The government hath spoken–and declared it safe to buy an American-made car.
By vowing to honor the warranties for cars built by General Motors and Chrysler, the Obama administration has removed a bit of the stigma associated with the two troubled automakers. Both need billions in emergency government loans to remain solvent and transform their operations, and bankruptcy remains an option. By pledging to stand behind the warranties, the government removes the fear that buyers may be spending lots of cash on a product the manufacturer won't be able to support if it goes out of business.
Still, these remain trying times for GM and Chrysler, and to a lesser extent for Ford, which hasn't asked for bailout money (yet). So if you're a car shopper who's on the fence, here are some reasons to take the plunge and buy domestic:
Quality is up. Consumer Reports says that some Ford vehicles “now rival the best from Japan.” In the latest J.D.Power dependability study, GM's Buick division tied with Jaguar for the top spot, beating out Lexus and Toyota. And in 8 of 11 car segments, a GM model came in as one of the top three vehicles. Not all Detroit products are top-notch, so buyers should be sure to check individual car ratings at sites like Consumer Reports (which charges a fee), or U.S.News's Best Cars and Trucks, which is free.
[See the cars that drove Detroit's customers away.]
They've got your back. GM and Ford recently rolled out “payment protection plans,” at no extra charge, that will cover your monthly payment for several months if you lose your job. Ford's plan covers up to 12 months of payments as high as $700 per month. GM's plan covers up to nine months of payments, up to $500 per month. (They're both copying Hyundai, which started offering three months of payment protection in January.) And GM has a separate plan to make cash payouts to buyers who purchase a GM vehicle today but can't afford to trade it in down the road, because they owe more than the vehicle is worth. As with all promotions, buyers should read the fine print, scan for surprise exclusions, and make sure they buy a car that suits their needs and fits their budget, regardless of incentives.
Styling is cool. There's still a kind of muscular styling that's uniquely American, evident in vehicles like the forthcoming Chevy Camaro, the Dodge Charger, the Pontiac G8 and the Ford Mustang. When other makes try to mimic American muscle cars, the result is often more comical than compelling. And nobody can replicate the rugged appeal of Jeep, which remains one of the world's most iconic brands despite reliability that's consistently below average.
[See whether the Chevy Volt can survive GM.]
They're a bargain. The Detroit 3 know they need to try harder in order to sell cars, which means they often price less them below top models from Toyota, Honda, and other competitors. The Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord are all priced about the same, for instance, and all have similar quality ratings. But Ford is offering rebates of up to $3,500 on the Fusion, while Chevy is offering 0 percent financing on the Malibu. Toyota, by contrast, is discounting the Camry by just $1,500, and Honda offers no discounts on the Accord. Big discounts–a Detroit staple for years–often means a lower trade-in value down the road, but for many buyers it helps buy a decent ride today.
[See 6 upsides to a GM bankruptcy.]
To support a cause. Many Americans oppose the bailout of GM and Chrysler, but others feel it's time to show some support for the home team. Boosting the American automotive industry could save jobs, help spur the development of new technologies here instead of overseas, and maybe even lead to Detroit's resurgence. Buying one of their cars is one way for ordinary individuals to try to make a small difference, the same way environmentalists might buy a hybrid, even if it doesn't save them money. So maybe it's time to park some patriotism in your driveway.