"I always thought 'Rolls Royce' was the 'Cadillac' of automobiles."
I cannot remember when/where I was when I first heard that quote but as a gearhead, it amused me.
My generation is old enough to remember when Japanese stuff was junk...
Buy a "Made in Japan" toy and with many of them you could literally look inside and see the labels of the recycled beer cans they were made from.
Buy a car or motorcycle made there?
Not on your (or especially my) life.
In the 1950's, Japanese industrial leaders, wanting a chunk of the post-WWII economic expansion, recognized they had a problem. They listened to and acted on the thoughts of Professor W. Edwards Deming, a man whose ideas improved the quality and efficiency of American industry during, and immediately after the war.
By the late 1960's the Japanese were beating us at our own game. Two years ago, Toyota sold more cars worldwide than GM, Ford, or Chrysler.
A similar thing was happening in the motorcycle world-
I bought my first Japanese motorcycle in 1970. It was cheaper, faster, and more reliable than the only American choice I had at that time... the Harley Davidson. At the time, Harley was hanging on for dear life... it had gone through a couple ownership changes, (one of which was AMF, the bowling and recreational equipment manufacturer), and was making what almost everyone considered to be HORRIBLE motorcycles. There was a joke at the time that the only time a Harley would stop dripping oil was when the crankcase was dry and the engine seized.
Arguably, Harley has turned around. The bikes no longer leave an oil spot beneath them when they're parked. The engines have been improved so they no longer vibrate badly enough to completely fracture the license plate mounting, (actually happened to me)! The paint and overall fit and finish of Harley motorcycles has improved dramatically. I would argue that's because Harleys, (and for that matter the German, Italian, and English bikes too), had a choice to make...
Go head-to-head with the Japanese or go bankrupt. Many didn't make the cut, but those that are still in business are making a higher quality product thanks to that competition.
Have you looked at a new American car lately? A close friend just bought a new Chevy Malibu, and I'm impressed...
It looks great, runs quietly, and is rated highly in expert reviews. If the Malibu is any indication, we've finally made the decision to go "head-to-head" in the car industry too.
Interestingly, while American cars seem to finally be competing in the world market, the Japanese seem to have stumbled a little.
Toyota has suffered a black eye of late with their "unintended acceleration" problems.
Honda has just had to recall several million of their cars and trucks for mechanical difficulties.
Now come the Koreans with their Hyundais and Kias.
Soon we'll probably see Chinese cars being sold here.
What about India... how long before they put their huge labor force to work building things with wheels to sell around the world?
Compete or die.
It's gonna be interesting to watch.