $47,000 Ford Excursion for which the buyer was able to get a $32,000 tax break (see the Detroit News, 12-18-02). The Excursion is so large the EPA doesn’t even treat it as a passenger vehicle so they don’t measure its fuel economy; best estimates are that it gets about 12 MPG in the city.

          • centerfire
            22. Sep, 2003 at 3:03 pm #

            Re: Hondas Schmondas

            Except that only business owners can qualify for the tax break you speak of, since only business owners can deduct capital depreciation. The tax break you’re talking about comes from what was originally a kind of farm subsidy: to make it easier for farmers to afford pickups, the tax code was changed to allow business owners to depreciate trucks more quickly than cars. By contrast, anybody who buys a hybrid, business owner or otherwise, qualifies for the tax break on hybrids. Apples and oranges.

            Now, I grant that it seems a little unjust for an SUV the likes of a Ford Excursion (which will almost certainly be used for ferrying white-collar types and their ankle-biters hither and yon) to get the same accelerated depreciation as something like a Ford F-250 (which will almost certainly be used the way God intended). But I don’t see a good way out of the pickle. The “SUV’s aren’t trucks” argument favored by SUV-haters fails badly, here, since the vehicles in question pretty obviously are trucks. Predicating the tax break on the vehicles’ use patterns isn’t workable, either: I know plenty of folks who use their pickups as street vehicles, and plenty more who use their SUVs as shit-haulers. Basing the tax break on the vehicles’ weight is arbitrary, but at least it’s objective.

            Ultimately, I think the real lesson here is that our leaders shouldn’t be using the tax code to either buy votes (as is the case with farm subsidies) or conduct social engineering (as is the case with rewarding hybrid buyers). Deciding what kind of vehicle we should drive is not a legitimate function of government.

          • xymotik
            22. Sep, 2003 at 5:52 pm #

            Re: Hondas Schmondas

            Some of the beneficiaries may be different, but the fact remains that one dollar in tax breaks does indeed equal one dollar in tax breaks. The basic problem is that the use of the three-ton cutoff started during the 1980s, long before current patterns of vehicle ownership and use existed. Owners of most vehicles were not allowed to write off much in order to prevent business owners from deducting most of the cost of their own luxury cars (there is a business tax break for owners of lighter vehicles but it’s much, much smaller). As you correctly note, anyone owning vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds was exempt since the few vehicles over three tons at the time were mostly pickups and large vans, “working” vehicles. (This was also before the luxury pickup truck buildup of the late 1990s through today). Weight served as proxy for cost too, to limit the size of the tax break. Pickups and big vans cost far less on average than the 6,000+ lb. luxo-SUVs today –now people can write off a $100,000 H1 or G-Wagen; there simply was no three ton equivalent then. As such, the limit was based on patterns of use and of cost.

            Even by the time that Congress adopted the current accelerated depreciation schedule in 1996, the Chevy Suburban and its GMC variants (as well as the Hummer H1) were in production but most of the other large SUV nameplates on the list now didn’t exist. In the last seven years, the very definition of “car” has been blurred, rendering a cutoff by weight almost useless. The BMW X5 is one of the exempt vehicles now, and while it’s a “light truck” under the govts. definition, it has far more in common with a Subaru Legacy wagon than it does with any pickup truck (heck, even the Neon-based, front-drive, station-wagon style PT Cruiser is considered a truck by the EPA). Additionally, the courts and the bureaucracy have been grappling with this distinction for decades, even for instance with pickup-derived, RWD old-style SUVs such as the original Nissan Pathfinder. What is a truck or a car is far from as clear-cut as you would suggest. The definition of the word “car” itself is in flux right now, so there’s no good reason why most of the SUVs in question couldn’t be counted as cars. Really, the truck vs. car distinction is of little importance here; what matters is the usage and cost. The difference between automotive categories now vs. when the schedule was adopted shows that assumed cost and patterns of usage did indeed play a role; while the exemption was meant for farmers, general contractors, and the like, there was more involved than just pandering for votes. Finally, the weight cutoff isn’t objective if it gives preferential treatment to larger vehicles–there are plenty of smaller SUVs and pickup trucks, after all.

            There is simply no reason why what has become a luxury vehicle loophole shouldn’t be stopped, or at a bare minimum, if the 6,000 lb. limit was kept, an indexed price cap could be instituted so that this loophole wouldn’t be such a subsidy towards increased fuel consumption/ CO2 production and a large drain on the Treasury. (The exemption actually gets even larger for each of the next couple of years, and incidentally, the Bush Administration had plans as of last January to increase the deductions by 50 percent or more–I don’t know if they succeeded.)

            The government does indeed have some role in dictating what we are allowed to drive, for both environment and safety reasons. Two-stroke Trabants were pretty damn cheap but I wouldn’t want any of them on the road, nor does the US govt. That of course is a prohibitory measure, but if the govt. can prohibit, it can also promote, although I most definitely agree with you that the tax code should not be the way to go about it. And as far as “social engineering” goes, there’s the CAFE disparity between “light trucks” and cars, which one could argue is implicitly a subsidy, but that’s another can of worms…

          • centerfire
            22. Sep, 2003 at 7:13 pm #

            Re: Hondas Schmondas

            Some of the beneficiaries may be different, but the fact remains that one dollar in tax breaks does indeed equal one dollar in tax breaks.

            I understand that the IRS can penalize you if you conflate a business deduction for capital depreciation with a personal deduction for purchasing a politically-correct car, so I would counsel you against making this argument when you file your taxes. 🙂

            What is a truck or a car is far from as clear-cut as you would suggest.

            Indubitably there’s a wide gray area between cars and trucks into which plenty of crossover vehicles fall. But to behave as if no useful distinctions can be drawn, except in terms of price, weight, and use pattern? That’s not an argument that’s going to convince individuals capable of fogging mirrors, I’m afraid.

            There is simply no reason why what has become a luxury vehicle loophole shouldn’t be stopped, or at a bare minimum, if the 6,000 lb. limit was kept, an indexed price cap could be instituted so that this loophole wouldn’t be such a subsidy towards increased fuel consumption/CO2 production and a large drain on the Treasury.

            Enh. I’d be far more concerned about a drain on the Treasury if my government’s annual operating budget weren’t already measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars. It seems to me that there are plenty of profoundly compelling examples of government waste that ought to be addressed long before we begin worrying if we’re doling out too many tax deductions. As to subsidizing increased fuel consumption, I’ll chalk that one up to the law of unintended consequences and leave to another day the debate over whether it’s a good or a bad thing.

            An indexed price cap (depending what you’re indexing on) is a good stab at fixing things, but still presents problems. A cap can easily take care of Hummer H2s and the like, but any cap that catches offending vehicles like the Dodge Durango is also going to catch a lot of plain-jane full-sized pickups, and that defeats the purpose of your subsidy.

            If scrapping the existing tax code and/or eliminating the federal income tax entirely is off the table, then to my mind a far better alternative, and one less vulnerable to partisan mischief, is simply to get government out of the business of subsidizing automotive purchases at all.

            Finally, the weight cutoff isn’t objective if it gives preferential treatment to larger vehicles–there are plenty of smaller SUVs and pickup trucks, after all.

            I said the standard was objective, as in, based on observable phenomena. A three-ton cutoff, however arbitrary and perhaps even unwise as a matter of public policy, is about as objective as you get; all one need do is put the vehicle on a scale.

            The government does indeed have some role in dictating what we are allowed to drive, for both environment and safety reasons… That of course is a prohibitory measure, but if the govt. can prohibit, it can also promote, although I most definitely agree with you that the tax code should not be the way to go about it.

            Whether the government’s role is a legitimate or advised one is something I fear you and I shall have to agree to disagree about, so I’ll take away what we apparently do agree on, which is that the tax code should not be about rewarding individuals for making this or that purchasing or lifestyle decision.

    • ladycalliope
      22. Sep, 2003 at 11:47 am #

      Re: Hondas Schmondas

      Bah, my Civic is all kinds of sassy.

  2. mcg
    22. Sep, 2003 at 1:10 pm #

    Don’t forget Aztek is pronounced Asstek.

  3. xymotik
    22. Sep, 2003 at 1:24 pm #

    Comment longer than allowed by LJ; see link to read

    I wrote an 8300 character response to this post, but LiveJournal will only accept 4300. Here’s the full comment.

    Thank you for a good half-hour of work avoidance!

    • admin
      23. Sep, 2003 at 6:15 am #

      this was a great read – I appreciate your taking the time to write it!

      in light of your evidence I will agree that GM does seem to have increased the build quality of their vehicles. But I still believe that their perception of what makes an attractive, quality, fun vehicle is off. Take, for example, the rear styling of the 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix – although they’ve finally gotten rid of the awful bubbly lines on the sides of the car, they’ve gone ahead and stuck it on the rear taillights. Why do they believe customers want this sort of styling at all? Not to mention the terrible styling of the Aztec (since we’ve already mentioned it) – why, during the design phase, didn’t anyone stand up and say “this is ugly! Nobody is going to buy it!” I just don’t understand. Granted, the people who do buy Aztecs do seem to be happy with them, but it still boggles my mind.

      I just feel that by cheapening their brand – creating cars with no character, keeping cars in production long after they can keep up with the rest of what other car companies have to offer and selling masses of cars at deep discounts to rental agencies and the like – American car makers almost seem to artifically reduce demand for their cars. But after reading your post, it pleases me that they are in fact making efforts to reverse such trends.

      • mcg
        23. Sep, 2003 at 11:33 am #

        Now I love Honda’s, but I think the AssTek designers took over the Honda facilities when the Element was conceived.

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