Automotive Perception Always Lags Reality
- 05/10/2012 |
- by Karl Brauer |
- Karl on Cars / Karl's Cars
My wife's car just turned over 70,000 miles on a model that's been almost completely trouble free for the past nine years.
Some might say 70,000 miles isn't a lot for a car to be trouble free, but I know of many cars that have gone far fewer miles while exhibiting plenty of mechanical breakdowns and unscheduled dealer visits. To be fair, a couple weeks ago there was a loud "ding" in the cabin and almost every warning light came on (brake, ABS, traction control, check engine). Turns out the ABS computer is malfunctioning and needs to be replaced. It's not a tough job, but the dealer wants $700 to do it. Yeah, right. I'll be pricing the part out and installing it myself, as soon as I get the time. Meanwhile, the car doesn't have ABS or traction control. But it still runs fine, and given the cars both my wife and I have driven over the past 25 years a lack of traction control and ABS actually feels more familiar to us. It doesn't snow in Southern California and we both know how to practice adequate, non-ABS stopping distances in our driving patterns (we do that even when the ABS is working).
But that's not the point of this article. The point is that when this car was sold new I wouldn't have expected it to go 70,000 trouble-free miles. Why? Because it's a 2004 Chevrolet Malibu, and in 2004 Chevrolet sedan's didn't exactly have a stellar reputation for quality. But given the time and distance this car has covered I'm fully satisfied (and moderately surprised) by the Malibu's overall ownership experience. Other than gas, tires, oil and insurance premiums we haven't had to spend any money on it. It still gets exceptional fuel efficiency, particularly given it's horsepower and acceleration (the V6 will light the front tires up willingly -- hee-hee, even moreso now that the traction control isn't working).
It reminds me of the 2000 Hyundai Elantra I drove as part of a long-term test 12 years ago. Like the Malibu, I wasn't expecting a lot out of the funny little car from the funny little Korean car company. But one year and nearly 20,000 miles later I had to ask myself, "Why would I not buy this car over a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla? It costs less, drives as well or better, and it didn't have a single mechanical issue during our long-term test."
Of course the answer might be, "Because it has a lower re-sale value, Karl." True, but if I bought the Elantra for less money up front and drove it until the wheels fell off that wouldn't matter either, would it? Especially if the wheels took a long time to fall off and it had a long factory warranty to cover any possible issues, which of course all modern Hyundais have. Twelve years after I drove that Elantra the brand is gobbling up market share while sales increase every year. And in case you haven't noticed, the resale value on Hyundais has gone up, too.
My experience with that Elantra suggested this was the future of Hyundai over a decade ago, but the general opinion regarding the Korean brand didn't start shifting until the last couple years. Plenty of people still can't accept the cars are anything but a cheap (in the bad sense of the word) alternative to establshed import brands. These folks aren't lagging reality, they're disconnected from it.
And I think the same is now true of GM products. The current crop of General Motors cars is fully competitive with other volume brands from Europe and Japan (and Korea), but many import loyalists refuse to accept it. If I hadn't personally spent the last 9 years living with our 2004 Malibu I might still be lagging reality as well. But like the Elantra, this Malibu foretold GM's future 10 years before the general market caught on. Both modern versions of these cars (Elantra and Malibu) are far superior to the ones I've had a personal connection to, but the fundamental quality existed long before the average new-car shopper caught on.
Such is the way of world. I think the folks who just figured out Hyundai and GM models are worth considering are the same ones who've decided Apple might be a company worth investing in. Heck, they might even give one of those funky "iPod" thingies a try...