Why VW Should Be Very Frightened by the Fall of U.S. Automakers

Which Of These Makes Suffers From Poor Quality?

I pulled into my apartment complex last night in our 2009 Volkswagen CC test car just as a neighbor was parking in a spot behind me. I couldn't see what he was driving, but it made the unmistakable noises of an older Domestic vehicle that has seen better days.

"That a Volkswagen?" he asked once we were both in warmth of our building. When I replied in the affirmative, he whistled. "That thing is beautiful!"

His compliment is not the first we've received on the CC, and certainly portends success for the car. But it's what he said next that really caught my attention.

"Those Germans build some quality cars, man," he said, nodding knowingly, adding, "Much better than the U.S."

His sentiment - not an uncommon one - is intriguing for the fact that it's completely wrong. Just about every recent quality study ranks American cars, especially those from General Motors and Ford, close to or equal with the best from Japan. Meanwhile, VW and several other European makes have languished at the bottom.

Indeed, the irony of the Domestic automakers' present crisis is that they are by and large producing their best vehicles in decades. Cars like the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Flex are class competitive and exude quality. Future products like the 2011 Volt and 2010 Fusion, the latter of which I was able to preview earlier this week, promise to be even better.

Unfortunately, Detroit might have gotten the product religion too late in the game. Consumers' perceptions, like that of my neighbor, often lag behind reality.;Biases can be changed – the success of the Japanese and more recently, the Koreans is proof of that. But it takes money and time. The Big Three appear to have neither.

GM and Ford can now only hope that they somehow survive long enough to see their aggressive product strategies bear fruit. For companies like VW, the death spiral of the American auto industry should ring out as a warning. VW's stock currently goes for around $500 - more than 100 times that of GM and Ford – and the company recently rivaled Exxon Mobil as the most valuable on Earth. Much of this success is well deserved. It has consistently brought innovative designs to the market that are favorites among consumers – not to mention staffers here at Automobile. But it was not long ago that the Big Three ruled the automotive universe with fantastic looking but shoddily built products. They fell from grace slowly but surely, one bad customer experience at a time. VW and others like it should pay heed. In today's competitive market, there's simply no room for product failures or even annoyances – like the interior trim that's already coming loose on our CC.

George
i once owned a new 1985 pontiac grand am. back when i didnt know any better about regular maintenance, i ran that car hard and treated it like crap..regular oil change? didnt know what that was. all i knew was that i kept adding any type of oil into its engine and she never faltered. you know what? that car held up better than any car i have today. i miss that car! had to get rid of it when i got into an accident. was t-boned. come to think of it, that car saved my life. sure detroit gets a bad rap about building shoddy cars but i guess i was one of the few lucky ones who didnt have that experience.
adamlink
The Malibu does not exude quality. It exudes plasticity. I recently sat in a brand new CTS-V on the showroom floor. The trim covering the A pillar was hanging loose. I tried to push it back in place. It wouldn't go. The chrome trim at the top of the driver's door did not line up with the piece of trim on the back door. It was about 1/8th of an inch off. This is on a brand new, $68,000 car. I'm 6'1", 230 lbs., I've been in the backseats of several VW CCs and there is absolutely no problem getting in and out of these vehicles. I don't know where in the world people get this junk. Try sitting in the back of a Mercedes CLS if you want to experience a cramped backseat (or a CTS, for that matter). I've sold cars for over many years, and in that entire time the only car I ever sold that was "lemon lawed" was a Nissan Pathfinder. The brakes would fail, with no warning, all the time. They replaced every single component of the braking system in that vehicle several times over and never was able to fix it. So much for Japanese invincibility. They have already gone through the problems the author of this article warns about, they survived it, they learned from it, and the cars VW is building today are excellent quality. Far better than what you would expect for the price.
Danny DeMichele Entrepreneur
I actually think the article makes a good point at the end about cars that appeal to buyers visually but that are built like crap. It catches up with you.
taz75
I never owned the VW, since I heard many crazy stories from my friend.1. Brand new GTI... too much time in the shop, so my friend end up hiring lemon lawyer to get the refund.2. VW bettle : about 30k... another friend keep having electrical problems.3. Touraeg. My manager had it, and he ended up selling it because of too much maintenance issue..I think this says all... maybe some German built ones would be good, but I won't try VW...
alman08
I'm tired of the automotive media speaking nonsense just trying to defend the big 3. Yes, Ford is making nicer and better quality cars, but not GM for the domestic market. And you're dead wrong for commenting that your neighbor was dead wrong about saying "Those Germans build some quality cars, man," ... and for that poster who complained about difficulty getting into the back seat of a CC... sorry man, the CC wasn't designed for oversized people. It's a 4 door coupe. I am not hear to defend VW or any imports, and I like Ford products. But please...
Fredsmilek
the experience ive had with american cars its not so good, i always look for japanese. specially HONDA!
magnus466
I have a 2004 Passat TDI wagon. It's given me completely trouble free service and crazy mileage (40-43 mpg hwy) My last wagon demonstrated it's safety features when I plowed into a Mazda after it ran a stop sign. I will ALWAYS own a VW. I wanted so badly to buy an American wagon, but GM, Ford and Chrysler offered nothing close.I probably would have gone crazy for a Caddy BLS diesel wagon had GM chosen to sell it here, or maybe a Chrysler 300 diesel, but so far, no dice,After countless problems with their Cadillac Deville, my parents bought an Avalon 2 years ago...their first Toyota. You will never get them into another Caddy. They left the dealership scratching their heads in disbelief regarding their Toyota purchase. Many of their friends have done exactly the same.
nknorka
I have owned VWs, MB, Opals, Puegeots, Simcas, & Vauxhalls from Europe. I have owned Hondas, Toyotas, and Mazdas from Japan. After 12 years I just traded my 96 Miata in on a 08 Miata. Nothing from Europe comes close to the Japanese quality. At the same time we are on our third Jeep since 1992. We had our 97 Grand Cherokee for ten years with only an air conditioner issue as a problem. Our 2006 is doing great. We had a 1992 S10 that was a true work truck and other than a bad paint job never caused us any problems. Car mags are fun to read, but never, never take what they say seriously. The writers play with cars, they don't own them and have to live withn them. If they did, VW and BMW would not win any of there comparison tests.
killerbuzz65
I leased, then owned a 2000 Passat V6, beautiful inside and out until...the 24month warranty expired. Then it was one $1000 repair problem after another until I unloaded it for a 2003 Pathfinder. I haven't owned American since my 1992 S-10, and that was a painful experience too....
mdensch
My experiences with VW ownership confirms the surveys' results: lots of problems. One of them was well known by VW (though apparently not my local dealer) and wide spread throughout the product lines, yet no recall was ever issued.A Toyota I owned was very reliable but rusted out. A Nissan Sentra I had was a total piece of junk. The Fords which I've owned exclusively since then? Utterly reliable and well built. I hope I never have to look elsewhere.
taildraggin
I'd be glad that your neighbor didn't hit you for his home's declining value. What will become of Ann Arbor?VWs have always had hit-or-miss, bottom-third quality, yet manage better market image and press. There have always been a few good American cars in even the worst periods that got little notice or praise from the auto media. Now that the water has reached the press' ankles, these cars get attention?
helpyourself25
Oops, my mistake it was a 1999 Jetta not a Golf.
helpyourself25
We had 1999 VW Golf and the thing quite literally was falling apart. Windows would fall out while being rolled up while parked. Leaks would develop while parked in the garage for a week. The front end underbody fell off while I was driving one day. The side view mirror adjustment knob broke off while adjusting it.Truly a horrible car and not worthy of any consideration.The VW CC looks nice on the outside but it looks painful to even try to get into the backseat (ie duck your head way down, then schrunk up your legs and pray when you put your head up it doesn't smash against the headliner. Watch the Motorweek video if you don't believe me and that guy isn't even tall.
jerrye
Right on! My last VW Golf was not a good car. Many mechanical problems and horrendous trim issues. However I satill loved it! Why? It felt wonderful driving. Many of my Euro-loving snobbish friends are still deluding themselves that their cars are superior. But sooner or later, just like with GM/Ford of old, the truth will tell
lucasnyc
I completely agree with the writer. Most VW's are assembled in Mexico as oppose to coming from Germany. Thus the crappy quality. Staples like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry which consistently rank high on the surveys are actually made right here in the good ol' US of A. Wake up people and do your homework instead of having Madison Avenue confuse you.
georgemia
My current Ford Thunderbird is flawless, without a single problem in three years of ownership.At the same mileage, my Mercedes had had the supercharger replaced, both tail lamps (not bulbs) replaced, and the engine cover replaced.Americans are not even willing to listen to the improved cars, and ashamed to be seen in them.If we ever had another WWII type event, I can't imagine where the manufacturing expertise would come from, or even Humvees for Iraq.
FreshBlather
The last Golf GTI I had was a wonderful piece of automotive machinery. It delivered nearly everything that was promised, and then some. Quick, fun, comfortable, tossable, and more. But, when I traded it in on my next car after three years, I doubt there were many parts on the car that had arrived with the car when new. And that's too bad. I hope VW survives.
adrianis350
I've driven many makes and models. Actually I have never owned the same brand of vehicle. I think, overall, Acura offers the best built cars. But American cars in my own experience have been very reliable and affordable; for example my 1983 Ford Mustang. My BMW 325i was probably the most problematic of all, only followed by my 2000 Pontiac Grand Am GT. I do agree that American cars are the best they have been in decades.
albertko74
Drive at night and look for cars with faulty tail lights and/or brake lights. 90% of them are VWs
edeweese
I agree with the writer. My experience with VW mirrors the poor repair records reported in Consumer Reports. I bought a new 2004 New Beetle Convertible for my wife. First year, it was in the shop 8 times: 5 electrical, 3 mechanical. It's been recalled 3 times. Most exciting: the wipers quit working on a LA freeway at night in the rain. Same year, I bought a new 2004 Accord: only routine maintenance; no recalls.
fiocamp
I say nonsense as well. We have a 2000 VW Golf and aside from usual wear and tear items the only thing we have had to fix was the water pump just this year. Fit and finish are still fantastic and have held up a lot better than our 2003 Honda CR-V.
PJGJ
I do not believe your article to be correct. Most everyone I know who has owned American and then gone VW or other German, Japanese etc car stays there. Sure, US cars in general have improved with initial reliablilty, but long term I am not so sure. Personnaly, I have an 8.5 year old VW Jetta with a VR6 engine. It did have a few hiccups initially but after driving the car very hard- um...spirirted I mean- for over 100k miles, it has stood the test of time. The interior still looks great, exterior paint and trim have weathered extremly well, and all bits and pieces have performed to a high degree. You do NOT get this from American cars- not even close. Maybe 4-5 years before things are rattling and falling off, the seats loose thier comfort, and the positve driving impression dissappears. The performance of my VW has been incredible and I push it because I trust it. The american worker IS the best- no doubt. They build what they are asked to build and do it very well. But American auto designers who still cling to an archaic mindset, management who set foolish startegic plans, and the unions that unfortunatly are an option we can't yet seem to get rid off and make everything harder on the companies, have all failed. Just compare Ford Europe to Ford America. You would be more right to tell VW not to rest on its laurels, as I believe they have to some extent.R/SPJGJ
fbarfety
Nonsense. VW has recently jumped from 31st to 24th on the JD Powers IQS rankings. If one piece of trim has you "very frightened" you need to get out of the car business.

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