Poll: What nationality's carmakers build the better car?
This poll has been very interesting to follow. I read replies about unions, managment, politics, economy, and other less rational reasons and wherefores. If I may, here's my 2 cents.
The Japanese do build the "best" people movers in the world right now. "Best Car" is almost impossible to define. I have owned, sold, and worked on cars from almost all arenas, except the ex-Communist block, though I did ride in a Skoda once (an experience to say the least). From my perspective here's what I see:
American - Up until the Japanese auto invasion, American companies bascially competed with each other. There was no reason to be truly inovative, as people wanted style and comfort and Americans were happy up through the early '70's. Then a strange thing happened, the Arab oil embargo and gas prices increased. Yes, American manufactures responded with the Pinto, Vega, Rambler and the like. Cheap, frugal, cheap, frugal.....Yet the manufacturing processes were the same: The sales force goes to engineering and says "build us a car with 4 tires, 2 to 4 doors with automatic that gets 25 MPG". The bean counters have their say on the cost of production, and off to the production line. Invaribly, the car wouldn't be right and a recall would be made to fix what should have been fixed before it was built. This started in earnest in the 70's and hasn't quit yet.
Japenese - these guys build the best "Little American Cars" in the world. They follow the same track as American manufactures up to the point of the pieces that go into the car. Once the car is "spec'd" the engineers take the car apart and "spec" every nut and bolt that goes into the vehicle. The thought process is, if all the pieces work, then the end product will work too. Guess what, they were right. That's the reason American car recalls out number the Japanese recalls by a fair margin. Their cars are very appliance like; whereby they start, run, are in general frugal, and run reliabily for quite a long time. The cars, in general have little character or "soul". Most have little sporting nature, unless it's a specialty car like a Miata, or 350Z. The people who buy them, Mr. and Mrs. Average driver, don't mind a bit. It gets them where they want to go with very little fuss or bother.
Italians - THE exotic capital of the world. Their technology matches anyone in the world, including Japan. Yes, I remember the old Fiats - break or rust, but usually both at the same time. You had to "care for" these little guys. Nothing the average American wants to do. We'll get a chance to see how far they've come, as Alfa will return to the US in '08 or '09. Ferraris and Lambroghini today are reliable and usable vehicles. Ferrari started making street friendly cars in the mid-90's starting with the F355. Audi bought Lambroghini around the turn of the century and they have improved greatly with this partnership. The old Countages would break sitting still.
Swedes - The last Volvo to be the reliable people mover was the old 240 series discontinued in '93. Ford bought Volvo which ensured their viability going forward. But the new one's are not of the quality of their current offerings. Saabs - they're GM and haven't shown any more that the US offerings.
Koreans - these guys are coming on strong. they've copied the Japanese (which isn't a bad thing at all) and are able to offer a quality "people mover" for less as their labor costs are less than the Japanese.
Germans - Up until 1995 both Porsche and Mercedes Benz made some of the best vehicles in the world, bar none. But starting in 1996, there was a change in manufacturing philosophy, where volume and Duetch Marks were more important than the product's quality. Both Porsche and M-B suffered through a decade of low quality. One of the reasons why Lexus and Infinity have made such in-roads into previously controlled markets that Benz controlled. The good news is that both of these marques have seen the falacy of their ways and have worked hard to improve quality.
British - unfortunately for them in the 60's and 70's they followed American manufacturing policy. Cute, fun, out-dated, un-reliable. BMW tried to bring Land Rover out of the dark ages, and finally gave up. Jag is owned by Ford and has benefitted or they would have been out of business years ago. VW bought Rolls with a tentative future. Bently has survived, but neither of these grand marques are much of an impact in the US market.
French - these guys don't care, and neither should anyone else.
The rest of the world doesn't impact the US market, though I saw where India has a truck they'll introduce here in the States. I doubt if their market share will be much.
So, there's my rose colored glass look at the question of who makes the best cars. What do I drive? you may ask. Well, I have an '03 Sierra Denali P/U truck with only one recall for the tailgate; and a '95 M-B E320 with 58K miles on the clock - no recalls and couldn't be happier.