Friday, February 13, 2009

Goodbye Isuzu... Hello ________... We'll Be Alright

(Note: Sometimes I start off with an idea for a post and it becomes something completely different. This long, rambling post is a perfect example of that. It was going to be a short look at Isuzu and its failure in this country. An e-mail and a phone call changed that...)

The other night I was telling a new friend about this blog. She's not a car geek (she drives a Subaru, which she loves), but she's been tolerant of my car geekiness (so far) and has even offered to join me on some trips to various car museums, car shows etc. A car geek in training, maybe?

She wanted to read the blog and asked me to send her the link to it. I did, with a note asking her to read the whole thing and critique it. She makes her living in advertising. In her line of work it's extremely important to be clear and concise. I figured she'd have some advice to improve this blog.

For the most part she liked the blog. She gave me a few tips, but she didn't tear my writing style to shreds and I appreciated that. At the end of her e-mail she wrote this: "You're targeting a very narrow audience. I've never heard of most of the cars you've written about..."

OK, I've recently written about a Vauxhall and a Skoda. I assume there are many, many people in the US who are unfamiliar with those brands, but she said "most of the cars". Did she mean the model? The Alfa Romeo Alfetta and the Renault R17 I recently wrote about were not the most popular cars from those companies (at least not in the US), but she must have heard of the manufacturers.

I was on the phone with her last night. I asked her what cars she was unfamiliar with. "Vector, Triumph, MG, Rover, Peugeot, Lancia, Sterling, Opel, Austin and a couple of others", she replied. Wow.

She's 12 years younger than me. Age means nothing to me. On the list of people I call friends is a guy 30 years older than me and one 21 years younger than me. But I realized last night that when it comes to cars, age does make a difference.

When I got my license there were still Fiat, Lancia, Peugeot, Renault, Alfa Romeo, Triumph, and MG dealers around. You could buy one brand new; one with virtually zero miles on it and a sticker in the window. Marques like Opel, Sunbeam, Hillman, Austin Healey and Citroen had already packed it up in the US, but there were plenty of those cars still around. They were cheap, too. No one wanted them. They were orphan cars.

12 years later, when she got her license, MG, Fiat, Lancia, and Triumph were gone. Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Sterling and Renault were still around, but hanging on by a thread. In a few years those brands would be gone, too.

I said something about how sad it was that when she got her license she wasn't able to choose from cars like the ones mentioned above. "Yeah, and you didn't have Acura, Infinity, Lexus, Land Rover, Hyundai, and Kia to choose from", she replied. "And, I think I'd have looked pretty good in that Audi R8 you and your friend were gushing over the other night, don't you? You didn't have that choice. That car didn't exist yet" She went on, she was on a roll. "In fact, I almost bought a Miata before I bought my Subaru. Wasn't that car modeled after some old British sports car, but is 100 times more reliable?" Ouch. I tried to argue about the unique "personality" of the old sports cars. She'd have none of that, saying "just like with people, not all personality traits are necessarily good traits". Double ouch.

She was right, of course (I hate that). Nature abhors a vacuum. So does the auto industry. Kia and Hyundai have replaced Renault and Fiat in the entry-level car market. Sedans from Acura, Infinity and Lexus have replaced Alfa sedans, Peugeots and Sterlings in the near-luxury / sports sedan / luxury car area (and are doing much better than any of those companies could have ever dreamed of doing). The Miata, BMW Z3 / Z4, Audi TT and a bunch of other sports cars from Pontiac, Saturn, Honda and Nissan have replaced the MG, Triumph, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia sports cars. And yes, they are "100 times more reliable" than those brands.

I was going to write a post about Isuzu today. They folded their tent and headed back to Japan last month. I can't say I'm going to miss them. I owned a Trooper once. It was the biggest piece of dog-poo I've ever owned. If any company deserved not to make it in the US it was Isuzu. But that's just my opinion. I'm sure there are plenty of people who have owned (or own) Isuzus and love them.

The gist of the post was to be that while not my favorite brand, the loss of Isuzu in the US means the loss of another choice for the car buying public. But after the conversation last night, I realize that it won't be for long. Some company, one already doing business in the US or not, will come in and fill the vacuum the loss of Isuzu created.

Isuzu is not going to be the last brand to fold or pack it in in the US. The economy has taken its toll. The list of car makers that may fail includes both the big and small. The "Big 3" may become the "Big 2", maybe the "Big 1" or the "Big None", who knows? Imports are not immune, either. Car geeks are starting to worry about the choices we'll have in the future. We shouldn't panic, though...

I'm not worried about the auto industry. I hope all the companies survive, but if some fail, something WILL take their place. It may take some time, but it will happen.

Someday, someone might lament the loss of one of those companies, saying something about them like I did about MG, Triumph, Alfa Romeo, etc. And someone will reply, like my friend did, "Yeah, but now we have ___________, _____________, and ___________ , and they're 100 times reliable than those old cars ever were." There will always be choices and people will always be arguing over them.

We'll be alright.

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