28 June 2010


"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.


the golden horse said...

I think we got too lax in our manufacturing. In 1967 I bought a Chevel Malibu, it was a rock and great looking. So in 1970 and time for a new car, we bought a 1970 Chevel Malibu, it was a piece of crap. In 3 years, things went south.
I remember the first Hondas in our country, not so good. Then they got smart. Same with the Hyundai. You always knew if you were behind a Hyundai on a hill, cause you were backed up. They are now killing us at our own game.
Went to Italy a couple of years ago and came across the nicest looking little sports car, walked up to it and it was a Ford. Imagine that. Can't even find them here. There must have been about a million Smart Cars parked around Rome in every which way imaginable. Our guide told us, "we Italians don't park our cars, we abandon them." They do seem to get more cars per block that we can.
But I do think the US is turning a new leaf on quality.

Timothy Frazier said...

What goes around, comes around. Believe it or not, Chinese motorcycles are already here, and they will be giving everyone a run for their money as far as price goes. Quality is yet to be determined.

Harley has been running in phases...they got pretty laid back because their position as the only American marquee has only had temporary threats, mainly from Indian, whose last run was no threat due to the exorbitant price point of the average Chief.

Victory, however, has really forced HD to sit up and improve quality with it's competitively priced VTwins.

Harley's ultimate demise will come from it's failure to make something with real performance straight out of the box. Virtually every bike that rolls off the floor of the Motor Company factory has to have a couple thousand dollar engine upgrade if you want to keep up with an equivalently priced Japanese VTwin, or even a stock Victory. The VRod may be an exception, but I can't really tell since they disappear in my rearview mirrors just as fast as the FatBoys...but that's not fair, I ride a 2300cc Triumph Rocket and can stay right on the tail of a Yamaha VMax when I want.

The engine design HD uses today seems to be the same as what they had in the 60s, with better alloys and detail parts, but essentially the same formation and tolerances.

I'm hoping they will forget that they have a built in customer base because they are the classic American marque and rather behave as if they must compete in the performance arena to sell bikes like everyone else. I would be the first in line to buy a HD if it was within 80% of the power of my Rocket III and even if it was only 10% higher in price.

As it is, I bought a 2300cc British muscle bike with lots of trimming for three-quarters of the price of a HD 1600cc stock FatBoy with no accessories.

Anonymous said...

I can testify to quality improvements in the american auto assortment. A new Cobalt for my daughter is a very nice car for the money. Wifeys anniversary Mustang, well still a fun car to drive, and well built. My 05 Dodge Ram, well still needs work. My 08 Harley is vastly improved over my previous Harleys, and while maybe not the best value for some, the image and heritage is enough for me. Even if an import is built here, profits go away.


Greybeard said...

Lookin' strongly at the "883 Low" Paw. It looks like the bike I rode a lot during High School, and there's still a soft spot for that bike there.
And NOTHING sounds like that 45 degree twin!

Timothy Frazier said...

I must admit the sound is something you can't get anywhere but "The Motor Company." My triple is woefully inadequate in the pipe tone category.