The auto industry is outgrowing its world car phase. The signs are everywhere. General Motors has put Europe in charge of developing the platform on which the next Opel/Vauxhall Astra will be derived. Ford has changed its worldwide 'small- and medium-vehicle center' in Europe into a product development center for Europe.
'We missed not having a hand on the pulse,' said David Thursfield, the new president of Ford of Europe.
Why does DaimlerChrysler need a small-car strategy? Because the Chrysler Neon flopped outside North America.
Mid-market cars must be developed where they are sold. You can't send in teams from Germany to help Americans design European derivatives. You can't turn a European car into an American car with cupholders and an automatic shifter. You can't transform one of their cars into one of ours by retrofitting diesels.
You can't 'tune' cars to local tastes. You can't put a regional 'hat' on them.
America is full of crossover vehicles that won't cross over the Atlantic.
What's cozy here is cramped there. Good packaging there is a waste of space here. Flexible seating in Europe is impractical in the USA. Our refined V-6 power leaves Americans hungry for more.
Ask anyone. Ask Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan. Global product strategies fail. There are vast differences between the European and North American markets. That is why:
The US-oriented Japanese have dithered in Europe for 15 years.
Ford lost its way in Europe in the 1990s.
Fiat, Peugeot, Renault and Rover withdrew from America.
VW collapsed in the USA just as the Golf was redefining the middle of the market here.
The New Beetle conquered America, but is useless in Europe.
Volkswagen's Jetta outsells the Golf by seven-to-one in the USA.
Minivan sales peaked at a little over 300,000 in Europe. Compact minivans emerged instead.
The Opel/Vauxhall Sintra was killed.
The Mondeo-based Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique missed its targets in America.
GM's Calibra crushed Ford's US-built Probe.
Wolfgang Reitzle canceled plans to sell Lincoln in Europe seven or eight minutes after joining Ford.
Mercedes-Benz's US executives fought hard to keep the A-class out of America.
Lexus is a minor factor here.
Infiniti doesn't exist here.
Citroen doesn't exist there.
Nissan's Maxima sells the minimun in Europe.
Ford's Scorpio and Sierra failed as German luxury imports in America in the 1980s.
Each new effort to sell Cadillacs and Chevrolets in Europe in the past 30 years has come to nothing.
Omega-based Cateras look sad on Cadillac dealer lots in America.
The Vectra is floundering as the Saturn SL in the USA.
The Renault Avantime probably wouldn't sell in America - as a Nissan, an Infiniti or a curiosity.
Ford is making a valiant effort to break the transatlantic jinx with the Focus. It is an exceptional car that may break the rule. But world cars almost never work - at least not if you want to sell 200,000-300,000 a year on each side of the Atlantic.
Inward-looking product strategies succeeded in the last decade. Ford designed the Expedition for the American heartland. Renault created the Scenic for the cities and villages of Europe.
There is no other way to do it. Global cars force compromises - the one thing modern customers won't accept.