Garrison Wynn
Speaker, Consultant, Author

Garrison Wynn

Founder of Wynn Solutions, this keynote speaker is a former stand-up comedian and author of "The Real Truth About Success

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Don't fool yourself

Q: U.S.-made cars are now held in higher regard by American consumers than Asian-made vehicles -- a significant turnaround in public opinion. Is this the result of negative publicity about Toyota or have Ford and other U.S. carmakers made the changes needed to change the perception about their vehicles? How hard is it to transform a person or product's reputation once it's set in people's minds?

I'm not sure American-made cars are held in higher regard; I do think that if you hit the brakes on your car and it speeds up and hits a tree, that's a car you don't want to buy again!

Toyota has had the worst press of any product in recent memory. It did not help that Mr. Toyota (spelled Toyoda for some strange reason that you have to be Japanese to understand) went on global television unable to speak English and, through an interpreter, managed to sound clueless, uninformed and arrogant in about 20 seconds.

At that moment, every "Turncoat Truck Bubba" who bought a Toyota Tundra because it's tougher than a Ford and made in Kentucky realized that he was actually driving an Asian vehicle. Just a few years earlier, these guys had been reassured with the entry of a Camry in NASCAR that a Toyota is really an American vehicle dressed in a kimono.

When the Truck Bubbas believe they have been had, the backlash is huge. It took a lot for them to admit that Toyota was higher in quality, so this recent turn of events seems like betrayal at a high level. It's like in the mid '80s when a lot of men stared into the mirror one day and realized they looked like a cross between Prince and a very athletic woman. You go from "Hey, this is cool!" to "Oh my God, I'm an idiot!" in an instant.

When perception changes that fast, it is very difficult for things that were in style to be on top again, and in some cases they go away forever. Remember parachute pants?

I don't think Toyota will go out of business; it makes far too good a product for that to happen. But the negative publicity will give us the feeling that American cars are just as good for a while -- until you run into a friend with a Toyota that has 250,000 miles on it on your way to put your year-old Taurus in the shop again.

In the late 1930s, when W. Edwards Deming approached the American automotive industry's bigwigs with his concept of total quality management, they told him that if cars lasted longer than seven years the industry would go under. After World War II, when we were helping to rebuild Japan, we sent them Deming with his silly concept of making a product with such quality that eventually you would dominate the market.

The Japanese, with nothing to lose and radiation still in the air, said, "Sounds good to us." Let me be brutally honest: The only people who truly believe that American cars are better than Asian cars are the people who have never owned both.

By Garrison Wynn  |  April 26, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Comeback attempts , The comeback Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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2dpoint: He calls him by a name that's different than his real name. The company and family names are different. The founding Mr. Toyoda was told by a psychic/mystic that it would be better to name the company Toyota.

The author shows and revels in ignorance about the culture and the topic he is writing about. That doesn't amuse me.

Sorry if this comes off as "nasty", but the author is just saying "What an odd, stupid culture. Don't they know how to spell or talk English? Haha." That's nasty to me.

Posted by: pumpkinmobile | April 30, 2010 7:03 PM
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I live in a small town about 100 miles north of Tokyo. My Japanese wife became obsessed with owning a Prius about a year ago.

We test drove a Prius at a local dealership, and I could tell there was something wrong with the accelerator. There was a delayed reaction in the acceleration. This was the car that all their potential customers were test driving, and nobody had ever commented on the delayed reaction in the accelerator!

This illustrates that Japanese are unable to alert the proper authorities that something is wrong, when they are afraid that their own judgement will be questioned.

As to my overall experience with Japanese vs. American cars; American cars are sturdier. The U.S. has much higher crash standards on both foreign and domestic cars. If you want to get much better gas mileage, you are going to have to lighten up U.S. cars, both foreign and domestic manufactured.

This could ultimately make tiny cars safer to drive, because all the other cars on the road would be smaller and lighter. Then the U.S. manufacturers could enjoy economies of scale in the manufacture of tiny cars(660cc displacement or less).

Tiny cars are the quickest and only affordable answer to the looming oil megacrisis. Japan is the leader in the manufacturer of "super-lights". You will be seeing a lot more Japanese super-lights in a few years, unless you can start manufacturing them yourselves in the U.S.

Posted by: julian2 | April 29, 2010 3:53 AM
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Pumpkinmobile: No need to be nasty.

According to an explanation of the Toyota/Toyoda thing in the St. Petersburg Times, Wynn is actually on the mark. See below:

"The company name is spelled and pronounced differently from the founding family name because Toyota is written in Japanese script with eight brush strokes, considered luckier than the 10 required for the family name."

If that's true, it's a very peculiar reason that would not naturally occur to someone who is not Japanese. Agreed?

Plus, I think Mr. Wynn is using "Mr. Toyota" as in "The guy who is the face of Toyota" (who does happen to be a descendant of the founder) and poking a little bit of fun at the superstition/oddity (IMO) of an interesting culture. It's the same culture that shies away from selling things in sets of four because it somehow carries an association with "death."

Now, mind you, he could equally poke fun at Americans for constructing buildings and not labeling the actual 13th floor as the "13th floor." We're superstitious and odd too. ;-)

Personally, I like Wynn's irony and humor, and I hope a comment like yours doesn't make him leery of contributing more columns. I look forward to reading his stuff.

Posted by: 2dPoint | April 28, 2010 10:47 PM
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Who found this ignorant person and decided they should put him on the panel?

The name of the owner of Toyota is Mr. Toyoda, not Mr. Toyota. The name of the company was changed many years ago and has nothing to do with a quirk in the Japanese language.

And he spoke in Japanese? Why not English like everyone else in the world speaks? What an ignorant point of view.

Please find someone more intelligent for the "On Success Panel".

Posted by: pumpkinmobile | April 28, 2010 7:12 PM
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I've owned a Toyota and a Dodge. Let's see Toyota = 9 years over 100K miles before problem that can't be fixed vs. Dodge 3 years, 50K miles before problem that dealer won't fix. I think that the Toyota was the better way to go.

Posted by: midanae | April 28, 2010 6:18 PM
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I've owned and driven a Ford Torino, a Chevy Malibu, a Ford Maverick, a Dodge van, two Volkswagen Sciroccos, a Ford Probe, a Mitsubishi Eagle Talon, a Chrysler Intrepid and currently drive a Hyundai Santa Fe. The 84 Scirocco takes the prize for reliability and quality build - it just went and went and went. When I traded it on the 94 Probe it was 14 years old, still going strong and still fetched a respectable trade-in. I scouted the Ford Escape (2008) before settling on the Santa Fe, passing on the Ford because the interior fit and finish was below standard and because Consumer Magazine said it was a dog. The same magazine rated the Santa Fe top buy in its category, and it was attractively priced.

I wish American car companies well in their efforts to restructure and regain market share, but I won't be interested until they improve their attention to detail and longevity. They're reasonably priced for what they are, but I haven't seen anything that will keep the Nissan Altima or the Hyundai Genesis awake nights.

Posted by: marknesop | April 28, 2010 5:44 PM
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Personal experience is the most important but certainly you need to weigh this against such a small sample space.

Again, I have the following cars all as the original owner ... Acura Integra RS, Toyota MR2, Saturn SC, Saturn Sky Redline, and a Honda Element.

I found the American cars to be more durable, less prone to mechanical failure. My Sky Redline outpeforms my Acura and Toyota in acceleration, braking, handling. I found my American cars to only be inferior to the Japanese in the interior workmanship. The Japanese cars all had nice interiors.

I have owned my Saturn since 2008 and put about 25K miles on it. I have had zero mechanical problems with it. Only a minor problem in the door sill aluminum plate coming out. In comparison all my Japanese cars had problems at this point with some kind of mechanical adjustment or failure.

Posted by: theAnswerIs42 | April 28, 2010 4:59 PM
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I have owned domestic, Japanese, and German autos and have by far had the most reliability for the lowest cost from the domestic. In the interest of full disclosure, I have worked in the auto industry for many years, for both manufacturer and dealership, primarily Ford.

For those of you who truly believe the Tundra and Camry are superior to the F-150 and Fusion, man, have you been drinking the Kool-Aid. Toyota fit and finish is top-notch, powertrains are smooth, and are geared for great movement off the line, but there is a lot of stuff under the skin that Toyota has skimped on for years, especially in suspension, braking, safety, and handling.

Toyota spent over $200 million (which they had no chance of recouping based on the Tundra's low sales volume) promoting the new Tundra with elaborate TV spots filled with giant sets showing the Tundra's features, but take a look on YouTube for videos showing how they made those spots. If you look closely in the background, all the workers building the elaborate machinery drove to the site in Ford, Chevy, and Dodge trucks. Ask a Ford dealer for the "Truth About Trucks" DVD, or for the training video for the Fusion where neither the Camry or Accord could hold their own in a 35mph slalom with the Fusion (the Camry's back end totally broke loose after the 2nd pylon). Go to the NHTSA website to view the complaints filed by consumers and do a search on Toyota and then it's facing Ford and GM competition. Here's an example: 2009 Camry - 324 complaints, 2009 Chevy Malibu - 32 complaints, Ford Fusion - 16 complaints. Do your homework. If you don't care about anything under the skin, buy whatever makes you happy. I'm happy with my Ford.

Someone posted a comment regarding how Dr. Edward Deming was basically 'dissed' by the Big 3 and took his statistical methodology for quality control to the Japanese. Of the Big 3, Ford was the first to recognize their error, and the "Quality is Job 1" campaign of the early 80's was a direct result of Ford's adoption of many of Dr. Deming's methods. Ford's quality improved dramatically during the 80's, although they took their eyes off the ball during the Jacques Nasser days of major acquisitions and straying from the core of automotive manufacturing.

GM has a chance to make it. They make decent products. Chrysler has a long row to hoe - their niche products don't have the mass appeal or the quality to carry the company through to better times, although Dodge Ram trucks could succeed as a stand alone.

Posted by: lok55 | April 28, 2010 4:28 PM
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OK, Rick's right.

Our anecdotal evidence is worthless. However, so are results of initial quality surveys (JD Powers).

Has Consumer Reports been showing a trend in improved long-term reliability of the GM, Ford, and Chrysler models (excluding rebadged Asians) and if so have they surpassed the Asians?

Posted by: MiniSpare | April 28, 2010 4:24 PM
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I suppose the superior technology, quality manufacturing and better fit and finish is what caused pieces of my 92 Camry's tailpipe assembly to fall off when it was under 30,000 miles at less than 4 years old. Or when a rattle started in the engine compartment, the radiator fan assembly and then the exhaust manifold were replaced. Neither cured the noise, and I just learned to live with it until I traded the car in a few years later.

Or again superior interior design and materials at work when my son's used older model Mitsubishi's inside door pull came off in his classmate's hand when he pulled the door shut.

If people base their opinion that Japanese cars are better than American cars on personal anecdotal experience, then I too base my preference for American cars on personal experience.

I've enjoyed owning and driving Chryslers and Fords since 1999 when I stopped buying foreign brands. I discovered I could get a lot more value for my money with Fords and Chryslers. I can't say the same for GMs as I've never owned one.

Posted by: rickgonz | April 28, 2010 4:20 PM
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After all the smoke cleared, I was surprised to learn that Toyotas with reported acceleration issues accounted for about one-onethousandth of one percent of the Toyotas sold in that period.

I don't see that as a quality issue.

Chryslers with head gaskets blowing at 60k miles, GM A/C compressors quitting after a few years, and all the Chryslers, GMs and Fords whose transmissions haven't a prayer of seeing 100k miles - those are widespread quality issues.

p.s. My Accord has 341k miles on the original, unreworked engine and transmission.

Posted by: MiniSpare | April 28, 2010 4:00 PM
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I've driven a wide range of cars, foreign and domestic, and what I've concluded is that I would have to invest more money to get a good-quality American car than I would to get a good-quality Toyota (I'm not a fan of Hondas, despite their reputation for having great engines). The Corollas and smaller models--all manual transmission--have been indestructable and the interiors have held together well. The American cars at similar price points from the start had cheap looking and feeling interiors and numb handling. I would have had to get the top of the line of a particular model to get what I really wanted. GM and Ford have to focus on overall quality at all price points, including the build of the interior (not just the gizmos one gets) to really take back the market. I hope they don't squander this opportunity.

Posted by: asimmon2 | April 28, 2010 2:24 PM
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The Honda Accord is a great car that will cost very little to own for a very long time. the only problem I have with the honda is the thin metal used to build it. It is easily dented. Toyota used to make a great product also, but in the last 5 years or so, it seems the company decided to ride the "reputation" of being a quality car. The company admitted has been cutting corners in order to grow faster. At the same time, the American car makers woke up and realized what they were competing with. They have been making better and better cars. Right now, I'll take a Taurus or a Malibu over a Camry. I may still buy an Accord, but personally think the Taurus is pretty nice. Buick is making the best product they've ever made. They finally realized they compete with Lexus, Acura, and Infinity. Actually the new malibu was built by taking apart a camry piece by piece and one upping it. So the Malibu is just a little bit better in every way and less expensive.

When I went to the Washington auto show two years ago, I told all of my friends, Ford is turning, and Toyota is getting worse. The quality of build, the materials used, everything was looking better in the American cars and worse in Toyota. Honda really hasn't changed much, and I gotta agree...if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

If you haven't driven a Ford, Chevy, or Buick recently, I encourage you to do so. I would have bought a GM, but I'm very tall and didn't fit as well as I did in my Ford. I also own a Mercedes for my wife to drive. I have driven American, and bought my wife two German cars now. Her car is in the shop twice as much as mine and when it is in there, good luck getting out for under $500. Believe me. I would gladly drive a Tundra, if I thought it was a better vehicle. I think Toyota just gave up on the quality front, and expect the events of this year to shake them up. Actually, If I had the money, I'd buy a toyota dealer since it is probably the first time in 15 years you could get one at a reasonable valuation. Toyota will be back, but it will take years. I suspect Ford and GM will gain serious ground in the next 5 years. My 2 cents.

Posted by: tkeeley | April 28, 2010 12:43 PM
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After years of buying (new) European and Asian makes I took the plunge back in 2005 and bought a new Ford Focus ST and subsequently, in 2007, a new GMC Acadia. Both are, without a doubt, the best vehicles I've ever owned in terms of reliability, cost of ownership, features, and overall driving experience. They have proven much better values than any Japanese or Euro car I've had. No regrets, and I will definitely look at Ford and GM for my next vehicle. Wynn simply hasn't a clue about how good American cars are these days.

Posted by: pcbrig | April 28, 2010 12:08 PM
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Sort of weird that people report their personal experience with a couple cars and think that represents some answer on American v. Asian cars. Just not valid for making judgements on millions v. millions.

Also - what if your Honda was made in USA (like many of them are) and your Ford was made in Mexico (like many of them are)? Then your Asian vs. American comparison is shot to heck. Doesn't much matter where the billionaire company owner/executives live - Tokyo or Detroit (tho much of the year they live in other homes in Switzerland, London, whatever).

Posted by: ClarkKent1 | April 28, 2010 11:48 AM
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The last paragraph is right on the money. American cars never were on the same planet as Japanese cars, in terms not only of build quality but of engineering quality, efficiency, style, the fun-to-drive factor, practicality and generally speaking common sense. All American cars ever made, with the possible exception of the Corvette (not because of its quality, though, just because it is a great car) belong in the crusher. I have owned/own: Honda, Acura, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Ford, Mercury. I made the American car mistake twice, it cost me dearly, never again.

Posted by: alpatino | April 28, 2010 11:05 AM
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I have owned a Toyota, 2 Saturns, an Acura, and a Honda. In general, I have found the interior, fit, and finish of American cars to be cheaper than the Japanese cars. However, in every other department, the American cars have been better. My Saturn Sky RedLine has been the most dependable car I have ever owned. It outperforms any of the Japanese cars I have owned in acceleration, stopping and handling.

People who assume imports are better suffer from the "80s Buy IBM Stupid" mentality.

Posted by: theAnswerIs42 | April 28, 2010 10:50 AM
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I've owned a Honda Accord, Toyota Corolla, and a Ford Mustang. I honestly believe current Japanese cars are not of significantly greater quality than any Ford of the last 6-8 years (My Mustang is 10 years old and has given me very little trouble). I won't speak of Chevrolet or GM because I've never owned a car of either brand.

Personally, I find the steering and brakes on the Corolla to be soft. My Accord, which my parents bought brand new in 1990, still had the original clutch at 176,000 miles - but the rear wheel wells had significant corrosion problems. I ended up cutting out a chunk of the body skin, welding in some aluminum sheet, and painting it to match the rest of the car. Mechanically, however, that Accord was fine as long as I kept changing the oil and rotating the tires.

The flipside is my wife has a 2003 Civic Hybrid. We just spent several thousand dollars replacing the hybrid battery - after less than 90,000 miles on the car. We also, under warranty thank God, had to have the transmission worked on. We like her car, but 2 major replacements in less than 100,000 miles on components which were supposed to last more than 100,000 miles hardly qualifies her car as a benchmark of reliability.

Posted by: SeaTigr | April 28, 2010 9:40 AM
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I would have to disagree with you on several points. Lets just say I have owned more then one unreliable Asian car and laugh at my friends and family who bring their asian cars to me when they break and say how reliable they are. Yet they never seem to last much over 100k miles and it is not just the powertrain, but the seats are worn out, the instrument panel has failures and even the steering wheel on one Honda felt like jelly after 80k miles . Yet I trade my American trash with over 200k miles still running no smoke and the interior is generally fine ( some rips on occassion from carry dogs around )Maybe I am wrong but I don't see to many 80s Asian cars around .

Posted by: billco2 | April 28, 2010 9:33 AM
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I guess this is what happens when you ask a comedian to speak authoratatively on automotive technology. As things stand now only the opposite of what the author has stated is true: that only people that have not owned an american car in the last 10 years are sure the asin makes are better. Do yourselves all a favor: before you buy that Japanese car that you are sure is much better than the rest because, well that's what your neighbor has, go online and check out how much an alternator costs. Compare that to what US brand offers. Check out how much a replacement wheel is. What you are going to discover is that a GM or Ford offers a much lower overall ownership cost over the vehicles life.

Posted by: bob29 | April 28, 2010 9:25 AM
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I'm a "Truck Bubba" (although I prefer "Cletus") and I own a Chevy. I Test drove the Tundra a couple of years ago while shopping and, while it was fast and drove well, I opted for the good old Chevy. A choice I am very happy with. I wonder just how much of the recent trend towards American cars is influenced by the very near loss of an American Icon company? We may be experiencing a little subconscious patriotism. Keeping more money and more jobs in this country is a good thing. I can't remember if the tag on my parachute pants said made in America or made in China. They sure were cool at the time. While wearing them I won a break dancing contest at Showbiz Pizza. I recognize that is not the normal "Truck Bubba" thing.

Posted by: Rabbitsmoker | April 27, 2010 1:28 PM
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