Today is the 4th of July and we’ll be taking a break from the normal heavy Monday news day. Like many of you who are not always pumping out news 24 hours a day, we’ll be taking a break and kicking back with our friends and family – don’t worry though, we’ll still be checking in here and there and bringing you some new stuff to look at. In the mean time, Chris Chin, our Senior Editor, has gone above and beyond to put together a little tribute to the American auto industry in his new editorial. So without further ado – Happy Independence and here is Chris Chin…
The Passion Still Revs On
After watching the latest episode of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson’s 50th birthday tribute to one of the greatest motoring icons in the world, the Jaguar E-Type, the segment has me wanting one more than ever. I’m thinking, a Series I with the legendary 4.2L straight-six. So I sit here in my living room prowling eBay Motors, trying to get a grasp of how many body parts I would have to sell to make one mine. Now I admit, I am very biased towards foreign manufacturers, particularly favoring the Europeans. Although I do adore them, I also have a soft spot for some of America’s offerings—current and past—though mostly past because our generation’s General Motors, Chrysler and Ford groups haven’t really experienced a truly shining moment like Britain had with the E-Type. I am one to give respect where respect is due. Looking back through automotive history, America used to be world-renown and very respected. Shamefully though, much of the same cannot be said for the “Big Three” within the last 20 years so, at least until now—somewhat. Because Jeremy Clarkson took the opportunity to reflect on the importance of Britain’s greatest motoring icon, I have decided to give the same due diligence for America and reflect on what has been achieved post-bailout. I start with a time when we weren’t as prosperous as the latter.
The abysmal collapse of the American automobile industry a few years ago had me thinking. Combined with the knowledge about the British automobile industry that I acquired through being an avid Top Gear follower, I’ve come to a simple conclusion: the reasons for the fall of the American automobile industry share similarities to the explanation that put the British automobile industry on the deathbed back in the 1970s and 1980s. The fall of Chrysler and General Motors was our country’s and our own generation’s version of British Leyland. And I’ll tell you why.
For those of you who don’t know what British Leyland is, here is a little bit of a history lesson. It was perhaps the largest automobile corporation in British history. And if you thought Chrysler and General Motors had a multitude of brands back in the day, British Leyland was composed of nearly 100 individual companies alone. Morris, Austin, MINI, Jaguar, Land Rover, Rover, MG, Triumph; and that is just the tip of the iceberg. British Leyland showed the world that Britain was a strong and industrious nation; much like the US of A was at the same time. Our automobile industries were the beating hearts of our nations with a workforce. But then, tragedy struck.
The 1973 Oil Crisis, problems with the unionized workforce, high inflation and poor management left British Leyland in shackles. This seriously left their cars hopelessly engineered. I am sure almost 99% of you have heard of someone who has owned a British vehicle from the last 50 years and have said nothing good about them. Once British Leyland finally died in 1986, only a small handful of BL remained still somewhat intact. Out of the 100 companies that made up BL, only MINI, Jaguar, Land Rover, and MG still make cars today, all of which make up the Rover Group (all of which have separate owners today). This excludes Ford UK, Vauxhall, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce etc. But the point is, that’s a big difference.
While even the three famed hosts of Top Gear too recognize that many of the cars conceived from the late British corporate behemoth were absolutely terrible, they still have pride in the fact that it was made in England. I’m sure all of you readers who commonly watch the plucky motoring show can remember a time when they paid homage to the history of the British automobile industry. They were even pioneers in many aspects inventing such designs as all-wheel drive. They practically invented the lightweight roadster.
[quote float=”left”]…while the plucky Brits across the Atlantic invented the lightweight roadster, we invented the muscle car.[/quote] Can you see the correlation? America’s automobile industry was just as constructive as British Leyland and equally a pioneer. Going back as far as Packard, Nash, Studebaker, to the usual Ford, GM, Dodge and their subsidiary brands. America was once seen as the world leader in producing automobiles and under those pretenses, we were proud that they were made in America. For example, General Motors invented the automatic transmission. Cadillac was the first ever to introduce night vision. Chevrolet was the first to introduce heads-up displays. The list goes on. Most of all, while the plucky Brits across the Atlantic invented the lightweight roadster, we invented the muscle car. Yeah baby. Again the list goes on and on: the Chevrolet Corvette, Camaro, Ford Mustang, and the Dodge Charger.
For nearly the same reasons that British Leyland took a hit in the 1970s, we had Chrysler and General Motors fall into bankruptcy with Ford barely surviving in our own generation. Poorly structured management, troubled unions, awful and unappealing cars that were also not terribly reliable, and the growth of foreign manufacturers and rough competition all led to the demise of British’s automobile industry. The story for the Big Three—especially with the two they hit hardest: Chrysler and GM—is not much different from theirs. We’ve just had a slightly better result.
But as the feces hit the fan, our infamous President Barak Obama bailed out the American automobile industry and both Chrysler and GM were downsized and restructured. General Motors is now doing better than ever with Chrysler and Ford putting out an equal effort just as Britain’s automobile industry is beginning to flourish as well.
Now, I will concede the fact that unlike British Leyland, the American automobile industry isn’t permanently in the grave. But we have lost some signature nameplates like Pontiac and Oldsmobile. The same can be said for some British nameplates too. Additionally, just as British cars are still struggling with reliability issues and some build quality issues, the Americans might equally be lacking in both of the latter and driving experiences as well. Specifically, America’s auto industry is still up for some big competition when compared to the foreign offerings. But as much as the British have made a mockery of the myriad of automotive disasters that came from Detroit, much of the same could be said about the British. Despite the pissing contest though, Britain’s auto industry is as productive as they once were at their height. For example, we’ve reported before on the expansion of McLaren Automotive (creators of the McLaren F1 and the MP4-12C), Lotus, and Vauxhall. Not to mention, Jaguars and Land Rovers are more popular than ever before. The Americans can share an equal if not better sense accomplishment. It’s one that, for the most part, shines with the credentials of bright stars and the red, white, and blue. Anyone who has seen Cadillac’s new CTS-V, new Jeep Grand Cherokee, or Ford Explorer knows what I’m on about. Even the lesser vehicles, like the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and even the new Malibu are turning out to be quite appealing.
[quote float=”right”]…the turn-around of the American automobile industry can again give the enthusiasts in this country something to be proud of[/quote]The fact of the matter is that yes we recognize the faults of the American auto industry just as much as the British take accountability for theirs. I can’t think of one reason why I would want to drive a 1990s Chevrolet Malibu other than off of a cliff—in fact, I wouldn’t even want to be seen in one. And Jeremy Clarkson has taught us well, never to buy an Austin Maxi or a Morris Marina because they were as good at being cars as Keanu Reeves is to acting. However, ven through the dreariest days of both industries, they still hinted that there was a weak but beating heart of passion still left. Both nations wanted to stand strong behind the products of their nation. For the British, they have icons like the Jaguar E-Type, the Range Rover. On the opposite side with models that received more criticism than acclaim, they had the hideously styled Aston Martin Lagonda. It represented steps forward with its radical styling and complicated interior electronics—that never worked. Even then the British still stood by their passion. We here in the US of A have a similar instance: the 1990s Chevrolet Impala SS. Sure, it has the reputation that the majority of the people who drive them are either rednecks or pimps. With its intimidating police car Caprice-based body-on-frame, included police package (heavy duty equipment such as a beefed suspension, steering and brakes) and the Corvette’s famous 5.7L 350 small-block V8 driving the rear-wheels, the Impala SS was the Cadillac CTS-V of its day.
Either way you look at it, the turn-around of the American automobile industry can again give the enthusiasts in this country something to be proud of. Just like the collapse of Britain’s auto industry, the American automobile industry had its serious downs and even experienced death. However, both industries were resuscitated and are alive and well today. For those reasons, we should equally celebrate—in light of America’s 235th birthday—the valiantly vast improvements of the American auto industry after being at an all-time low. Just as Jeremy Clarkson preached the significance of the Jaguar E-Type to automotive history and how the British public shouldn’t have overlooked it, the latest efforts and offerings from Detroit’s own iron should reinvigorate our appreciation and pride in America’s iron.
[quote float=”left”]I can finally look at a Cadillac, a Chrysler, a Dodge, a Ford, or a Chevy and boast that they were made in America.[/quote] Of course, both the US and the UK have a long way to go politically and economically before everything gets settled. Even with plenty of room for improvement on their cars, they are very much on the right paths. Simply put, I feel that our automobile industry is in good hands with the new bright minds that are standing behind Detroit’s Big Three. Because some of the radical betterment exemplified by Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford, it appears that the bean counters finally got their heads out of their asses—or even got their titles as heads removed—and decided to listen to the demand of the public. I sense the passion still exists in our automobile industry, I actually crave some American muscle these days. I can finally look at a Cadillac, a Chrysler, a Dodge, a Ford, or a Chevy and boast that they were made in America. We all should, because we’re America.
– By: Chris Chin
– Intro By: Omar Rana