Wanna Buy an American Car?

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Our existence necessitates loads of expenses, loads of purchases. Should the purchase button turn green, you must be ready to shell out cash. But if the signal blinks in front of an American car, would you dare entertain it?

"A few weeks ago I pointed out a new Buick Enclave large sport-utility vehicle to my daughter and son-in-law and asked for an opinion. 'Ecch,' said my daughter, the self-confessed brand snob, 'I'd never drive a Buick.' Her husband concurred, though agreeing with me that the Enclave has a nicely styled exterior," narrated Doron Levin of Bloomberg.

Levin added, "The phenomenon of shoppers that turn their noses up at venerable U.S. automotive brands has been growing for at least two decades, propelled by poor quality, reliability, durability and resale values of many domestic nameplates. Import makes, meanwhile, have made steady improvements."

This is why domestic automakers, these days, are living in the state of desperation trying to figure out the best way to win back clientele. The touch of desperation also inflicted General Motors Corp.

Earlier, the Detroit automaker has launched a marketing strategy dubbed side-by-side-by-side, asking its Saturn dealers to display the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord beside the Aura. The campaign encourages comparison and aims to prove that an American car measures up to the best foreign rival.

There is nothing wrong neither with the styling nor with the and other auto parts. The reasons include the apparent shift of the auto market and the unbending belief that foreign makes are better.

The Aura is a crucial model for both Saturn and GM. It is part of a product rejuvenation plan for Saturn to make the firm lucrative and competitive. Reaction to the Aura has been encouraging, both in terms of sales and reviews.

Some analysts in the industry say the campaign is quite risky because instead of pulling customers closer, it might do the exact opposite. "It's an extreme measure," said Levin, "but extremes may be necessary in light of the devastating currents tearing at U.S. automakers these days. Many car shoppers have simply written off American brands. They are impervious to advertising, dismissive of new American models, and disdainful of those who buy them."

Dan Bonawitz, the vice president of planning and logistics for the Honda Motor Co. in the U.S., summed it up at a June preview for the new Honda Accord, scheduled for introduction this fall. "Very few Accord buyers cross-shop domestic brands,'' Bonawitz said, though "they do look at the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.''

According to the Ford Motor Co., slightly more than 48 percent of car buyers in the U.S. said they would consider only domestic brands such as Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler. Today that rate shrunk to 36 percent.

But the new cars from GM, Ford and Chrysler indisputably are built better than ever. Starting in January, Ford began advertising results of the "Fusion Challenge'' campaign, a consumer comparison of its sedan to Camry and Accord, sponsored by Car & Driver and Road & Track magazines. The Dearborn automaker said those who test drove the cars rated Fusion higher in categories such as "fun to drive,'' performance and styling.

Meanwhile, Jason Vines, a Chrysler spokesman said his company is using pop-up ads on the Internet to intercept shoppers for Japanese models and make them aware of Chrysler's cars. "A lot of buyer behavior isn't as linear as it used to be,'' he said.

David Champion, the director of automobile testing for Consumer Reports, a shopping guide company, said that Detroit's cars can get back in the game. But first, they must surmount doubts about reliability and durability.

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