I recently spent time in the world's three largest automobile markets, having visited Japan for the Tokyo Motor Show within a month of seeing the Frankfurt show, with time in the United States squeezed in.
Three huge markets. Three vastly different countries with very diverse customer bases.
The first thing you notice on the ride from the airport into Tokyo is what a different automobile market Japan is.
Consumer tastes are very different from those in Europe or North America. Regardless of the size of the vehicle, Japanese customers want an automatic transmission. Spend a few days fighting Tokyo traffic jams and it's easy to understand. A small Ford with a manual transmission might sell well in Germany, but it won't be successful in Japan.
The No. 1 selling vehicle in the United States couldn't get out of its way in either Japan or Germany. Pickup trucks are unique to the United States with its wide streets and inexpensive gasoline. Except for a few minivans and sport-utilities, trucks just don't fit anywhere else.
Many automakers would love to create the next Model T or Volkswagen Beetle or Toyota Corolla. But it's not that easy to create a car with universal appeal. The Tokyo Motor Show was filled with Japanese manufacturers showing off their latest offerings, and the vast majority were small cars.
In Germany, the emphasis is often on performance. Even with a diminishing number of highways without speed limits, the German market simply wants a different car than Japan or North America.
The opportunity to sell a single model around the world is limited. Even for a company like Ford or Volkswagen it's tough to create a global mass market for any given model.
It makes a lot more sense to think about a global platform - even one that might be shared by more than one company - which would reduce costs but still allow creativity and individuality for each market.
The Tokyo show, with its huge number of new models, demonstrated just how different Japan is from either Europe or North America. And that doesn't even take into account the position of the steering wheel.
Markets are different. The creation of a global car is a very appealing concept. But as long as worldwide tastes are so different, the chances of it happening are slim.