Meeting the competition
As Japanese makers started to build top-quality instruments -- they rivaled guitars made in the United States -- U.S. guitar makers shifted manufacturing of entry-level products to lower-cost countries.
And as the years passed in this country, builders slowly rededicated themselves to making instruments of the highest quality.
Now, Japanese and Western companies build fine products in Korea, Mexico, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and eastern Europe. Those guitars are exported around the globe.
Builders in the United States, Japan, Great Britain and other countries are crafting high-priced, top-quality guitars that guitarists aspire to own in their home markets while offering mid- or entry-priced versions, too.
Those products look very much like their big brothers. Players, however, can tell the difference, and they pay for the level of quality they desire.
Clearly, this is a simplistic look at business history.
But suffice it to say that big guitar makers in the United States and other Western nations reacted quickly to a changing climate and now are doing well.
The lesson for cars
What does all this have to do with cars?
Imagine an alternate universe in which low-cost, Chinese-built Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions, Dodge Calibers and Ford Focuses are imported into the United States. The fit and finish aren't great, and the engines are of the cookie-cutter variety. The ride is generic. But they're inexpensive, reliable, safe and interesting to look at.
Buyers looking for a deal will always find one here.
At the other end of this imaginary spectrum are North American-built Pontiac Grand Prixs, Ford Five Hundreds and Chrysler 300s. They're relatively expensive, but they're built to exacting standards and engineered with an eye toward driving dynamics as distinct to each manufacturer as a 3 series is to BMW.
Incentives at that level are sparse. Resale value is high. Production and employee levels are lower in high-cost countries. But workers are craftsmen with highly marketable skills, and they have a vested interest in producing the best vehicle possible. Job security is once again possible.
A dream? Yes.
About 30 years ago, a nimble and forward-thinking industry turned it into reality.
You may e-mail Victor Galvan at [email protected]