Car Clips: July 24, 2000

July 24, 2000

Dae-who?

Ten years ago, most buyers had not heard of the J.D. Power reports. Now you can't read any collection of auto ads without seeing some reference to these independent surveys of buyer opinion.

Now that the first 2000 Customer Service Index rankings are out, and a lot of readers are asking . . . Dae-WHO? "Daewoo's fourth place ranking ahead of prominent luxury makes such as Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz is very gratifying, and a testimonial to our products, dealers and employees," stated D. J. Lee, President of Daewoo Motor America. And this is after less than two full years of retail sales operations, following a lackluster start with student sales representatives and company owned stores.

Daewoo's acceptance has been largely due to a 36-month full warranty and free maintenance program, which has mollified doubters. Hyundai was the first Korean company to invade our shores 15 years ago, gaining great acclaim for their low price, but that was soon replaced by disdain when their quality didn't keep pace with their sales volume. They have corrected the worst of their errors, but found that a sullied reputation is hard to reverse. Hyundai too has found salvation with a 100,000-mile warranty. Kia was not slow to learn that lesson, and is offering their own free maintenance plan, and their sales have jumped. While this may be costly at the beginning, if those entry-level buyers develop some loyalty, the more established companies may lose sales as the Korean companies are developing more upscale products and their buyers are moving up to join them.

Natural solutions inside your car

Car companies are finding they have to adapt to a whole new set of strictures, and many of them are related to the environment. While the U.S. is focused on emissions and economy, the Europeans don't have as much real estate for refuse, and thus get truly into recycling. This is not just bottles and newspapers, but affects products like cars. Many materials we take for granted in our cars can choke landfills — things like certain plastics and other synthetics. Pay attention to cars from the continent, and you will find markings on every part to aid in recycling. Soon U.S. cars will have those labels.

The recyclables find their way into the most unlikely of places. The new Mercedes-Benz Travego motor home is equipped with natural fiber-reinforced engine and transmission covers. MB has found that natural fibers reduce weight by 10 percent and lower the
production energy needed by 80 percent, while the component cost is five percent lower than a fiberglass-reinforced cover. Flax, sisal, coconut fiber, cotton and hemp have been used in the interiors of DaimlerChrysler vehicles in upholstery, door paneling or the rear shelf. Natural fibers are also used in many U.S. Chrysler automobiles.

Exotic issues

One good thing about having an exotic collectible car is that everyone wants one. The problem is that with modern technology and resourcefulness, anyone with money can have one or make one, and for far less than the going price for a real one.

The market in fake Ferraris took off with the prices in the 1980s. But with the deep pockets of Fiat behind them, the Italian company aggressively took on everyone who copied their products. In the U.S., the Shelby Cobra had attained similar status, but the legal remedies were complicated by the question of who owned the copyrights and trademarks, what with Ford and Carroll Shelby having had some curious contractual arrangements. This was further complicated by Shelby having had done business with Chrysler, Oldsmobile and Toyota.

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