Rich Karlgaard, writing a recent piece in Forbes made an observation that expresses something I have long believed. American carmakers have done themselves a nasty disservice by sending car rental companies their ‘fleet sales’ versions of their products. Why? Because those often low-frills, underpowered and difficult to manage autos are often the only time you’ll ever get much of the population behind the wheel of an American car.
When I was growing up, my family owned American cars. The logic at the time was that it was good to have an American car because then you wouldn’t have to wait for spare parts to be shipped in from all over the place. Then the Japanese and Germans started offering cars that were not only more fuel-efficient, but guess what? They undercut the American carmakers contention that local spare parts were a good thing by providing autos of such high quality that they didn’t need spare parts! Now that’s a concept. In my own, grown-up car-buying life, I’ll confess to not even being tempted by an American car (unless you count our Volvo as an “American” car because it’s owned by an American firm).
So when do I drive American? When I rent a car, and the experience has almost always been disappointing. Cars like the Ford Taurus sort of ‘fit’ me all wrong – I feel as though I can’t see over the dashboard. My husband, daughter and I ended up having to drive a HUGE American car on a visit to California last year, which we absolutely hated. It was the only one left at the car rental place – not the one we ordered. To add insult to injury, our hotel charged us extra for parking such a huge vehicle. Needless to say, our rental experiences have not encouraged us to go spend some time in a showroom.
It certainly seems to be a short-sighted strategy if the goal is to tempt people into giving your product another chance.