11/1/2005 | 2 MINUTE READ

Dudder: Changing Perspective

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What you perceive depends on your point of view.


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What you perceive depends on your point of view. Imagine, for example, that you are a passenger on a jet airplane. A cursory look out of the window shows the wing and jet engine suspended over a cotton candy background with no hint of movement-other than that which makes its way through your nerve endings-to betray that everything is standing still. Add into this mix another jet of the same size headed in the opposite direction. It appears to streak past as though-you guessed it-you were standing still, though the passengers inside would swear they are the ones not moving.

I have to wonder if the same perspective problem isn't in play in the auto industry, because I can't imagine another reason for the troubling lack of concern I see from the leaders of the domestic OEMs. It's almost as though they perceive that the world is still and they are the only ones moving. Meanwhile, those not privileged to sit on the 14th floor perceive a stunning lack of movement as the world whizzes by just past their ears. Adding to this problem is a pack mentality that forms in the executive suites and news bureaus that reinforces already adversarial perspectives.

Lost in all of this back-and-forth is the buyer, the person who ultimately chooses which company gets to deposit his hard-earned money in their bank account. He doesn't have a dog in this fight, although many OEM executives believe the continued health of the domestic automakers and their suppliers should be his concern. It isn't. He is one buyer, one person in a sea of nearly 17 million each year who buy a new vehicle. From his perspective, enlightened self-interest says he should buy the vehicle he believes is best for him, no matter who makes it.

Once that buyer is gone, it is tough to get him back. And he and his peers have been leaving for decades. Loyalty is fungible in today's economy, and goes to the highest bidder. This has changed the perspective of the buyer to the point where American vehicles are seen as the entry level you move up from, and something you try to avoid as you make your way in life. Whether right or wrong, the average American buyer believes American cars and trucks are-for the most part-shoddily designed and built vehicles whose sole purpose is to make scads of money for the corporate fat cats in the executive suites to spend on their sixth home and third wife-or third home and sixth wife. And who can blame them? For the most part, the executives are rarely seen even when things go wrong, and-except for the Mustang, 300 C, Corvette, and a smattering of trucks-little in the domestic arsenal stands out. Which is what every product they build for the next 10 years will have to do in order to get on buyer consideration lists with any consistency. The trick will be bringing passion to passionless companies run by passionless people via products that are energetic, interesting, and confident-three things most domestic offerings currently are not. It will mean balancing the lineup to offer a wide variety of vehicles that meet a wide variety of needs and desires. It will mean, in short, a complete change of perspective.