Like many thirty-something Americans, I was raised thinking Buicks were something that IQ-challenged grandparents drove. Not only were Buicks more boring than Al Gore behind a podium, their quality was atrocious to boot. Seriously, consider as a metaphor crossing Jimmy Carter's flaccid economic philosophy with George Bush's protectionist rhetoric and you'll get a sense of how I feel about Buicks from my childhood. Indeed, there was absolutely nothing redeeming about GM's fuddy-duddy brand, except for the fact that the trunks of borrowed ones could comfortable hold two half kegs of beer and enough ice to keep them cool for a whole weekend. Not that I ever engaged in this activity, but two kegs did fit in at least one late model that I was indirectly familiar with.
Now, I'll firmly admit that my view of Buicks is tainted by growing up in middle-class America. If I had grown up in China, I'd have an entirely different view of the American icon. Not only is Buick's supplier defect rate in China lower than in North America the cars, according to the Washington Post, are revered in the same way that I used to look at the BMW 3.0 CS and the original M5. The hat-tip for this article find goes to Tony Poshek (who has earned quite a bit of these recently, I might add).
And for good reason. According to a Washington Post columnist, the Buicks he drove while in China "were better than any Buicks I'd ever driven or seen in the United States. They were solid and whisper-quiet. Fit and finish were impeccable. Interior craftsmanship -- the way materials blended with one another; the impressive attention to detail on the smallest items, such as the feel and weight of glove-compartment doors -- was awe-inspiring."
But our trusty correspondent did not come away entirely impressed – especially at the fact that he could not get this same level of Buick quality at home. In fact, he questioned GM executives while in China, "Why do you guys give this kind of Buick to the Chinese while giving us crappy Buicks at home?" His host responded: "This is what the Chinese market expects from Buick."
So next time you get yourself worked up into a tizzy about China quality or safety issues, remember that GM historically made the clear corporate decision to produce cars with higher defect rates and quality issues in North America where such issues were long tolerated, while reserving the Lafite Rothschild of its product line for the Chinese market where such crap would not fly. Food for thought, especially next time you watch Lou Dobbs in one of his protectionist rants about the Chinese eating our babies.