13 March 2014

The biggest problem with having an inexpensive car is build quality. When people spend $30,000 on a car, they, rather un-realistically, expect good build quality, and good materials used on the interior. Unfortunately, to get properly good build quality, you need to spend more than $85,000 on something that's not American or mass-produced.

American cars use plastics on everything. Over time, wear and tear cause the plastic panels to losen up, and rattle, squeak, and clunk. Annoying as hell, but it's true. And buying Japanese doesn't get you away from this. My Subaru ($21K car, brand new) is now 8 years old, and has very annoying trim panel rattling in the rear. Until you get into the $60K and above range, you'll still see the cheap plastic dashboards (sometimes coated in Suede, leather, vinyl or alcantara), the same textured-plastic interior trim pieces, and such.

All that to say that Quality is not there. Sure, it's difficult to buy a bad brand new car (it does happen), but certain manufacturers are expected to maintain a certain level of build quality. Cadillac used to be a benchmark. You paid more money, because you were getting a better car. Now, all you're paying for is nicer gadgets, more leather and the nameplate. Using the new Cadillac ELR as an example, the base platform is the same used for the Chevrolet Cruze, and the powertrain comes from a Chevrolet Volt; the former priced in the $20k ballpark and the latter priced in the mid $40K ballpark. The ELR, however, is priced north of $72K...the interior is, while nice, obviously full of plastic. The 2-door body is nice, but it's heavier than the Volt, therefore, it's range is marginally less.

Outsourcing can be a great way to keep these cars priced as they are. If we used only materials sourced from the Continental United states, or even just within North America, and these materials were only handled by American workers (assuming they were all Union), and these American workers only used American-made (engineered in America, made of parts and materials sourced in America, built by American workers) equipment, the price of cars would be triple what it is now. Partly because Americans won't work for anything close to the wages that the Line workers in Mexico or Korea make, and partly because the Labor unions would want a piece of the action too.

In that sense, Outsourcing is a great thing. However, the other side of the coin is this: Outsourcing parts to Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and wherever else we have our parts (speaking for GM only) made, limits the Quality control that the parts go through. Lower quality control means a higher part failure percentage, which leads to a higher risk of mass recall.

In my opinion, Cars have come quite a long way from the cars in the 1960's, but we still have a long way to go until we see cars that are 100% reliable over their projected 10 - 15 year lifespan, are 100% safe in a collision or accident against any other vehicle (Anything from a smart car or Scion IQ to a Bus or Semi truck.), 100% fuel efficient (Getting 100% efficiency from each drop of fuel burned, or each mile of  range in the battery.) and 100% appealing to every buyer. I don't believe that will ever happen. As the saying goes, you can't please everyone.

-Phil