Why the Big Three Don’t Deserve a Bailout

OK, we’ve heard Detroit’s tale of woe.  They’re going broke because we aren’t buying their cars.  It’s not their fault.  It’s our fault.  Let me say, in the spirit of full disclosure that I drive a Mitsubishi Eclipse, built by a Japanese company in Illinois.  My wife drives a Toyota Highlander, made in Japan by a Japanese company.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d love to buy American and, in fact, I’ve tried.  But I just haven’t been able to get any of the American dealerships to sell me a car for as long as I can remember.

A brief history.  In 1997 I bought a Chrysler Sebring.  I bought it because I wanted an American-made convertible and the Sebring was the one I liked.  I bought it.  Nobody sold it to me.  They didn’t have to.  I went into the closest Chrysler dealer, pointed to the car, and they wrote it up.  No selling required.

Sadly,  two years later a hopped-up semi-truck driver decided the Sebring was invisible and moved into my lane at 60 mph.  The result:  One totaled Sebring.  Considering that the car was totaled and that my wife, son, and I walked away under our own power, I decided I wanted another one just like it.

Back to my local dealer (who had since moved and wasn’t quite so local anymore).  This time I couldn’t afford a new car so I needed a year-old used car.  The dealership had none but the “salesman” promised he would “check around” and call me back.  He didn’t.

So I tried my luck with another Chrysler dealer in another part of town.  They had the car I wanted but really didn’t want to be bothered with taking my money.  The “salesman” was new, having moved over from the cell phone business.  Oh boy!

After finally convincing Skippy that it was ok for him to take my money, I had good luck with the car.  But like all cars, it eventually wore out.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I went back to the Chrysler well one more time.  This was two years ago.  I knew exactly what I wanted.  Not one, not two, but three Chrysler dealerships wouldn’t give me the time of day.  Guess what?  Two of the three are now out of business.  Imagine that.

Mitsubishi Eclipse (Not me driving.  This guy has hair.

Mitsubishi Eclipse (Not me driving. This guy has hair.

On a whim I went to check out the new Mitsubishi rag top, the Eclipse.  I liked the car but they didn’t have the color/engine combination I was looking for.  The salesman (no quotes this time) moved heaven and earth to find me a car.  Mitsubishi ended up building the car I wanted.  The car was built on a Monday and I picked it up on Wednesday.

We had the exact same experience with Ford and General Motors when we went to buy my wife’s SUV.  It was the end of the year and all the American companies were offering big rebates and running huge ad campaigns.  But the dealers all dropped the ball again and we bought the Highlander.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Here’s the rest of the story.”  One of my adult children (a contradiction in terms, I know) owns a Dodge pickup which recently failed the state-mandated emissions test so we took it back to the dealer where he bought it, a place called South Town Dodge, last Thursday.  Normally I wouldn’t get involved in my kids car repairs, but I loaned him my car while his truck is in the shop.  I’ve been carless for seven days.

Not only is the truck not fixed after one full week, they won’t even return his calls.  The deal was that they would call him and let him know what was wrong with the thing before they fixed it so I’m guessing that they haven’t even started.  At a time when the parent company is begging for more of my money to keep from going out of business, you’d think that the service department might be a little more customer-centric.

At this point you can be sure that my son will never buy another Chrysler product.  His mother, father, and three siblings will never buy another Chrysler product.  His numerous friends will never buy another Chrysler product.  Thousands of readers of this blog may never buy a Chrysler product. Even if any of us would, they probably wouldn’t take the time to sell it to us.

Here’s the thing.  The economy is tough right now.  Every sale and every customer are important whether you’re asking for a government handout or not.  I intend for my next car to be American but if the “Big 3” don’t get their sales and customer service acts together, all the bailout money in the world won’t make a difference.  “If you build it they will come” may be true for baseball fields, but for anything else, not so much.