Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.

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Leading the way

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?

We can all imagine the smug looks on the faces of Japanese automakers when they watched Detroit slowly sinking this past year.

As of 2008, it looked like the horizons for companies including Honda and Toyota would never slow after overtaking the two American leaders GM and Ford. The ensuing bailouts and lackluster production lines, coupled with the loss of American jobs and recession, sent a message to Americans that domestic automakers couldn't match up with their Japanese counterparts.

However, due to a sticky situation with accelerators and the beginning of the Volt-age, it is possible American automakers are making a comeback.

The Toyota fiasco was a heavy blow on all foreign automakers. By skimping on a brake override system to bring down the production costs of their cars, Toyota led many Americans to second-guess the true safety of their cars.

The dozens of accidents and over 37 deaths have led to many consumers to question whether their vehicles have the safety mechanism. Investigators and spokesmen from the Japanese companies led to the discovery that both Honda and Toyota and their respective sub-companies (Acura, Lexus, etc.) never installed the brake override system.

However, GM had placed the system in all of its models and Ford had the system in many of its models and began installing it in all of its latest models with the Sync technology. After tensions grew, Toyota announced that they would install the system in all of their models, but this news came too late to save the company from huge deficits.

Recently I saw the commercial with CEO Ed Whitacre calling to the public to give GM a second chance. He says that GM has paid back all of the government loans (he emphasizes "with interest") five years before the deadline. This left me wondering why the government bailed out GM. My answer: the Volt.

Toyota prides themselves on the advanced hybrid technology of the Prius. Though it does use pure electricity for over a mile when moving under 20 mph (gridlock traffic, picking up the kids from school, etc.) most people go farther than one mile and go faster than 20 mph during their day. Therefore, the Prius still depends everyday on burning gas and releasing those dreaded greenhouse gases.

The Chevy Volt, however, is a pioneer on the auto frontier. The car was ready to put on the line before the government bailout and is now in pre-production testing. The technology is advanced and Washington and the Democrats support the politics of the Volt (pure plug-in technology able to go without gas, hypothetically, every day). So when GM received that bailout, all eyes were on the Volt.

So are American cars making a comeback? Not only are the American automakers coming back (a new poll by AP-GfK shows 38 percent of Americans think U.S.-made cars are the best and 33 percent think Asian-made cars are the best), but American automakers are also leading the way towards a new age of green technology in automobiles.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  April 26, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Comeback attempts Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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