Why are American cars seemingly less reliable than Japanese cars?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 15, 2020 05:00 AM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 15, 2020 05:00 AM

Originally Answered: Why can’t American car manufacturers make cars as reliable as the Japanese automakers do?
American manufacturers could make cars thar compete with the Japanese on reliability, but they usually don’t.

Japanese branded cars are all made in the USA anyway these days (except for maybe Lexus). They use the same suppliers and materials, the same engineering techniques, the same workers. American branded cars in general are just engineered to last less long. It’s not just the American brands, the Germans were headed in the same direction but seem to be changing tactics.

Why? Because reliability costs money. People won’t always pay extra for it. And it hurts your bottom line when people change their car less often.

US brands have been stuck in the “disposable car” niche of the market and have to charge less and add more widgets. They are stuck in a corporate culture that demands high profitability. They also tend to use more Union labor which is more expensive. Toyota, Honda and Subaru can charge more for a car with fewer gizmos because they have a stronger reliability record, but they often have access to cheaper, non-union labor and still spend a lot of that money on better materials, higher tolerances, etc.. Owners get the money back when they resell the car.

Consumer Reports, True Delta and other sources of reliable information still consistently rate the major Japanese brands (especially Honda and Toyota) as more reliable, especially when cars get older with more miles on the clock.

However, most American vehicles are pretty good now when fairly new (there are exceptions, such as certain Jeep products). They put effort into that because the new buyer is who really matters to them. And some US products are fairly reliable for the long haul (full size Ford trucks spring to mind). But most cheaper US cars start falling apart after five years / 60k or so miles. Note that there are exceptions on the Japanese side too. In my experience Ford products are in general more reliable than Mitsubishi these days.

Note JD Power often ranks US brands as good as or even better than Japanese. However their metrics are purposefully skewed to the US makers. In particular, they tend to measure customer perceptions not hard facts (how happy you are with your vehicle on a scale of 1–10, not how many repair visits, how serious and at what cost). People these days tend to be ecstatic if certain Fiat Chrysler products make it home from the dealership, and disappointed if their Toyota’s cup holder cracks after 200k miles. They also tend to look at recently purchased vehicles up to three years old.

The bottom line is if people were willing to pay more for American cars they could make them more reliable. There were signs, at least with some product lines and brands such as Ford, that this may have been starting to happen. But nonetheless, Ford are going to stop making cars altogether (focusing on trucks and SUVs). It may be just too late for Ford cars. They were leading US brands for reliability, but obviously costing more to build than people were paying.

(edit: the great majority of Japanese branded cars sold in the USA are made in the USA, bit not all. See comments).

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