Big 3 Image Up, Sales Down

For as long as I've been covering the auto industry, I've seen some variation of this story on a regular basis. Every so often, there is a survey that shows a growing percentage of car buyers would be willing to consider sliding behind the wheel of a Big 3 car. Despite these encouraging reports, the Big 3 market share continues to slide.

The latest survey coming from Consumer Reports shows an overwhelming majority of those surveyed would definitely consider buying a GM, Ford, or Chrysler. 81% to be exact. Compared to 47% for an Asian model and 46% for a European model. With numbers like that, you'd think the Big 3 would be gaining ground on the boys from overseas. But they aren't. Only Ford has picked up market share in the last year.

So what's the deal?

Why is it buyers say they are interested in a Detroit car, but when it comes time to driving off the lot, they are zipping away in a Toyota, Hyundai, or Mini?

Lately, you can blame some of the disconnect on the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler. While both came through the process better than expected, both companies are just getting their footing. The other issue is new product cadence. Ford's gaining ground right now because it's in the sweet spot with new models rolling out. For GM, there's little hitting showrooms that is generating buzz, and Chrysler is left holding some re-designed older models until the new owners Fiat can pump some life, and product designs, into the company.

As one auto industry veteran told me this summer, aside from Ford, there's not a lot coming out Detroit to get excited about.

Still, the Consumer Reports survey shows these guys have an amazing opportunity to win back buyers who ARE willing to give motown another shot. And all is not lost. This fall GM will ramp up its advertising and marketing under vice chair Bob Lutz. A fresh approach could change perception even more. And at Chrysler, Sergio Marchionne has the company's designers moving fast to not only tweak existing models, but more importantly speed up the development of new vehicles. Ford? It's in a groove right now and will run with the new Taurus and its "Why Ford? Why now?" campaign for some time.

The public says it's ready to buy American again. Can Detroit capitalize?

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