GM, Ford & Chrysler may no longer be the three largest auto sellers in the U.S., but let’s cede them that title for enough longer to identify a key drier of their downward spiral – corporate intransigence bordering on outright stupidity.
Here’s the deal. For decades, the big three made the cars they wanted to make. And relatively passive consumers bought them – at least in the U.S. Yah sure, consumers did reject those most detached from consumer tastes: Ford’s Edsel (made in the likeness of family member Edsel Ford, who must have been ugly); Chrysler’s Jeep compact cars (couldn’t anyone at Chrysler spell “oxymoron?”); GM’s Oldsmobile line (it wasn’t “your father’s Oldsmobile,” as the adline went – it wasn’t anyone’s). But by and large, consumers bought what the big three stuck on the lot.
Now, however, consumer behavior has swung from relative passivity to pure pickiness – and with that pendulum swing came the “make it my way” mantra. So how does the big three react? By ignoring change and continuing to try shoving unwanted product down consumer throughts. Yup, they’re paying scant heed to changing tastes in models, options, fuel economy and the like – and continuing to push the lineup that will provide maximum profitability. But consumers aren’t buying what they don’t want. They don’t have to – not only because they’re thinking for themselves these days, but because they have such a plethora of car choices.
Talk about a fossilized industry. Detroit does look reeady to go the way of the dinosaur, dspite all its lip service to the need for change. Unless the big three get it that car design should be reactive to customer tastes – not proactive in trying to change tastes – they’ll turn into bit players, if they survive at all.