Friday, January 08, 2010

Janice Winfrey addresses Detroit

"If you say you love Detroit, but don't drive a Chrysler, GM or Ford, that's not love."
So said Janice Winfrey, Detroit's new city clerk, in an inauguration ceremony today in Detroit.

Perhaps Ms. Winfrey has not fully considered her words, but if she truly believes them, and if she wants Detroiters to follow her word's lead and buy only American automobiles for the sake of supporting Detroit, she is a believer in the larger process that helped turn Detroit into the sink hole that it is today.

It is an emotional and impassioned speech. It is, however, economical hogwash.

Consumers do drive the economy, and perhaps Winfrey has that part at least half right. There is no way around this little fact regardless of how many times people have tried. Consumption keeps the ball rolling. It is not the number of college graduates, it is not great museums and libraries, it is not cool cities, great roads, good police and fire protection, cheap education, or any one of the other things being touted by people not-so-in-the-know.

While Winfrey might understand the importance of consumption, she discounts the need for the producers of consumer items to mold their product lines into ones that are attractive to consumers. It is the consumer's dollar that forces companies to produce good products.

Poor products fail as a result of natural market conditions, and consumers should not be pressured into buying products that do not meet their desires, whether that is in a breakfast cereal, fresh produce, or an automobile.

Detroit struggles today because it historically refused to respond to consumer demands. It was outmaneuvered by other automakers that provided more appealing products for the consumer and provided them more inexpensively. If not for the infusion of foreign automobiles and their higher quality standards, we Americans would be driving $45,000 Vegas with 8-track players in the dash and life expectancies of about 80,000 miles.

Detroit could still control the world automobile industry if it's business executives, politicians, and labor leaders had been willing to provide consumers with what they wanted. Instead, they opted to mass produce crap, and only responded when they were forced to.

I currently drive an American automobile produced with high quality. It is a 1995 model still chugging along with 220,000 miles on it, and, do I really need to say it, it is a major chick magnet.

My next car might very well be a Ford. (I will never buy a new Chrysler or GM product again.) It might also be a foreign model too. When the time comes I'll kick some tires and see which company and dealership can provide me with what I think is the best deal for me. The best deal for my money.

Perhaps Janice Winfrey is looking at this exactly backwards. If Detroit and its industry truly loved the citizens of Michigan and Detroit, they would produce a vehicle that the citizens want. At that point, they would love to buy it too.

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