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Friday, September 14, 2007
The message many people don't want to hear.
Today's Wall Street Journal reports on a phenomenon many of us in the Detroit area are well acquainted with:
Just about every month, CNW Market Research meets with a group of would-be car buyers and plays a trick on them.

Sometimes the company, which specializes in auto sales trends, takes a Toyota Camry, removes any identifying logos, and tells them it's a new model from one of the U.S.-based auto makers. Or it takes a domestic car and tells them it's a Toyota or another import make.

Either way, the result is the same. "If they think it's an American car, the perception of the vehicle falls dramatically," said Art Spinella, vice president of the Bandon, Ore.-based firm. "Detroit really gets a bum rap in the U.S."

Those negative impressions are now souring efforts by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC to halt their long slide in U.S. market share. And for these Detroit auto makers, persuading import buyers to even consider a U.S. car is becoming the new battleground.

The issue of public perception is coming into sharper focus now because experts say the Big Three, after years of concentrating on trucks and all but ignoring cars, have markedly improved the quality and look of their sedans and compacts....

The main reason import intenders stay away from domestic cars, Mr. Denove said, is that "today's consumer doesn't yet believe the Big Three have improved quality to the point where they are on par with the Japanese manufacturers."

That drives Ford, GM and Chrysler executives crazy. Independent quality studies show they've narrowed the gap with Toyota. Just a few weeks ago, J.D. Power's long-term dependability study reported that GM's Buick brand had tied Toyota's Lexus, which had stood alone on top for the past 12 years.

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