Funny Business with Jane Wells

How Detroit Can Make Me Buy A Car In '09


I'm not a car expert. I'm a driving expert. I drive 25,000 miles a year, and I've driven everything. I know what works and what doesn't, and I avoid buying American. Get mad at me all you want, but I speak from experience, and millions of other drivers in the Car Capital of America (California) agree with me.

However, I've been wondering how to change that.

As I reported live all day Tuesday from Galpin Ford in Los Angeles, a dealership my parents went to religiously for decades, I started looking around. I saw a manual transmission Focus that gets 35 mpg on the highway and had an MSRP of $15k. I knew I could get it for much less, if I was looking to buy, which I wasn't. But would I ever seriously consider buying a Ford ?  Not sure.

Most Californians have no loyalty to any particular brand. Using myself as an example, I have owned a Pontiac Firebird a Honda Civic , a Subaru Brat (remember those?), two Nissans pick-ups, a Jeep Cherokee, a GM made Chevy Corvette, and a Toyota Camry .

These days, with four drivers in our household, this being California, we have four cars:

Lexus SUV--at 125,000 miles still the most reliable of the bunch--got a tune-up at 100k miles because I thought I should, not because I needed to.

Jaguar XK--my dream car, bought while Ford still owned the brand, runs great, but doesn't get driven much because it's too precious to me.

Acura CL--very dependable, though surprisingly bad gas mileage.

VW Beetle--good gas mileage, but over engineered as only the Germans can do--replacing the headlamp requires massive surgery.

I also drive about 20 different rental cars a year of all makes. Most of them are mediocre, though I was pleasantly surprised by the Buick Enclave. I'd never buy one though, because, well, you know, it's a Buick. Not even Tiger Woods could change my mind.

So how do US auto makers change my mind? Obviously, with reliability and price. But I think a creative marketing campaign is mandatory.

In California, image matters. It used to be that big was good. Or flashy. Or green. What the US auto industry needs now is to convince us that it is cool, hip, good, different, anti-establishment to…buy American. I'm not sure celebrities work (e.g. Tiger and Buick), but maybe you just need the right celebrity.

And since we are now in an era of "Change", automakers should exploit that and come up with a marketing campaign reflective of our times, not one that's slick and filled with Led Zeppelin songs. Maybe a slogan like "It's time for Change, buy American." Or "Stand up. Buy a Ford." Apple came up with "Think Different." How about "Drive Different. Drive American. Drive Chevrolet." Done the right way, you might get me to think outside my traditional box. Heck, I bought a SUBARU BRAT for goodness sakes, I'm willing to take risks.

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