liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
liz_marcs

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Life and Death of the American Car

When I bought my first foreign car (a Subaru stick-shift) it caused a minor controversy in my family.

The way may parents saw it, you are an American. You should buy an American car. Not because it was your patriotic duty, but because it supported the American worker.

I pointed out (at the time) that said foreign car was not only more reliable, it was a better-built car with better gas mileage. Both were important since I was working as a reporter at the time and the frequent breakdowns and sucky gas mileage of my previously owned, all American cars couldn't be tolerated.

Plus, it was my money I was spending, not theirs. Which they readily conceded.

I owned two Subarus in succession. Both were great cars (although hella expensive to fix on the rare occasions they needed fixing), and those engines were ticking over very strong when I had to give them up. The key problem with Subarus? The body work sucketh the big weenie. It didn't help that the salt-encrusted roads of wintertime New England were all "NOM NOM NOM" on the body either. In short, the cars became unsafe to drive because the floors were rotting out of them.

I was on the broke side when I picked up a Buick Century for $2,000 (thanks in large part to my mother's ability to twist and break the arms of car dealers -- I swear the woman is not only blessed with Arab trader blood, but was probably a horse-trader in another life). The car was reliable, but it drove like a tank and sucked gas through a straw.

I had to dump the Buick rather quickly. There was a minor accident in a parking garage when a guy with a rented jaguar pulled right out in front of my car (the insurance companies dubbed him entirely at fault). His car was totaled on the spot since he couldn't even drive it away. I drove away, but sprung a serious gas leak. I got totaled a few days later.

My parents then thinking it was time to bring me back into the American-made fold, drive me to a Saturn dealership where I bought my beloved 2001 Saturn SL with manual transmission which has never given me a moments worry, has enough pep on the road to rival more powerful cars, turns on a dime, and has gas mileage that rivals the hybrids.

I love my car. I plan to drive it into the ground. Sure, the exterior's made of plastic (the passenger cabin underneath is actually Volvo construction -- which is why the cars do so well in accidents), but it doesn't rust and bounces back from the dings and scratches of outrageous driving like WHOA!

(Unless some asshat hits your car in a parking lot hard enough to break the plastic exterior. Yes. I'm still bitter about my $500 deductible, why do you ask?)

Needless to say, I was utterly befuddled when GM announced it was dumping the Saturn line as part of its bankruptcy process. Yes, they made the decision based on what was making them money, but Saturn is actually a line with a future and could potentially be a success in the world market if GM gave it a shot.

Hundreds of thousands of Saturn owners (some of them with older cars than myself) agreed. There was some serious anger out there, not just among Saturn dealers and their employees, but also Saturn owners.

Saturn owners can now rejoice. SATURN HAS BEEN SAVED! GM is selling it off the Saturn line lock, stock, and barrel to Penske Automotive Group. The man single-handedly saved 13,000 jobs with this move. And unlike GM, which never knew what the hell to do with Saturn, he's got plans.

Hooray!

Or maybe not...Penske isn't getting the Spring Hill plant, which up until 2007 built Saturns. He may be forced to send construction of the car overseas. So while he's saving the Saturn network, the manufacturing jobs may be disappeared anyway.

As for my "buy American" parents, they recently had to buy a new car themselves out of necessity rather than want.

They bought: a Honda Accord.

It's ironic. Just as I'm celebrating the fact that a chip of an American car company is going to survive, they've bought a Honda.

The reason? All the American cars they tried were either underpowered, poorly constructed, or were just uncomfortable to drive. To make things worse, the American car dealers weren't even willing to negotiate on prices or show them any cars that were younger than a 2009.

It was sheer frustration that brought them into a Honda dealership. It was the fact that the dealership treated them like customers instead of marks that got them to stay for more than 5 minutes. And it was the fact that my mother was able to work her horse-trading magic that they actually bought the car.

And they're already in love with it!

The Accord's got all the features they wanted (unlike all of the American cars they tried...and they tried a lot of American cars), and a few features they didn't know they wanted before they had them.

I get updates on how awesome the car is. Jokes about how the car is smarter than they are. All the weird little features its got (like heated seats!). The fact it keeps track of gas mileage.

They're reading the instruction manual even as we speak.

They're going to be sending me "baby pictures" next.

Ladies and Gentlemen...my parents.

If the American car companies have lost people like these as customers, possibly for good, then it's a sign that the fall was most likely inevitable.

ETA: I'm glowering at the sky right now. I was planning to hit the river today, but the low-hanging, rain-heavy looking clouds aren't making me feel comfy about doing so. So now I have to put off kayaking until tomorrow morning. At least it's supposed to be nice and sunny in Sunday morning.
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