Long before the government bailout made GM a dirty word, Americans had a love affair with their American cars. Brand loyalty was fierce — some families prided themselves on buying only Fords or Lincolns—and the tradition was passed down through generations. In Detroit, the affair was particularly passionate. Last year, as the Big Three and their hometown cities teetered on the brink of collapse, one Detroit church came together to pray for the car industry. With three white SUVs on the altar, the congregation sang The Clark Sisters' Motown hit, "I'm Looking for a Miracle." But now, one year after GM's bailout and the Chrysler bankruptcy, columnists say that brand loyalty is all but gone.
Here are some new and old takes on the decline:
- The Brand Romance Is Gone At The New York Times, Bill Vlasic says the days of brand loyalty are over. "To sell a car in the 1980s, dealers had to do little more than open their doors, and loyal buyers would show up to trade in their Chevrolet for a new Chevrolet, or their Toyota for another Toyota." Now, Vlasic writes, "partly as a result of increasingly fickle consumer tastes and the industry turmoil in Detroit, that hard-won loyalty is largely gone. So far this year, only about 20 percent of car shoppers stayed with the same brand when they purchased a new vehicle."
- How GM Lost My Business At The Washington Post, business columnist and former Detroit resident Allan Sloan says he was a loyal customer of General Motors for years. "My loyalty to Saturn lasted as long as it did in part because my wife and I have a visceral affection for companies based in the Detroit area, where we lived from 1972 to 1979 when I worked at the Free Press." But then, in 2003, Sloan says he and his wife wanted to buy a car GM didn't make. "My loyalty to Saturn lasted as long as it did in part because my wife and I have a visceral affection for companies based in the Detroit area, where we lived from 1972 to 1979 when I worked at the Free Press." But then, in 2003, Sloan and his wife wanted to buy a car GM didn't make. "When someone like me, who's bought U.S.-brand cars all his life (except for one Renault), won't even consider a GM product, the company's got a serious problem." Though Sloan found the idea of buying a foreign car troubling at first, but eventually, he eventually made peace with his decision:
"The sticker on my SUV said it had been assembled in Canada and its engine had been made in the United States. That means that while I bought an Asian name, it is largely an American car. So what was good for America wasn't good for General Motors. And that's the bottom line."
- The Young Have No Loyalty to Detroit At The New York Times, Daniel McDermon says American brands aren't resonating among the young. "The trend may be most pronounced among younger consumers, who came of age after Detroit’s dominance in the American market had peaked. One of the people mentioned in the article is Chris Allen, 24, who bought a Volkswagen after growing up in a family with a garage full of G.M. products." Meanwhile, McDermon says foreign car makers are spending ad dollars to target exactly that demographic. "Toyota’s Scion brand has targeted pre-teens in online communities, and has pursued finicky (and young) Web surfers through other online ventures like its design-your-own-logo Web site. And its efforts seem to have attracted at least a few followers. And Nissan has made a similar effort with its marketing of the Cube."
- The Consumer Has Better Choices According to Washington Post writer Sholnn Freeman, Americans have been abandoning brands for some time. "Three decades of disappointment with the quality of U.S. vehicles has combined with Detroit's on-again, off-again commitment to building innovative passenger cars. The result: Brand loyalty has continued to slip away." Sholnn says, "the first car for legions of young men was a Chevy. As Americans increased in age and wealth, they climbed the General Motors Corp. status ladder, up through the Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and, ultimately, Cadillac brands." Even in 2006 though, Sholnn saw that kind of brand nostalgia dying off.