The Big Three Back On Top

For the past 30 years, foreign-developed cars have been climbing the American auto industry food chain, dominating the market through the millennium, until now. Because of an advance in technology and innovation, American cars have shifted consumers toward their products and increased sales dramatically. In fact, the current and ongoing success is starting to shadow the popularity and prosperity from the muscle car era of the 60s and 70s.

The new Ford F-150 body style.Photo by Sydney Van Ommeren.

The explanation to the former foreign success is simple. While the “Big Three” (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors) were occupied with packing as much power into a V8 engine as street-legally possible, foreign brands like Volkswagen, Honda, and Nissan focused on innovation in areas like suspension and fuel efficiency with smaller motors, like the inline four. While it produced less than half the horsepower of most American V8’s, the inline four weighed half as much and produced anywhere from 25 to 40 miles to the gallon. Americans cars, like the 1969 Pontiac Trans Am, had no problem burning through the dirt cheap gas that was available, as it produced only 10 miles to the gallon. However, when the 1973 oil crisis raised gas prices, Americans demanded more fuel efficient cars and turned to cars like Honda Civics and Audi Coupes.

Even in the recent decades, foreign-made cars have had so much more to offer. As gas prices jumped from 94 cents back in 2000 to as high as over four dollars in 2008, innovative cars like the Toyota Prius attracted economically-minded families. Many foreign motors, especially Japanese, are favored because they are expected to last virtually a lifetime: 250,000 to 300,000 miles with minor maintenance.

The new body style of the Ford Mustang. Photo by Sydney Van Ommeren.

People also lost interest in American cars because there weren’t many luxury or sports cars available at the time. The only striving luxury line in the last decade in America was Cadillac; both the Pontiac Firebird and Chevy Camaro ended in 2002. Although the Camaro was reintroduced in 2010, Pontiac shut down all production that same year. The only solid American sports cars that remained were the Ford Mustang and Chevy Corvette. Foreign car brands, both European and Japanese, have offered a variety of sports cars, running off of four and six cylinder engines, consuming much less gas than a big block V8. Starting in the early 90s, small-motored, but light weight cars, such as the Mazda Miata and BMW Z-Series, became very popular because they offered high revving engines with great suspensions, or for lack of a better phrase, easy, fun driving. Serious racers like the Toyota Supra and Audi S4 also attracted the daring types, as they offered slightly larger six cylinder engines that were twin-turbocharged to add extra horsepower without the extra weight gain.

After begging for a financial government bailout in 2008, the auto industry had no other option but to start producing more efficient cars that maintained the style and technology recognizably superior to foreign brands. From December 2010 to 2011, Ford and GM have reported about a 12 percent increase in total car sales, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, but Chrysler has shown the greatest improvement of all three. With their completely new look and available eight speed transmission, which allows the Charger and 300 up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway, Chrysler has reported a 143 percent increase in total car sales in a year. That is excellent for a company that used to have its cars up for resale on Craigslist after only an average of 4 years on the road (the Sebring, PT Cruiser, and 300). Somewhere between then and today, The Big Three not only met the economic automotive demands, but greatly exceeded them in numerous areas.

What has made American cars so desirable is new and highly developed technology that has allowed cars to produce a high concentration of horsepower and torque, without consuming overwhelming amounts of gas. Rather than constructing large and inefficient engines, auto makers have perfected the use of turbochargers and superchargers, which are machines that use compressed air to add up to 50 horsepower to an engine. Take the 2012 Buick Regal GS for example: it’s a four cylinder turbocharged motor that outputs 270 horses and can still manage 30 miles to the gallon. That’s an unheard of amount of power from an engine that small, way more than the 2007 Toyota Corolla or Ford Focus that both produce around 130 horsepower, sitting in your mother’s spot in the driveway.

America’s most popular sports cars, the Corvette and Mustang, left no room for compromise this year when it comes to performance. The top of the line Corvette ZR1 comes equipped with a supercharged 6.2 liter V8, producing 632 horsepower while its roaring by. The all new Mustang reintroduced the Boss 302 engine and body style, which many enthusiasts speculate to be the best Mustang produced to this day.

While high powered vehicles have satisfied the speed freaks, companies like Ford and General Motors have produced popular vehicles in the the high efficiency and sub- compact categories. New Chevrolets like the 2012 Cruze offer up to 42 mpg highway while the Volt, which is primarily electrically driven, will produce up to the equivalent of 95 miles per gallon and 40 miles to the gallon running of gasoline.

While popular foreign trademark cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, and the Nissan Altima, the major rise in American car sales have regardlessly placed a stronger sense of nationalism in the car companies and the consumers that purchase them. We can all expect to see more American steel rolling down the road in the time to come.

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