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U.S. Car Makers, Labor to Blame for Low Sales

February 04, 1990

Chrysler Motors division Chairman Bennett Bidwell gave us all a good laugh when he blamed Japan for the U.S. auto industry's sales slump ("Chrysler Executive Calls Japan Economic Aggressor," Jan. 10). He has only to look in his own back yard to find the culprits who wrecked this industry: the auto makers themselves and organized labor.

It wasn't long ago, while we still had virtual control of the U.S. auto market, that Japan exported to us dumpy-looking vehicles whose quality was a cut above the fragile toys they made for insert in our Cracker Jack boxes. Auto people didn't complain much then because they were foisting on us shiny 2 1/2-ton tanks whose ever-changing fins, grills and chrome strips masked that evaporating thing called quality.

I stopped buying American cars in 1974 when U.S. auto workers, before and after bitter strikes, retaliated against car makers with shoddy workmanship. My own local auto dealer tried to reassure me I could still get a good car if I contracted for one which wasn't made on a Monday, when workers were nursing hangovers, or a Friday, when they watched the clock and not the product as the weekend grew nearer.

Bidwell portrays the Japanese as people who "do not act spontaneously, they do as instructed." Perhaps if U.S. manufacturers did as consumers instruct (design and manufacture cars equal or better than foreign products) and workers followed the lead, the industry might recover. But it may be too late. U.S. car buyers were not forced at gunpoint to buy 370,000 domestically made Honda Accords last year, making it the No. 1 selling passenger car here. And the Japanese did it without any price advantage. Maybe one of Chrysler's partners, Mitsubishi Motors, can tell Bidwell how it was done.

If the Japanese, in Bidwell's words, are "a totally committed economic aggressor," is that a crime? Be aggressive. Make us a BMW, Bidwell, or an Acura, Mercedes, Lexus or Honda. We'll buy them, and you'll save us thousands of dollars at the same time. If that's impossible, we'll take Chrysler miniatures in our Cracker Jack boxes where the fit and finish doesn't matter.

NORMAN JACOBSON

Los Angeles

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