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In 1949 there were almost fifty thousand car dealerships in this country, all selling American cars. Today there are about seventeen thousand, selling Japanese, German, Italian, British, even Korean cars. What happened to our industry? Lots!
Packards, Hudsons, Studebakers — all well made cars, all quality products — fell by the wayside after WWII, and American cars began to grow long in style – two tone, then three tone paint jobs, fins the size of small spaceships — but short on quality. Pizzazz replaced product.
Not surprising. It had been Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., the head of General Motors, back in the twenties and thirties who had originally developed the concept of planned obsolescence through changing styles so he could successfully bump Henry Ford from his pedestal as dominator of the domestic car market.
In the 1970’s the Japanese invaded. Their Nissans, Hondas and Toyotas were economical and they were well made. They only came in solid colors, they had no fins, but they lasted. They were quality products.
The number of American cars sold dropped by a whopping fifty percent from 1978 to 1982. Thirteen million units were sold in 1978, seven million in 1982. It would take a decade before American manufacturers put quality back into their cars.
Then came the eighties recession, then there was the Internet, then there was the 2009 recession and now there’s Tesla, a car not even sold at a dealership. That would never have been possible before the days of the World Wide Web.
Today, because of the amount of information available on the internet, many customers walk in the door better informed about the product than dealership salespeople. The sales person’s and the customer’s roles have reversed as the prospective buyer tries to sell his “product” – a new or used car with the options he wants, at his price – to the sales person. If he can’t make the sale at one dealership, he just goes to another, especially now that warranty work can be done at any dealership, not just the one where he buys the car.
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